When I saw the headline, ‘How to handle gatekeepers and reach decision-makers’, I was interested.
OK, I admit it, I was excited.
Yes, I thought, here’s an online article I can share with my business-to-business (B2B) sales team – tips on how to handle phone conversations with receptionists, personal assistants and others who can help us gain access to C-suite executives.
How wrong I was.
Here’s some of the questionable advice the article offered:
Avoid your prospect’s gatekeeper by calling the company’s accounts or sales department instead (or even a different division or location) and asking them to transfer you direct to your prospect.
Dial one or two digits off your prospect’s phone number, then ask the unprepared person who answers to transfer you direct to your prospect.
If you do speak with your prospect’s gatekeeper, intimidate them with difficult questions, so they’ll be inclined to put your call through to your prospect (who can answer them).
Pretend the call is personal when it’s not (“Hi, can I speak with Mary? It’s a personal matter. She’ll know what it’s about.”)
Say that your prospect is expecting your call, when they’re not
Pretend you’re returning your prospect’s call, when you’re not
Intimidate the gatekeeper by pretending, in your voice and tone, that you’re someone more senior than you actually are.
Create false deadlines (“It’s urgent that Ken and I discuss this matter before close of business today!”)
Don’t give the gatekeeper your company name.
I can’t think of another way to say it – suggestions like these are dishonest and lazy. They betray a salesperson’s lack of confidence in their own ability and message. Not only that, they’re likely to backfire by damaging your reputation and that of your company.
What shocked me even more than the article itself were the approving comments posted beneath it. Some commenters, in fact, offered even more unethical advice, such as telling the gatekeeper that the call is about “my pregnant daughter” or saying that you’re calling about their boss’s spouse’s gambling debts.
The ‘key to the gate’
After reading this I thought, “surely there are others who think about this subject the way I do.” Surely some people understand that integrity, honesty, respect and humanity are the most effective attributes a salesperson can demonstrate?
One book I have found, which we have based our approach on is called 'The key to the gate: principles and techniques to get past gatekeepers to the decision maker' – written by EksAyn Aaron Anderson.
Anderson’s advice is very different to the tips offered in the before-mentioned article.
He begins by explaining that fundamental principles are always more important than clever sales techniques.
“Good salesmanship is the art of building trust and influence”, he suggests. “This trust and influence can only last if built upon true principles.”
So what are the important principles to consider when approaching a corporate gatekeeper?
“While the gatekeeper holds the key to the gate and then beyond to the decision-maker,” writes Anderson, “you have the ability to influence the gatekeeper. You need to leave a positive, memorable impression that lets you stand out from all the other salespeople that contact him each day. The distinguishing factors come when you act with solid principles: treat everyone with respect and as a friend, act with integrity, and be genuine and gracious.”
Treat gatekeepers like gold
Anderson understands that people, in general, like to be acknowledged and recognised. When you take the time to compliment others, they will usually receive it like a breath of fresh air among all the complaints and rude demands they experience in their day-to-day lives.
The most important principle in sales, therefore, is that ‘everyone is important.’
“’Influential’ people are not more important than ‘non-influential people’. In fact, in organisations the ‘non-decision-makers’ are often the ones that eventually help the decision-makers actually make the decision.
“In many situations, it is the gatekeeper who really runs the show. He reminds the boss where she needs to be and when, books her schedule, screens her phone calls etc.
“The gatekeeper may even be the one who actually makes the decision regarding your product or service despite not having the official title. Gatekeepers often act as trusted advisors to the people they guard. Often gatekeepers and decision-makers are very close.”
That’s why, in terms of techniques that align with this principle, an effective approach is to:
Honestly, sincerely compliment the gatekeeper on their helpfulness and professionalism (assuming, of course, that they really are helpful and professional)
Send a note to the gatekeeper’s boss, reiterating the gatekeeper’s positive qualities.
Copy the gatekeeper on the email.
Anderson believes these simple steps can do wonders for your appointment-setting results, as long as you are sincere and honest. Having used a similar approach myself on many occasions, I can only concur.
The personal touch can make all the difference
Senior executives and their gatekeepers field calls from many ‘faceless’ salespeople each day. The way to stand out is to establish a personal connection, and there are simple ways you can do this.
“Reach out. Communicate. Connect in real, tangible ways,” suggests Anderson. “Real people, including gatekeepers, are hungry for real communication and connection.”
One of the best ways of establishing a personal connection is to send a thank-you note or card to the gatekeeper and their boss. You’ll find that a little appreciation goes a long way. The gatekeeper will often be grateful for the recognition.
“With the gatekeeper on your side, you may be surprised at how influential he can be in helping you to get an appointment with the right people.”
Most people like to reciprocate when others treat them with personal kindness and respect. Gatekeepers are no different.
It also helps to make a note of small details during your conversation.
“Remembering ‘little’ details about the gatekeeper,” writes Anderson, “may help you build rapport and melt the defences that gatekeepers tend to deploy when screening out salespeople. You move from a faceless, pushy salesperson into an acquaintance they look forward to speaking with.
“With this elevated level of connection, you are more likely to get through the ‘gate’ to the decision-maker.”
It’s also useful to do your research and make a ‘map’ of who’s who in a large organisation. Each time you connect with someone in the prospect firm, or hear a name mentioned, record their position and relationship with others.
That way, in future conversations with gatekeepers and others, you can mention different internal stakeholders by name. Your perceived status will change from anonymous ‘outsider’ to knowledgeable ‘insider’.
“Note everything! Specifically ask for information (‘Who handles this?’). With each phone transfer, you are getting new names. Use every phone call as an opportunity to build your map.”
Love is the answer
The most important thing to remember, when speaking with a gatekeeper, is that this is a real person who matters. They’re more than just a barrier on your way to reaching someone more important.
“This may sound quaint, humorous or even offensive to some seasoned, more jaded salespeople,” says Anderson, “but the truth is that ‘Love is the answer.’ Love melts defences. When you choose to truly care about the person on the other end of the line, he or she will sense it.
“That’s why complimenting the gatekeepers you have already spoken to the decision maker works. If you are trying to manipulate, she will sense it.
“You may ask ‘How can I care about someone I just met?’ The answer is simple. You choose to. It is simply a choice. You have to be genuinely interested in helping the gatekeeper. You have to care enough to truly listen, not just selectively listen, or pretend you are listening. Listen. Really listen.
“Be brave enough to love the person on the other end of the line. This is a person just like you. A person with real dreams, real fears, has experienced disappointment, and who feels deeply just like you and me. Be willing to do something to truly help her, whether or not she gets you the appointment.”
Demonstrating genuine humanity towards others is the most effective and rewarding approach to take in every aspect of our lives.
Business is no exception.