Receptionists, clerks, secretaries and administrative assistants are the “gatekeepers” of business. An experienced gatekeeper is usually adept at screening cold calls and recognizing sales professionals who attempt to reach the decision-maker without an appointment. This is part of their job—helping the decision maker to avoid interruptions and stay productive. The sales professional’s best bet is to treat the gatekeeper as a potential ally rather than an adversary.
To meet with better success in talking with gatekeepers and contacting decision-makers, keep the following tips in mind:
Remember that they are doing their job, just like you are, and it’s in their best interest to ensure that the boss is not interrupted without very good reason. Rudeness will not help you.
State the reason for your call and briefly explain why you think the decision maker would be interested. A busy decision maker is not likely to return a call from someone they don't know and who hasn’t explained what they want.
Don’t claim to have an existing relationship with the decision maker if you don’t, or prevaricate about your purpose. When the deception is revealed, the gatekeeper will ensure that you never get to talk to the decision maker. Besides, who wants to do business with someone who comes across as dishonest? It makes a poor impression and is unlikely to help your chances.
This person probably knows useful information about the company that you don’t know. Don’t tie the gatekeeper up for too long—they have other callers and visitors to deal with—but ask a few questions while you have their attention.
Dropping in without an appointment will rarely get you access to the decision maker, and the gatekeeper isn’t going to put you on the calendar on the spot, either. You might drop by to introduce yourself to the gatekeeper, though—explain your purpose, leave a card, and then call the office later to make an appointment.
When requesting an appointment, give the gatekeeper a limited and specific time frame. If you let them know you only want ten minutes of the decision-maker’s time, the gatekeeper will relay that information to their boss. The decision maker may be more open to taking a meeting if they know in advance exactly how much time they will need to take out of their schedule for it.
If you are being turned back repeatedly, it is very possible that the decision maker doesn't want to talk to you and has told the gatekeeper as much. The gatekeeper may not state this outright, but if you are continually told that the decision maker is unavailable, it may be time to try another approach, like direct mail.
As a sales professional, you will sometimes find yourself interacting with gatekeepers. Remember and follow these seven rules to get better results!
Rogers has created and led businesses in 13 countries on three continents, has been interviewed on over 100 shows on CNN, CBS, and ABC on the topics of sales, CRM, sales management and corporate productivity, is on the Advisory Board of DePaul University Center for Sales Leadership and was a Texas eCommerce Awards finalist for two consecutive years. His passion for CRM enabled sales performance transformation inspired his two books, Pathways to Growth, co-written with business partner Tony Robbins, and Spark!
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