Getting Past the Gatekeepers

A man called the office and said, "I see that your business doesn't have a web site." "Yes, it does," I drily answered. In fact, the company's web site had been up for about two years. The boss updated it on a regular basis. Now there was someone who had not done their research. The man on the phone stumbled over his words and could not recover his sales pitch after that. Needless to say, the call ended quickly.
Receptionists, clerks, secretaries and administrative assistants are the gatekeepers of the office. If they have been on their jobs for a good period of time, they've learned how to turn back salespersons that cold call their companies or drop in without appointments. Salespersons seem to think they have a myriad of tricks to get through the door, but gatekeepers are aware of them. If salespersons want to be more successful in contacting decision-makers who may purchase their goods and/or services, they must understand a few things.
Do not overdo the "friendly" attitude. An overly peppy "Hi! How are you today?" will put a gatekeeper on alert that the call may be a sales call. The super-friendly tactic sounds even phonier in person. Be polite, but tone down the acting.
Leave a message. It is the gatekeeper's job to relay messages to their bosses, so tell them why you are calling. Do not be vague in an attempt to mask the fact that you are selling something. The boss always wants the gatekeeper to bring detailed messages to them. Gatekeepers are often unfairly blamed for a caller's failure to fully state the nature of their call. You can bet the gatekeeper is not going to be happy to hear from the salesperson again if that happens.
They will automatically make it harder for the sales person to get through. Besides, a busy boss is not necessarily going to return the call of someone they don't know and don't know exactly what they want. Also, most bosses are aware of tricks sales persons use to get in contact with them.
Realize that the gatekeeper knows something. If a salesperson can't reach the decision-makers, it would be a good idea to ask the gatekeeper about the company. Regardless of the research the salesperson may have done, the gatekeeper will probably be able to give them information about the company that the salesperson did not know. This information will help the salesperson the next time they approach the company. But salespersons should not tie up the gatekeepers' time unnecessarily as they have other callers and visitors to deal with. Ask a few questions, thank them for their time, and move on the next prospect.
Take a hint. If the sales person is continually told the decision-maker is not available, it is very possible that the decision-maker doesn't want to talk to them. The decision-maker has told the gatekeeper to keep the salesperson out. Constant calling and dropping by is not going to endear the sales person to anyone at the company. It's time to go to another tactic, like direct mail.
Don't get mad. Salespersons should never accuse the gatekeeper of not putting their messages through. I knew my boss did not want to talk to a particular sales person, so I told them he would be in later. They called back less in less than a couple of hours. "You told me he would be in this afternoon," they said sarcastically. This goes back to the previous paragraph. Yes, gatekeepers regularly lie to protect their bosses from people who would intrude on their busy days. Just like salespersons, gatekeepers have a job to do and orders to follow. Get over it and let it go.
Don't just drop in. Always keep in mind that decision-makers are busy. It is highly unlikely that they are going to interrupt their work to talk to a salesperson that "just happened to be in the neighborhood". The gatekeeper will be sent to talk with you. If the boss has said no, don't expect the gatekeeper to change the boss' mind. It puts the gatekeeper in a bad spot. They will remember it was the salesperson's fault if the boss becomes annoyed with the gatekeeper for asking a second time if the salesperson can come up to the office. Trying to make an appointment on the spot is not going to work, either. The gatekeeper cannot put things on the boss's calendar without their permission. Call the office later, and make an appointment.
Give a time limit. When making an initial appointment, give the gatekeeper a time frame. "I only want ten minutes of the decision-maker's time," is a good statement to make. The gatekeeper will relay this information to their boss. The boss may be more open to taking a meeting if they know in advance how long it will last and if the meeting will not take up a lot of their busy time.
Don't lie. Some salespersons will say that they have talked to a decision-maker before, giving the impression that the person knows them. The gatekeeper will check this with the decision-maker. If the salesperson gets caught in a lie, the game is over. The same goes for a salesperson pretending that they are calling about something else. When the deception is revealed, there is virtually no chance they'll ever get to talk to the decision-maker. The gatekeeper will see to this. Plus, no one wants to do business with someone who comes across as dishonest.
Salespersons will always have to deal with gatekeepers, so they might as well learn how to do it properly so they can have better results.


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