Getting Past the Gatekeeper

During the course of a business-to-business phone sale there are two different types of gatekeepers, receptionists and assistants. There are different tactics to handling each.

The Receptionist:

  • First Name Basis: As soon as you know the receptionist’s name, jot it down and use it at least twice during the course of your conversation. Make sure that you save the receptionist’s information in the CRM for your next call.
  • Get Personal: Gatekeepers are not your enemy; they are just doing their job by blocking unwanted calls. Focus on building a good relationship with them which can help you gain an ally in their organization.
  • Be Personal: Do your homework prior to making the call. Know the name of your contact and ask for him as if you are already an acquaintance. For example “Good morning Sally, this is Jessica, is Jim available? Thank you.” Note the assumptive “Thank You” as opposed to “Please”.
  • Be Specific: If you are directly asked why you are calling, be specific but talk over the gatekeeper’s head. For example, “This is Jessica from Sys2K. I have more information for Jim about upgrading his data processing and network infrastructure.” If the gatekeeper asks if the decision-maker requested the information, respond with, “I sent him over the specs last week and am just following up to see if he has any questions.”
  • Ask for information: If the decision-maker is still unavailable, ask the best time to call. Ask for the name of the person with whom you should be speaking if you are unsure. The receptionist is not going to volunteer information unless you specifically request it.
  • Call During Slow Hours: If you are having a hard time getting through, trying calling at different times. Most owners and principals are in meetings at the start of the day; try later in the morning or early afternoon.
  • Don’t Accept a No: A gatekeeper will frequently try to dissuade you from continuing to call by stating that the decision-maker has no interest or need in software. If someone does not have the power to say yes, don’t take no for an answer.

The Assistant:

  •  Evaluate: Larger organizations will frequently assign an assistant to gather information for the decision makers or he may make the final recommendation to the owner or board. It is important to determine the degree of influence which is the assistant has on the final sale.
  • Become a Team Player: Establish a team relationship with the assistant gatekeeper by educating him on his options. Providing him with the information needed to negotiate the software evaluation process will help earn his trust.
  • Ask for Help: If you have correctly established a team relationship with the assistant gatekeeper, ask for help. Ask about their needs and frustrations. Ask who is making the final decision and the best way to engage the decision-maker. Ask him to help champion your cause.

A few other points to remember:

  • Sound Important: Listen to senior management on the phone and copy their tone of voice. Gatekeepers know when someone important is calling and will generally transfer these calls with little to no questions. Most sales associates end sentences with an upward inflection turning a statement into a question and sending a subliminal message of inferiority. Practice turning statements into orders by a downward inflection while still sounding polite. For example “Good morning Sally. This is Jessica, please let Jim know that I am on the line. Thank you.”
  • Slow down: Rushing your intro makes you appear nervous and uncertain. As a general rule, senior management speak slower with confident inflections. Listen to your senior management and model their pace, tone, pitch, pauses and emphasis.
  • Stay Specific: Don’t give additional information. Only respond to questions asked and answer with yes or no when appropriate remembering to end with a respectful “Thank You.” You want to give the gatekeeper the perception that you are an important, expected caller. Giving too much information lets the gatekeeper know that you are trying to sell them which immediately puts you in an inferior, supplicating position.
  • Believe: Winners, win. Every time that you place a call, call with confidence.
  • Stay Positive: If and when you do fail to get past the gatekeeper, remember to stay positive and keep calling!

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