7 Strategies for Dealing With Gatekeepers

Last week while I was training my new assistant and reviewing her responsibilities, she asked me how she should handle calls from salespeople. The look on her face told the story. Dealing with salespeople was a task she didn’t consider pleasant.

It made me think about the ongoing tug-of-war between sales professionals, who are trying to get in the door, and the gatekeepers assigned the duty of keeping them at bay.

I also considered that with so many people vying for my time, both inside and outside of my organization, if I met with every salesperson who called I would never get my job done; which, is exactly why I have a gatekeeper. Her job is to protect my time so that I remain focused on the most critical tasks. Unfortunately that puts her in the unenviable position of saying no to salespeople.

A universal truth in sales is that salespeople hate gate keepers. Gatekeepers get paid to keep you from getting to decision makers and this sets up an ugly stand-off. Sales professionals sometimes become so frustrated with gatekeepers that they begin to experiment with tricks that, too often, make them look foolish. These schemes, regrettably, impact both parties which is why so many gatekeepers, like my assistant, would rather have their teeth pulled than deal with a salesperson.

The reality though is you are going to have to deal with gatekeepers often. There is just no way to avoid it. So is there a secret? I know you are hoping I’ll say yes but the answer is no. There are no secret techniques that will get you past gate keepers.  There are, however, strategies, that will give you an edge when dealing with gatekeepers.

To leverage these strategies it is critical to understand that gatekeepers are people just like you. Step into their shoes: They have emotions, worries, motivations and, like you, a boss and a job to do. Because of this, your success in getting through the gate depends on a combination of good manners, likeability, and people savvy.

7 Strategies for Dealing With Gatekeepers

  1. Be Likable: Project a positive, cheerful, outgoing personality. Be polite and respectful. You are guaranteed to fail with gate keepers if you are rude, pushy and ill mannered. Always leave them with a positive impression of you and your company.
  2. Use Please, Please: In the book, The Real Secrets of the Top 20%, the author, Mike Brooks advises that the “single most powerful technique” to get past gate keepers is to use please twice. For example, when a gate keeper answers the phone you might say, “Hi, this is Jeb Blount from Sales Gravy, could you please connect me to Mike Brooks, please.” Using please twice is powerful and it works because it shows respect and good manners.
  3. Be Transparent: Tell the gate keeper who you are – your full name and the name of your company. To do otherwise creates a big neon sign with an arrow pointing to you that says, “Pushy, lying, cheating, cheesy salesperson.” Full disclosure makes you sound professional and worthy enough to pass through to the boss.
  4. Connect: Gate keepers are people just like you. And like you, they like people who are interested in them. If you speak to a particular gate keeper often, be sure to ask about how they are doing. Learn to listen to their tone of voice and respond when you hear something amiss. Ask questions about their family and their interests. There are gate keepers I deal with on a regular basis who I know better than the boss. When I call I will often spend more time talking to them than to my client. Because of these strong relationships they take care to ensure that my call always takes priority and that I get on calendars.
  5. Hold the Cheese: Never use cheesy schemes or tricks. Tricks don’t work. They harm your credibility and you’ll end up on the gatekeeper’s do-not-talk-to list, which means it will have to snow at the equator before you get through. Be honest about who you are and why you are calling and ask for what you want. You may not get through the first time, but your honesty will be appreciated and remembered which will play a huge role in opening the gate in the future.
  6. Ask for Help: Sometimes an honest and authentic plea for help will get a gatekeeper on your side. Sprinkling in a little humor can also make a difference. Once I walked into a business, attempting for the umpteenth time in a row to get an appointment. The receptionist looked up at me and said, “Are you back again? I thought I told you that we are not interested!” I responded with a smile, “I just came by to see you because I hadn’t gotten quite enough rejection today to fill my quota.” With that she laughed. It opened up a conversation where I was able to explain that commissions were how I fed my family and all I needed was a little help. She made a call to the DM and I got a meeting.
  7. Change the Game: Sometimes the best strategy is to side step the gatekeeper. This can be accomplished in several ways:

Call Early or Late. The boss tends to be in the office earlier than the gatekeeper and stays later.

Leverage Social Media. Few people allow their gatekeeper to have access to their social inboxes. Sending a LinkedIn InMail, for example, allows you to move right past the gatekeeper.

Meet Them in Person. Attend conferences, networking events, civic clubs, charity events, and tradeshows where your prospect hangs out – no gatekeepers there.

Send an Email. An email may allow you to skip past the gatekeeper.

Send a Hand Written Note. In today’s digital culture, hand written notes sent via snail mail get through. If your note is sincere, funny, and if you add something of value (note a brochure is not value) or congratulate your prospecting on an achievement there is a very good chance that you will get a response.

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