As a salesperson you come across gatekeepers every single day, and you’re probably frustrated with them by now. These are the people who stand between you and the decision maker: secretaries and personal assistants, and even receptionists or switchboard operators. There are hundreds of schemes and tricks out there to get past the gatekeeper, and most of them don’t sit well on anybody’s moral compass or will permanently sour your relationship with them. I’ve had experience in many markets across a number of fields, and I’d like to give you my top 5 tips on how to deal with gatekeepers.
The first thing to keep in mind is that you’ll be speaking with a person (and probably a likeable one at that) who’s job it is to guard the precious time of the individual you’re trying to reach. They have to deal with many calls from salespeople every single day, and they really don’t like them due to the aforementioned tricks.
1. Always be friendly and polite.
This should go without saying, but I’ve heard it done otherwise too often (and have read all the terrible tricks). You are a professional calling a professional. There is absolutely no reason (ever, in my book) to be impolite or to speak down to someone. If you’re likeable, you’re more likely to strike up a positive relationship with them.
The best thing you can do is befriend them, especially if you’re speaking with them often (a large prospect, for example). The thing people most like speaking about is themselves: ask them how they’re doing, and be prepared to exchange a few jokes every now and then. If you can’t get through after a few calls, and you feel they’re blocking you off, remark on how well they’re doing their job (don’t stop calling, obviously).
2. Gatekeepers can be a valuable resource.
By making sure you’re building connections with them, you’re tapping into one of the most valuable resources you’ll have. Remember that gatekeepers go two ways: their job is to block you on the one hand, but also to provide information to their bosses on the other. They have a very good grasp indeed of how their company functions.
Gatekeepers often know more than their superiors when it comes to internal workings, internal change, and relationships. If you genuinely befriend a gatekeeper (no fake friendship here; build that relationship!), you’ll have access to a wealth of information about how the company works, who’s in charge of what, and how they can best be approached. This will pay huge dividends in the long run.
Throughout my sales career, I’ve spent more time speaking with gatekeepers than decision makers. When I noticed the trend early on, I decided to reinforce it, and still keep in touch with a few of them. Decision makers come and go, as that is their career. A good PA is absolutely invaluable, and will be retained as long as possible.
3. Enlist their aid.
Tying into the last point, I highly recommend enlisting their aid. To do so, make sure you explain why you’re calling, and ask if you’re calling the right person. You should also ask them who else you could be calling about this, and who else would be involved in this kind of decision. Your prospecting will be easier, and you’ll increase your chances of your deal closing by including all the right people immediately.
The gatekeeper will usually also appreciate this: you’re empowering them to do their job. They work hard to make sure they have this information at their fingertips and provide it at a moment’s notice. Helping others makes you feel good, and it’s in your interest to make them feel that way. They’ll be more likely to help you out next time.
4. Persistence is key, but don’t take it too far.
If a PA tells you their boss is busy, then by all means, ask when they’re free for a call. This is only professional. Attempt to set up an appointment, and make sure you keep it.
Don’t, however, take this too far. Some tips I’ve read have you putting the PA on the spot or grilling them. My response to those has always been to scratch my head and wonder why. If you’re in a shop and someone doesn’t have an item, it’s fair to ask them if and when they’ll have it. It’s not even close to polite to grill them about the circumstances of its disappearance.
You’re speaking with a person who’s doing a very difficult job. They deal with these kinds of people all day. If you’re a pleasure to talk to, the persistence you demonstrate will be welcome to them. Surely this is better than coming off as irritating.
5. Don’t lie to them.
This should really be the top tip since there is so much bad advice out there: don’t tell them you’ve spoken with someone whom you haven’t spoken to. Don’t tell them someone’s expecting your call. Don’t lie to them. Let me repeat that again: don’t lie to them!
Gatekeepers usually have a very good idea which calls are expected and which aren’t. If you do manage to get through, they’ll get the chewing out, and you can completely forget about future calls. Even if you manage to sell on that first call, you’l destroy any chances of a good relationship here, and your company will be perceived as dishonest.
Be honest and direct about what you want, and tell them what you’re calling about. They’ll appreciate it, and you’ll come across (at the very least) as professional. You won’t be blacklisted, and you can attempt further calls there later.
Prospecting is difficult enough as is, without making a whole slew of enemies in the process. Make sure you’re building bridges instead of tearing them down. If you do, you’re sure to succeed.
I hope this has been useful to you, and, as ever, I wish you all the best!
Do you agree with what I wrote here? Disagree? Did I miss something? Could I have done something better? Please let me know in the comments!