Sales prospecting can be tough and very frustrating, if you don’t understand how to work with gatekeepers. I’ve often asked myself, “Why are gatekeepers so darn evil?” Well, the answer is they’re not, but I’ll get to that later. First, a little personal history; I come from a sales family. My dad was in sales most of his life as was my mom. It was almost destiny that I ended up in this profession. I’ve been in sales as long as I can remember having a job and like you, I’ve butted heads with the evil gatekeeper time and time again.
I know how they operate. They have their special little gatekeeper clubs where they plot ways to crush our egos on the phone like they were grapes in a winepress. They probably have dedicated web sites where they post secret audio and video recordings of them maniacally and brutally eviscerating our self-worth as we slink off to the bathroom to cry like babies. Maybe there is an underground gatekeeper school where they learn tactics on how to make salespeople suffer for calling them or walking through their doors. After all, these men and women live to find ways to ensure we never get in touch with the decision makers, right?
The only problem with this twisted fantasy? It isn’t really the truth. My mom was a Director of Sales in the hotel industry for years. When she retired she embarked on a second career as an executive assistant, i.e. gatekeeper, for the president of a large nationwide company. Early on in my sales career while I was home for dinner one night after having a particularly bad day cold calling this is the conversation we had:
Me: “You know Mom, we hate people like you at the office!”
Me: “No! Gatekeepers!”
Mom: “Ok, well first pass the rice, then tell me why exactly you and your counterparts hate me.”
Me: “You’re the gatekeeper. Your job is to ensure I never get in touch with guys like Tim (her boss a.k.a. The Decision Maker)”
Mom: “Wrong on all counts boyo!”
Me: “Ok, then enlighten me.”
Now, here is where it got interesting…
Mom: “My job is to ensure you don’t waste Tim’s time… Period.”
Me: “So you’re saying you don’t blow off every sales rep that calls in to your office?”
Mom: “Of course not! As a matter of fact I have an obligation to put your call through if there is a compelling reason to do so.”
So there it was. The problem wasn’t them, it was me. These weren’t gatekeepers. No! They were guardians, stewards of the gate if you will. The reason we get blown off is we call up and spout off some meaningless diatribe about how we are trying to reach “so and so” as we can bring great benefit to the organization and then have absolutely nothing compelling to back it all up. Unfortunately, this screams “waste of time” to the person on the other side of the desk or other end of the phone.
I know, I know, the truth hurts. It hurt me that night as it hit me like a ton of bricks right between the eyes. But it helped me realize that I had to work differently going forward. No more dialing for dollars without some advance research. The focus: identify problems that were negatively impacting the company’s productivity and efficiency, their revenue, the image they project or perhaps even the safety and security of their people. My objective was to discover something that was compelling enough to make that person on the other end of the phone say “ok, hang on for one minute while I see if he’s available.”
Once I started doing that things changed for me. Not only did I get past more gatekeepers, I secured more appointments of higher quality and you can too. Next time you get ready to dial for dollars or try to sneak your way past the gatekeeper, take a step backward. Gather some meaningful information that makes it clear why this corporate guardian should pass you on to the decision maker.