Getting Through Gatekeepers (Issue 460)

In which we are reminded that working with gatekeepers can increase our chances of success entering a new buying center when we can’t get a referral from a trusted third party. "Getting though gatekeepers" continues to be a hot topic. When we can’t get referrals to our target prospects from people they trust, we’re left with direct, unsolicited approaches to our prospects who frequently employ assistants who are filters or gatekeepers to the target prospect’s offices.

The accepted wisdom on getting through gatekeepers is at least 100 years old. It’s based on power and deception, the unspoken assumption that gatekeepers are brainless, or at least impaired, and have no value to contribute. Typical advice coming from this school of thought includes:

  • When talking to a gatekeeper, respond to a question but follow up with a polite command.
  • Never lie, but give the bare minimum amount of information necessary.
  • Sound like you know the person you’re calling to reach.
  • Call another department, faking a “wrong number,” and ask to be redirected.
  • (If calling from a bank or insurance company) Intimidate them with an opening like, “I’m calling from the bank and it’s really important that I speak with her.”

Here’s the bad news for this approach: Gatekeepers are, for the most part, college educated men and women who play significant roles in their companies. They have brains. They’ve been encouraged to use them. They know the internal networks, information flows, priorities, and people. They make decisions.

Clarity surveyed gatekeepers to ask them, “What influences you most as you’re deciding how to deal with sales representatives who call for your manager or colleague?” The number one answer, by far, was, “They treat me with respect.” Meaning, they don’t lie to me, try to bull their way through me, intimidate me, or patronize me.

One of the respondents said:

“Every day, I redirect 25 – 30 calls away from our President. Many, many salespeople call, insisting they will speak only to him. They’re easy; I just tell them he’s not available. I’m most favorably impressed with the people who give me all of the valuable information up-front. If they tell me why they need him and give me the information I need for a discussion with him, then it’s possible he may be interested and ask me to set an appointment for him, or I can refer them to our controller, our sales manager, or our Vice President, who would be more appropriate.”

So, I’m not saying, “don’t reach out for decision-makers,” and, sure, calling before or after hours is fine. I am saying it’s time to stop gatekeeper “bamboozle.” Work with the gatekeepers to find people in their organizations who will be inspired by our messages and become internal advocates for us. Gatekeepers may be our receptivity points, or they may be other people in the company. Our target decision makers are MUCH more likely to be influenced to see us by referrals of trusted colleagues than by our cold calls (which more than 70% of decision makers will ignore).

So instead of trying to pound down or get through gate keepers, find people who are receptive. Use the gate keepers’ influence and knowledge of their organizations to find conversations to start. Build the conversations from there. In that way we have the necessary network of people inside the organization who are advocating for us so, that when we get to speak to Mr. or Ms. Big and they ask, “Who else has talked to this person in the organization?” there are at least several people who can vouch for us and say, “she has great ideas, listen to her, this is worth our time.”

If we approach dead on with gatekeeper bamboozle, our chances for success are reduced.

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