I’ve heard it said that behind every strong man is an even stronger woman; a powerful and often true statement.
For salespeople though, the phrase should probably be adjusted to, ‘behind every important decision maker is an absolutely impossible-to-beat gatekeeper’.
The job of the decision maker’s mini-me is to screen calls and make sure that their boss doesn’t receive any unwanted interruptions.
Get your call right and you could be on the road to monetary success.
Say the wrong things however and the gatekeeper will talk to you in the same way a McDonalds worker talks to you when you ask for an extra sauce: with malice and hatred.
So, how do you convince them that yours is a call worth putting through?
1. Avoid the gatekeeper altogether
The best way to get past the gatekeeper is to actually have the decision maker waiting for your call.
This way to beat the gatekeeper wasn’t really possible 5 or so years ago unless you were really old-school and ‘accidentally’ bumped into said decision maker at the place they always go to for lunch, at their barbers or favorite golf club.
These days, you don’t need to use the same sneaky, old-school tactics to warm up that cold call. Instead, you can be sneaky online, which is much easier, far less time consuming and costs a lot less than a sandwich, haircut or golf club membership.
All you need to do is find your prospective decision maker on a social platform – LinkedIn being the most business applicable – and making a connection with them.
Please note though that there’s a big difference between connecting with someone and actually making a connection with them. I’ve connected with over 500 people on LinkedIn. Have I spoken to them all? No. Have I even spoken to half of them? Not a chance. But the ones I wanted something from, have I spoken to all of them? Of course I have.
The best way to form a connection with someone is to ask for their advice, rather than just emailing them with a pitch. The reason that this is the best way past the gatekeeper is simple: they won’t even be involved at all.
InMail your prospective decision maker and say that you’ve got a question about something industry specific. Say you thought that they would be the best person to ask because of their experience in the field.
One of the things you realize quite quickly about people is that they’re keen to either help out or show off. Either way, if and when they reply, you can either ask them a few industry-specific questions on LinkedIn, or, alternatively, arrange a call.
Once you’re in, you’re in.
It goes without saying that you shouldn’t act as though you don’t care about the answer to the question. In fact, try and ask something that you could actually do with knowing about your industry. This will lead to genuine intrigue from you, which will lead to more questions and genuine rapport, rather than a falsified relationship.
Then, after a few days, try calling back to say thanks, say how it helped, and then ask a few questions about the business and if you could send over a brochure. Not only will the gatekeeper have permission to let you through, the decision maker will more than likely say yes.
From there, it’s up to you to work your magic.
If that fails because your decision maker isn’t too active online or just doesn’t get back to you, it’ll be time to do some real schmoozing with the gatekeeper.
Also, if you’re after more info on using social platforms (mainly LinkedIn) to find greater sales success, get a free guide I wrote on the topic a little while ago here.
2. If you wanna be my lover…
While it’s not necessarily the case that the gatekeeper and decision maker will be the Zach Morris and Screech Powers of the business world, you’ll still need to build a good relationship with the former if you want to get anywhere near the latter.
You wouldn’t skip past the formalities and introductions of a face-to-face interaction with someone you’d never met before, but, for some reason, many salespeople tend to when talking to a gatekeeper.
The gatekeeper possesses the ability to put you through to where you want to be, and they know that. Respect their role and remember that, until you get to the actual decision maker, this is the only decision maker that matters to you.
Imagine how many calls they must deal with every day. Now ask yourself how you can stand out.
The answer is by showing them the basic levels of respect that they deserve. Ask their name, explain your problem and ask who you’d need to speak to with regards to it.
Also, make a note of their name in your CRM and call them by their name whenever you speak to them.
For every call after the first, ask how they are before you try and make your way to the decision maker, even if you already know who you need to speak to.
“Oh hi is that Lucy? Hi Lucy, it’s John again here from ABC Supplies, how are you?”
This method is far more polite than demanding to speak to someone without even saying hello. Show the gatekeeper some respect and they’ll show it back.
Acknowledging and understanding their job role while politely allowing them to understand yours will help build the respect you need to proceed with the sale.
3. Act like a senior
You can be as likable and professional as you like; if the gatekeeper senses that your level of seniority isn’t very high, your chances of getting to the decision maker will dwindle.
The gatekeeper will be reluctant to put through a salesperson who they believe will hold little value in the eyes of their boss. That is, after all, the reason that they’re employed. The more confident your demeanor on the phone, the more likely it will be that the decision maker will take you seriously.
More often than not, it’s not about what you say but the way that you say it. Mumble and grumble your words out and you’ll hear something to the effect of “They’re in a meeting at the moment, send them an email.”
The more you believe in yourself and your product, the better the chances the gatekeeper will put you through. But, comparable to the way you might talk to someone you’re attracted to, the importance of confidence is counterbalanced by that of arrogance (or the lack of it).
Confidence can quite easily be perceived as arrogance if expressed too overtly. While you need to sound confident enough in yourself, remember that forced confidence will be more damaging to your reputation than underselling yourself ever could be.
Again, it’s like speaking to someone you’re attracted to: underselling yourself will just see you put in the dreaded friend zone, but overconfidence will have someone dislike you altogether, exactly what you don’t want with the gatekeeper.
The best way to master this art is to genuinely be confident in yourself and your product. Call prospects who you’re confident you can help so you don’t need to do too much convincing, while actually listening to the gatekeeper.
The combination of these things will see you come across well.
4. Don’t script
Much like any call, a good structure and a set of objection handling techniques will prepare you for how the call may shape up and will ensure that you are correctly equipped to handle whatever the gatekeeper may throw at you.
That said, you don’t want to be boring. And let’s face it, sales scripts are pretty boring. You’re better off having a loose idea of what you’re going to say and just letting it flow.
A list of notes is different to a word-for-word script.
If you bore the gatekeeper and come across as wooden, or ask them a question, listen to that answer and then don’t take that into account just because your next paragraph is scripted, then all of the above techniques will be undermined.
5. The last resort…
Sometimes you can use your sales prowess and charm to no avail – or the decision maker may actually be unreachable. If after a few attempts you can’t get direct contact, then requesting to be put through to their voicemail can allow you one last attempt to pitch to your hearts content, albeit to a machine.
The best way to get some attention is to ask a question that the decision maker simply can’t help but agree with. It’s the same technique that charities use: “Do you wish children in Africa didn’t have to starve?” “Of course I do”, you think to yourself. “Well donating just $5 will help to buy this village food for an entire month.”
This approach is much stronger than just saying, “Will you donate $5?”
Applying this structure for yourself – mentioning the problem that your products solve – could be a huge help in getting a call back or, at least, in having more success the next time you call.