There’s a particular character in the story of sales that can effortlessly instill fear in even the most experienced reps: the gatekeeper.
In business, a gatekeeper is someone who keeps unwanted sales reps from contacting their intended prospect, also known as the decision-maker. To save the decision-maker’s time, energy, and priorities, gatekeepers will get rid of unwanted traffic by qualifying whether or not you can actually offer something of value to their company.
Examples of gatekeepers within a business include office managers, receptionists, administrative assistants, and behind the scenes decision-makers you aren’t even aware of. Spooky, right?
Getting past the gatekeeper
Essentially, gatekeepers are the last thing figuratively standing in the way of you successfully starting a conversation with your prospect. If you make the cut, you will have the pleasure of being connected with the decision-maker. However, if the gatekeeper doesn’t see value right off the bat, your chances decrease.
Needless to say, being confronted by a gatekeeper can be a bit intimidating. They are responsible for creating a certain set of priorities for their company, and it’s likely not an easy list to be a part of. Here are some tips for earning your spot.
Do your research
Putting your prospecting goals and metrics aside, the point of contacting a person of interest is to have a conversation that will hopefully spark a relationship. Your purpose should remain the same if you are presented with a gatekeeper. And what does any successful conversation between two people require? Understanding.
Before you call anyone, even if you know you’ll likely be speaking with a gatekeeper, make sure you do your research. While they might not have the power that decision-makers do, you’re going to have to impress gatekeepers just as much. Knowledge of their business is a good place to start.
In the digital age, it’s a lot easier to get to know someone. Dissect the company’s website for their mission, history, current solutions, and a rundown of personnel. If you can pick out any potential gatekeepers from their site, that’s definitely a plus. Follow all of their social media accounts and see what they’ve been posting lately. Social channels are very telling of a company’s current situation, so pick up on those cues.
For example, if you find out that a prospect’s business just received a substantial amount of funding, they probably have some more money to invest in a new solution (like yours, hint hint). Or if you see that the business just underwent an unfortunate round of layoffs, it’s definitely not a good time to try to sell them something.
Find anything that will help you create a connection with the prospect and reveal it to the gatekeeper. Make it clear that you understand the prospect’s business and any current pain points they might be facing. Showing this to the gatekeeper is just as important as doing so with a decision-maker.
Tip:That solid connection you find with your prospect is like sales gold. Make sure to keep track of it in your CRM software so it’s easy to find, access, and update.
It’s likely that your cold calling process involves plenty of practicing as if you are speaking to the prospect directly. While there is plenty of value in those hours spent perfecting your initial phone call with a person of interest, you should also incorporate a script for dealing with a gatekeeper.
Now, these are going to be two completely different conversations - there is a clear distinction between a gatekeeper and a decision-maker for a reason. They have two completely different roles. Both important, but different.
To successfully get past the gatekeeper, you first need to understand them. Practice empathy by putting yourself in their shoes. Imagine being responsible for qualifying whether or not a sales pitch is worth someone else’s time, getting countless calls every single day that interrupt your other tasks, or dealing with a harsh decision-maker as a boss.
Think about what’s important to that person in regards to their job and the position that what you’re about to do will put them in.
There are some negative feelings that you might start feeling when confronted with a gatekeeper. The first one being frustration. But that’s not going to get you anywhere close to where you want to be. There’s absolutely no reason why you should be getting snippy with gatekeepers. They are simply people trying to do their job, just like you.
If a gatekeeper is being super persistent in not putting you through to your prospect, remain calm and in control of your tone. If they pick up on a tinge of rudeness, you can kiss all your chances of giving a value proposition to your prospect goodbye.
The second emotion will be nervousness, and while that one is a bit harder to control, there are still some things you can do to combat it. Going back to the last tip, expect the unexpected and make sure you practice speaking to a gatekeeper.
The conversation won’t be identical to the one you imagined having with your prospect, but they’ll include similar goals, like showing the person on the other end that you are worth their time and energy.
Be respectful and inclusive
While the gatekeeper might not be the person for whom your outreach was intended, they still play an extremely important role in their organization. They are the one who has to ultimately decide which sales pitches the decision-maker will hear, meaning they basically have control over the solutions the business ends up purchasing.
It’s likely, unfortunately, that the gatekeeper you’re currently speaking with has experienced a sales call from someone that didn’t show them an ounce of respect. By showing them the consideration they deserve and that you know they are an important member of this process, you might stick out.
Don’t for one second think that you are above them. Simply thinking that makes the opposite true. Make it clear that you want to work with them, not around them.
It’s one thing to say to the gatekeeper that you “want to respect their time,” but another to follow through on that during the rest of the conversation. When they say their name remember it and use it. If you say the conversation will only take five minutes, stick to that timeline.
Building rapport with the gatekeeper is crucial to doing so with your prospect. Act accordingly. Who knows, they might even end up advocating for you.
Speak with confidence
Showing the gatekeeper respect and letting them know you see them as important is a good place to start. On top of that, you’ll also need to be confident when speaking with them. Remember, it’s their job to let only the most value-oriented sales pitches through to the decision-maker.
If it’s obvious you’re shaking in your seat, you might come off as inexperienced and not worth their time. Also, nerves tend to make some people ramble on, making it easy for them to get off topic. If you’re one of those people, you might go through the whole conversation with the gatekeeper without actually getting to your point.
It’s easier said than done, but speak with the utmost confidence. Let your tone and word choice show how sure you are that your solution is the best thing for the prospect’s business. If you aren’t feeling that authentic confidence, there’s nothing wrong with faking it. Stand up when you take the call, straighten up your posture, and take deep breaths.
Use the prospect’s first name
This is a simple and straightforward tip, but an important one nonetheless. Use the prospect’s first name when speaking with the gatekeeper.
This small but powerful detail will show them you’ve at least done enough research to know the prospect’s name. Or they might think you know them already and put you through right away.
The gatekeeper will likely share their name when they answer the phone. So don’t only use the prospect’s name, but their own as well. For example, say your name is Allen, the prospect’s name is Megan, and someone by the name of John answers the phone when you call their office.
Let’s compare two different sentences coming from your end and ask ourselves which one you would be more likely to see value in.
Option #1: “Hi, can I speak to your boss?”
Option #2: “Hi there John. My name is Allen from Company X. May I speak to Megan, please?”
The first sentence seems dull and as if you couldn’t care less about anyone involved. The second one, on the other hand, has four different personal details (the gatekeeper’s name, your name, your company name, and the prospect’s name), and sounds like it’s coming from an actual sales person as opposed to a sales robot.
Don’t sell to the gatekeeper
If you are confronted with a gatekeeper and you immediately start pitching your solution to them, you’re doing it wrong. The gatekeeper doesn’t have time to hear your value proposition nor do they care. To make a formal sales pitch, you need to earn it by first establishing a relationship and showing an immediate promise of value.
The gatekeeper might ask you what this conversation you are trying to have with the decision-maker is regarding, and you’ll need to have an answer prepared that is not a sales pitch. Don’t lie, but don’t sell either.
Mention any previous interactions you’ve had with the prospect and briefly touch on the pain point you are trying to help them resolve. Forget the features of your solution and make it all about them.
Ask to leave a voicemail
If you don’t see yourself making it past the gatekeeper this time around, don’t panic right away.
A good way to approach this situation that still offers a bit of promise is asking to leave a voicemail on their machine. Say that you understand that both they and the decision-maker are very busy, and maybe it would be best if you left a voicemail so the prospect can listen to it when they have the time and focus to do so.
A proper sales voicemail will include your name, company, contact information, and your reason for calling. Keep it brief and make sure to focus on that value. Leave them with a mention of a follow up and an action to take, such as calling you back or checking out the email you’re about to send them.
The gatekeeper is definitely a hurdle to jump, and you don’t want them thinking you don’t value their time. On the other hand, your time is also valuable. If you truly have a solution that could benefit their business, be persistent about showing them how you can make that happen.
Don’t be overbearing or too intense, but don’t give up too easily either. Especially if it’s your first touchpoint with their business. It takes an average of 18 calls to actually connect with a prospect. If it doesn’t work this time around, tell them you’ll call again another time. Let them know they haven’t heard the end of you.
Rejection is a part of sales, but so is persistence.
Embrace the gatekeeper
Some sales reps will be confronted with a gatekeeper and immediately roll their eyes. If that’s the case for you, check the attitude at the door and start embracing the gatekeeper.
Don’t look at the gatekeeper as a roadblock. Think of them as an opportunity to create another meaningful relationship with someone in the organization.
Always lead with respect
There are some key strategies for getting past gatekeepers, and if you implement the tips above whenever you’re confronted with one, your chances of getting through to your prospect increase.
However, at the end of the day, it’s all about approaching the situation with a level head and showing them the respect they deserve. If you do that, they’ll return the favor.
Mary Clare Novak is a Content Marketing Specialist at G2 in Chicago, where she is currently exploring topics related to sales and customer relationship management. In her free time, you can find her doing a crossword puzzle, listening to cover bands, or eating fish tacos. (she/her/hers)