By Jeff Beals
During question-and-answer periods, the same issue keeps coming up in my sales workshops: how to deal with gatekeepers. These people are the receptionists and administrative assistants who stand between you and the decision maker you seek.
I’ve probably been asked five times about gatekeepers in just the past three weeks alone. Why does this issue keep coming up? It’s probably because cold prospecting is getting harder. Decision makers keep getting better at insulating themselves from the outside world. One of their most effective defenses is a diligent gatekeeper.
When it comes to gatekeepers, the biggest mistake you can make is to think of them obstacles or barriers. Instead, you want to build a relationship and turn them into your advocates. Yes, it is possible to win over a gatekeeper.
In fact, there have been times in my selling career, that I have landed an appointment only because I had built a relationship with a gatekeeper. I’ve actually had gatekeepers tell their bosses, “You need to talk to this guy.”
If you sell to business leaders, you may very well come face-to-face with a gatekeeper. Here are four things you can do to win over gatekeepers and turn them into advocates:
Treat them with respect. I’m not talking about the patronizing, artificial respect that too many companies show their admin assistants (like telling admins they are the “most important resource in the company” or giving them cheesy titles like “director of first impressions”). I’m talking about real respect, the respect that exists when you see someone as a partner or an equal.
When you reach a gatekeeper, explain what you’re trying to accomplish and why you are calling. Tell them the same things you say to their bosses. See the gatekeeper as a key part of your selling process. That simple show of respect will put you in the most likeable one percent of vendors who call the gatekeeper. Compared to the vast majority of sales reps who treat gatekeepers as unworthy, lower-class obstacles, you’ll come across as positively different.
Remember to think of gatekeepers as partners in the process – partners to you and their bosses. Many decision makers are so close to their support person that they almost become one person. They can finish each other’s sentences. If the boss sees the gatekeeper as a partner, you should too.
One of the best things you can do to turn gatekeepers into champions is to ask questions. People like it when other people show genuine, sincere interest in them and their organizations. Asking questions gets the gatekeeper involved in your efforts and the answers they provide help you understand more about the decision maker to whom you will ultimately make your pitch. What’s another benefit of asking questions? The gatekeeper may realize that they don’t have the answers you need and may just let you talk to the big shot.
These days it often takes multiple calls to reach prospecting targets. It might also take several conversations to build a high level of trust with a gatekeeper. Even if the gatekeeper likes you, it still may require several callbacks to the keep the process moving. Remember that gatekeepers and their bosses are extremely busy and often downright overwhelmed. That makes you forgettable if you don’t stay front and center.