The Gatekeeper . . .

Would you agree we’re all selling something whether it’s a product, a thing, or perhaps a service built around a personal talent or a skill, or profession by way of education? In order to sell, we must be able to present to the buyer, or decision maker. In many cases, getting to the buyer involves a third party: and no one is immune to the gatekeeper.

Gatekeepers may be a necessity, but unless you’re the president of huge, multi-billion dollar corporation your gatekeeper may be getting in the way. I’m sorry, no one is that important where they must have, “need” someone to screen calls. It’s perfectly ok for a gatekeeper to ask whose calling. It’s ok for a gatekeeper to be the bearer of bad news, you’re not available, but when I hear, “ . . . and, what is this in regards to?” I’m immediately turned off. So much so, I’m not likely to ever do business with that company . . . EVER! No person or business exists in a vacuum. Like I said, no one is that important.

Professional sales success requires both a healthy ego and a lot of self-confidence to withstand the amount of rejection that accompanies sales. With these experiences in memory many hold gatekeepers in great disdain. We contrive games to try and get around them, win them over, or embarrass them into putting us through to “the man,” or woman, as the case may be. Sometimes our frustration comes to a boiling point and we say something very unprofessional we know we’ll later regret. The sad part is, it’s usually not the gatekeeper’s fault

You’re there Mr. Bigshot, or you’re not. You’re taking calls, or you’re not taking calls. It’s easy . . . just let your gatekeeper know your status. It’s even ok to let your gatekeeper know from whom you are not taking calls. If you’re not the “only game in town,” maybe even if you are, there must be other towns nearby. Don’t allow your sales cycle to be stretched into infinity. Re-qualify the prospect to a lower category and move it to the bottom of your call list. Here’s the twist, you’re not the only salesman calling on this person or company. Sooner or later the word will get around and other salesman with the same experience will also re-qualify the company and no one will be calling on them. (More about sales cycles and their importance another time.)

Whether a verbal slight-of-hand or a frontal assault, sales trainers all have a favorite strategy to slide in under the gatekeeper’s radar. In my experience few if any of them actually work. Sales managers have a bad habit of brow-beating sales staff into pursuing a numbers tactic . . . “It’s all about the numbers kid. Ya just gotta knock on enough doors.” If you think about this, both tactics are self-defeating. A sales professional’s time is too valuable to spend pitching unqualified leads, jousting with a gatekeeper, or being threatened in front of the whole team at the next staff meeting. Remember, only you can permit someone else to trample your self-esteem.

For those with gatekeepers do yourself a favor: tell your keeper of the gate when, and when you are not available. Some commercial phone systems even have a DND, do not disturb, option built in. Make sure your gatekeeper knows who you will see and who you prefer to not see. It’s a lot like the golden rule.

For gatekeepers, when he walks by ask the boss if he’s taking calls, when will he be taking calls, or not taking calls. Your boss doesn’t have the right to put you into an uncomfortable situation. You are not the monitor of his or her moods. When your boss doesn’t heed this, there’s always voice mail.

For those in the trenches, do your homework, impeccably qualify your prospects, and determine if there is another way to meet your prospect. Memberships in professional organizations or Chambers of Commerce are an excellent way to do that. When you find yourself face-to-face with someone who can make a decision regarding your product or service, ask to swap business cards, then ask if you can give them two—one for their Rolodex and one for their gatekeeper’s Rolodex. Then take your pen and print on the back of the second card, “It’s ok to let his calls through to me.” I guarantee you will elicit a smile, and the decision maker will remember you.