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Prying Open the Gatekeeper’s Gate

For many of us, a new year brings new beginnings, new commitments, new goals and new strategies. Maybe you’ve already reviewed your sales efforts and successes from last year, or maybe you are working on that right now. In either case, you look at what you’ve done, compare it to what you had planned and consider what you could do differently to improve sales this coming year.

While considering strategies for sales improvements, don’t overlook the vital role “gatekeepers” play in your sales success, or lack of success. Gatekeepers are those key people who tend or guard your prospect’s “gate”. Gatekeepers supervise or monitor activity for the prospect you are trying to reach and will help – or hinder – your attempts to reach the decision-maker you’re after.

Although gatekeepers are not everywhere, you will encounter them in many places. Sometimes the gatekeeper is the first person you reach and is the person who answers the phone. Other times their role may be assisting the person you are trying to reach or assisting your contact’s whole group or department. Sometimes gatekeepers have their own gatekeepers. Gatekeepers can also be voicemails and company auto-attendants, but I’m going to talk about people who act as gatekeepers.

A quick Internet search gave LOTS of articles with advice about successfully getting past gatekeepers. The articles I browsed offered a variety of suggestions and opinions on “dealing” with gatekeepers. One article I found discussed gatekeepers in the government sector, but is applicable across all industries, and gives examples of what works, and what doesn’t. To read more, see Eileen Kent’s article at fedmarket.com, “GATEKEEPERS – The Sales Rep’s Best Friend”, http://www.fedmarket.com/articles/government-gatekeepers.shtml (accessed January 6, 2010). I too prefer to look at gatekeepers as friends, rather than guardians of gates I need to pry open.

That being said, I’ll throw in my opinion about working with gatekeepers, based on my own business-to-business marketing experience. First, and most importantly, I believe it’s imperative to remember that gatekeepers are just other people, doing their job, like you and I. If you treat them decent, with politeness, professionalism, and respect, there’s usually a good chance they will help you in your quest to reach the person they “guard”.

Secondly, when you’ve reached a gatekeeper for the appropriate decision-maker, always be prepared with a confident, succinct response when they ask why you are calling. Then, follow their lead and listen for clues that may help you reach your prospect. Sometimes they will request you leave a message with them. Other times, they will request you send them an email. In some cases, they will take all your information and then transfer you to the prospect’s voicemail anyway. Again, be prepared to leave a short, professional, meaningful message rather than hanging up on the voice mail.

Sometimes gatekeepers will direct you to a more appropriate person, or that person’s gatekeeper. When that happens, you just received a direct referral. Even if the referral is to another gatekeeper, a referral can help set a more positive tone and establish rapport with the next gatekeeper.

Occasionally, company policy prohibits gatekeepers from allowing access through their gate – period. When that happens, continue to be polite and professional. Then, my next step is to try and “go around” the gatekeeper. Quickly research the company and search for other names or extensions to try. I’ve sometimes found this method can get you referred to the right person. Even if it’s a roundabout way, it’s still a referral to pave the way to the decision-maker.

Bottom-line – be persistent, pleasant and professional. Never deceive or lie, and always be truthful. Let the gatekeeper guide the conversation and try to gather information in the process. Don’t ever make the gatekeeper look bad and practice the “golden rule”, and you may be surprised at how helpful these key people can be.

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