If you’re selling something, you’re going to meet the gatekeeper at some point – and that person can make or break your chances of actually landing the sale. Who is the gatekeeper? It’s the person at the other end of the phone who has the power to decide whether or not to forward your call to the person who actually has the ability to make a buying decision.
At some point in the sales process, every sales person needs to talk directly to the customer, of course. Your company might make some indirect sales and inbound techniques to draw customers in, but the real sales still come from you having a direct conversation with your customer. Sounds simple enough – until you meet the gatekeeper.
The Gatekeeper Problem
Whether you are cold calling a client, or reaching out to someone you know for sure is interested in your product, you’re probably going to meet the gatekeeper. The gatekeeper will most likely be your target’s PA or secretary. Part of their job is making sure only really important calls get put through to their boss – and convincing them that your call is important can be quite the challenge. Or perhaps you’ve found yourself trying to use the switchboard, and found out that it’s company policy not to forward your call.
Whatever the case, if you want to make the sale you’re going to need some tactics up your sleeve to get past the gatekeeper.
Change Your Target
Sometimes the best way to get past the gatekeeper is simply to change your target. If you’re aiming for someone who is in upper management, for example, getting past the gatekeeper takes more work. So why not aim for a more junior person within your target’s team? A more junior staff member might not have decision making power, but they do have a direct line to your target and will listen to and understand your offer.
If that doesn’t work, you can also try aiming higher. If your target is in middle management, you might find they act as something of a gatekeeper themselves! Aim for the highest person you can. They might tell you to pitch a middle manager, but this time you’ll be doing it with their say so, which gives you added authority.
Talk To The End User
Another tactic you can try is to focus on reaching the end user of your product or service, even if that person isn’t the budget holder or decision maker. The end user knows what problems he is facing – and he can easily be shown how your product will solve those problems for him.
His manager (ie the budget holder) might believe everything is fine and there’s no need to invest in a new product. But the end user, the person in the trenches so to speak, knows the truth. That means he can approach his manager and persuade them of the need for your product. Hearing it from someone in the organization who knows their job inside out is a compelling recommendation.
Get Specific When You Call
Giving specific details can help get your call put through. The idea is to make it clear that you really need to speak to your target, because your call is important to them and they will understand what you’re talking about. You can achieve this by talking about your product in a very specific and technical way. The gatekeeper may well feel that it’s either too important or too over their head to ignore, and thus will forward your call.
You can also get specific about how your target person uses products like yours in daily life already, and spell out the benefits in clear terms. Make it clear that forwarding your call will greatly benefit their boss.
One word of warning here: Be concise when you do this. If you ramble you’ll irritate the gatekeeper and they’ll hang up on you. Remember, you’re not trying to sell to the gatekeeper, just to persuade them to put you through.
Use Personal Connections If You Have Them
If you have any kind of personal connections, use them when talking to the gatekeeper. For example, if you are already a supplier to another branch of the company, say so. If another person in the organization buys from you, use their name.
Or why not simply say that someone else in the company recommended that you talk to your target?
If your intended contact is connected to someone you already know in the company (for example because you met them at a networking event), use the name of your mutual contact when trying to get in touch.
It’s so simple, and so easy to overlook, but respect goes a long way. Would you put through a call from someone who belittled you or had a bad attitude? Chances are the gatekeeper won’t either!
Remember, the gatekeeper isn’t there to thwart you. They’re just doing their job by screening calls. Instead of seeing them as the enemy, approach them with respect and try to build rapport. They’ll remember the positive interaction and you’ll get a much better response if you call back in the future.
There’s another advantage to respecting the gatekeeper: They’re a mine of information. A few non-probing questions and a little fact checking can get you extra information about your target and the company.
If All Else Fails – Use Voicemail
If you’ve called several times and tried out the tactics outlined above and you still can’t get past the gatekeeper, it might be time to try voicemail.
Getting put through to your target’s voicemail isn’t as effective as getting put through to them personally, but it’s a definite step forward from being stuck at the gatekeeper. If you can get on voicemail, you can leave a message that entices them to call you back. And, if you call back again, you can honestly say “I left them a message but we do need to talk further”.
Tell the gatekeeper that they stand to benefit from putting you through to voicemail. Try saying something like “I’ve already taken up a lot of your time”, or “rather than bother you further, can I leave a message on his voicemail?”
Getting past the gatekeeper is a challenge all salespeople have to face at some point. Have a plan in mind before you make the call. Know what you want to say, keep your eventual aim in mind, and don’t get discouraged. Your target has the budget and power to buy from you – and you can reach them, if you’re smart about it.