There was a headline I saw that very much interested me. Okay, admittedly, it actually excited me. It read, “How to handle gatekeepers and reach decision-makers.”
This, I thought, is an online article that would be great to share with my B2B sales team. It contained tips on dealing with personal assistants, receptionists, and others who could gain us access to C-suite executives.
I was quite wrong. Some of the very questionable advice offered was:
Get around a gatekeeper by calling the company’s sales department or accounts department (or another location or division) and asking them to transfer you directly to your prospect.
Dial a number one or two digits different than your prospect’s number. When the unprepared person answers, ask them to transfer you to your prospect.
If do happen to speak to your prospect’s gatekeeper, confuse and intimidate them with difficult questions so that they’ll be likely to put you through to your prospect (who is capable of answering them.)
Pretend it’s a personal call (“Hi, can I speak with Alice? It’s personal—she’ll know what it’s regarding.”)
Tell the gatekeeper that your prospect is expecting your call when they aren’t.
Say that you’re returning your prospect’s call, when you’re not.
Use your voice and tone to intimidate the gatekeeper by pretending you’re more senior than you actually are.
Insinuate a false deadline. (“Bob and I must discuss this matter before today’s close of business!”)
When talking to the gatekeeper, leave out your company name.
The only way I can characterize these kinds of suggestions is to say they’re dishonest and lazy. They illuminate the salesperson’s lack of confidence in their sales ability and message. Beyond that, such tactics will very likely backfire, damaging your company’s reputation and your own.
I had even more of a shock—above that of the article itself—when I saw the approving comments that were posted beneath it.
Some of the commentators went even further and offered even more unethical advice, such as informing the gatekeeper that the subject of the call is “my pregnant daughter” or saying that the call is about their boss’s gambling debts.
The Real Key to the Gate
After reading this, I had the thought that there must be others who view these practices like I do. There must be at least some people who understand the integrity, humanity, respect and honesty are the most important characteristics to be demonstrated by a salesperson.
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 aforementioned 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.”
Regard Gatekeepers as Precious
Anderson understands that people, in general, like to be acknowledged and recognized. 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 organizations 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 Real Difference Is that Personal Touch
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 organization. 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.”
The Answer is Love
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.
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