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Keys to the gatekeeper

Keys to the gatekeeper: Eight years ago I was selling advertising for the Yellow Pages. Those who have sold advertising know it is certainly an interesting business to be in. Every year our company would send out a contingent of salespeople to renew and upgrade contracts with existing customers, sign up new customers, and share the newest and most recent trends in advertising. Our book was more than one thousand pages full of listings, which is a huge amount of business and a large number of people to contact. To top it all off, we only had twelve months to sell as much advertising possible, and still meet the print deadline!

The first step in the sales process was to meet with each and every customer, whether it was a renewal or a new customer, and sell them on our advertising as a way to bring in additional business. In order to do this, we would have to call and speak with the decision maker and set an appointment. If we were able to reach the decision maker right off the bat, great! Oftentimes however, we would run into an unforeseen obstacle. It is during this first phone call, especially when calling to potential new customers, when we made first contact with “The Gatekeeper”.

A gatekeeper is a person whom is in charge of letting only important phone calls into the decision makers or other administrative personnel at small to medium sized companies. These are usually administrative assistants or receptionists who are very skilled at determining who to let through, and who not to.

As salespeople, we must first understand that these people are doing the job they are assigned to do… they are not trying to keep us from getting a sale or keep us from hitting our goals. Secondly, we must also keep in mind that if they are keeping us out, they are also keeping out our competitors… this can be a good thing. Lastly, these are other human beings who act and speak professionally as much as possible. Remember: there are bad apples in every bunch. Don’t let one gatekeeper ruin it for the rest.

Generally speaking, gatekeepers listen for a number of things before letting just anyone strut through their door (or be sent right through to the decision maker on the phone). There are a few things they listen for, and if they hear it come from you… they won’t let you through:

  • you sound shaky and unprepared (ums and ahs abound)
  • you ask for a person’s title (President, Manager, Researcher)
  • you ask for a department (Purchasing, R&D, Manufacturing)
  • you use the word “can”
  • you have difficulty answering any question they may pose to you

All of these small (yet important) things may prevent you from getting any further than the gatekeeper. This can be a problem, particularly if your product or service will benefit their company and make them more profitable. You owe it to yourself, and to the company that you are calling into, to be as professional as possible and get through to the correct person the first time. In order to do this, there are a number of “keys” you can use to open the gate and gain approval from almost any gatekeeper:

  • Use the first and last name of someone in the company
  • Speak confidently and use proper grammar: “May I speak with so and so?”
  • Ask for someone in the sales department (who will be sympathetic to your plight)
  • Ask for the mailroom (and then ask to be transferred from there)
  • Tell the truth always, no matter what questions they may ask

These keys will certainly help you have a greater probability of getting through to the decision maker, more often than not. You may still run into a stickler from time to time, who won’t let you through even when using these keys. If this is the case, don’t worry about it! Continue on to the next potential customer and don’t worry about wrangling with this person. Chances are that if the feel this strongly about not letting in any new ideas about business or technology that will make them more profitable, they probably aren’t worth the difficulty anyways.

Give these techniques a try the next time you are on the phone and confronted with a gatekeeper. You will soon find that the more experience you get in speaking with them, the more doors will open up to you.

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