At one time or another, all salespeople have been confronted with the dreaded gatekeeper—that office assistant or administrator who intercepts sales calls, blocking you from talking to the high-level prospect you want to reach. The conversation typically goes something like this:
You: “Hello, is John Jones in the office, please?”
Gatekeeper: “Can I ask who’s calling?”
You: “This is Steven Roberts with ABC, Inc.”
Gatekeeper: “What is this call regarding?”
And it just keeps getting worse from there. Obviously, no salesperson wants to be stuck in telephone limbo like this when prospecting for new business. Once the gatekeeper has a salesperson on the defense, the call is as good as over. And while there are certainly some ninja techniques you could use to try to overcome the stubborn gatekeeper with your irresistible wit and charm, I suggest an entirely different approach.
Rather than trying to get past the gatekeeper, just avoid the gatekeeper altogether. Sound simple? That's because it is. All you have to do is understand three important factors:
First of all, let’s break down what a gatekeeper is. A gatekeeper is a generally low-level administrator whose job it is to keep unnecessary distractions away from high-level decision-makers. If your prospects are high-level, as they should be, then they will likely have a gatekeeper to protect them from unsolicited callers. Gatekeepers, when doing their jobs properly, are quite difficult to get past. But here's the thing to keep mind: most administrators work some version of a nine-to-five job—so most gatekeepers aren't even at the office early in the morning or during the evening.
Next, let’s explore the lives of high-level prospects. These businesspeople probably have “C,” “VP,” or “Executive” in their titles. They're very busy and work long hours. In order to handle their massive workloads, they'll generally get to the office at 7 a.m. and won’t leave until 7 p.m. Their most productive hours are between 7 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. Most high-level decision makers also come into the office a few Saturdays each month to catch up on work. During those early mornings, late evenings, and Saturdays, they aren't being bombarded by distractions, and they're "unguarded" by administrative assistants.
Now that you've learned about the habits of gatekeepers and high-level decision makers, there's one last piece to add: the experiment. A few months ago, I recruited a group of 10 salespeople to join an informal study. These people were all strong prospectors and consistently made cold calls in order to grow their books of business. In the course of surveying each participant, I learned that 9 of them typically called prospects during the hours of 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Only one of the participants made calls early in the morning, and he admitted that he only did it “sporadically.”
I sensed an opportunity.
I split the group into two teams. Team “A” was to only call prospects during the standard nine-to-five workday. Team “B” was to only call prospects outside of the standard nine-to-five workday—7 a.m. to 9 a.m., 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., or on Saturdays. Each participant kept a record of how many calls were made and how many actual conversations were had with prospects.
The results were staggering.
The salespeople who made prospecting dials outside of the standard nine-to-five workday had around 30% more conversations with high-level prospects than salespeople who made the same calls during the standard nine-to-five workday. (The salespeople prospecting outside of the standard nine-to-five workday also reported that prospecting was less stressful since they rarely had to deal with gatekeepers!)
While this was a relatively small study, it makes a very powerful and relevant suggestion: You're far more likely to connect with prospects when you call outside of the standard nine-to-five workday. Remember, you’re not making money when you don’t connect with a prospect. So, give it a shot, and finally get through to those high-level prospects you've been trying to reach—without having to go through their gatekeepers first! Try making some of your calls early in the morning, some later in the evening, and some on Saturday. Once you do that, be sure to report back your results!