Thursday, August 19, 2010

Ingenious Sales Tip: Breezing Through to the Decision Maker

The Infamous Gatekeeper

You've got your eye on the top sales spot at your company someday.  You know to get there you must make a bunch of cold telephone calls today.

Steeling your resolve, you reach for the telephone and dial the first name on your sheet.  The phone rings, and you await the inevitable, palms sweating.

Because you know to get to this person you must first get past the gatekeeper.  Maybe the call will go to voice mail and you'll be spared the agony, you wonder.  Or maybe the receptionist will put you right through without interrogating you for a change.  That'd be nice, wouldn't it?  You continue to wait as the phone rings... a woman answers!  She spouts the standard company greeting, and you ask for the name of your target.  She asks if he's expecting the call.  Darn!  What to do?  Fudge and give a vague answer or admit you're calling without an appointment?

You give a short answer that you know Mr. C-level Executive will want to talk with you.  The receptionist is relentless: she asks how do you know Mr. Executive, does he know what this is about, is he expecting your call? 

You pause and the gatekeeper delivers the kill: "Is this a sales call?," she asks.  Dejected, you admit you are calling to schedule an appointment.  Her voice turns frosty as she snaps the person you're trying to reach isn't available for an unsolicited call.  Would you like to leave a voice mail, she asks brusquely.  You agree and allow her to put you through so you can leave a message.  You hope for a return call but you doubt one will come.  Terminating the call, you imagine there must be a better way.

Has this ever happened to you?  When calling into a prospect the receptionist, the secretary, or the random person who picks up the phone... all these people can stop you from reaching the decision maker.

Psychology of the Gatekeeper

What is the job of the gatekeeper?  Is it to block everybody from access? Of course not.  But it is to block anybody with whom the decision maker has no interest.  How does the gatekeeper determine this?  By pattern recognition.  She knows unsolicited sales calls will be unwelcome.  And she presumes an incoming call into the main switchboard from a stranger asking for a C-level executive likely falls into this bucket.  So she already presumes you're a sales rep.  It's your job to disabuse her.

She certainly wants to avoid accidentally mislabeling and possibly offending someone important.  So much like a search engine looks for keywords in an online document, she looks for clues to confirm her suspicions.  The types of questions you ask, the way you treat her (as an ally or an obstacle), and the way you project yourself (confident or fearful)... all these factors paint a picture of how she will see you.

If you come off like a confident caller, she lumps you in with that group.  If she can't determine you're not legitimate, she will usually pass you on.

So how do you get passed through?  Put yourself in her shoes: what strangers that would call the main number unsolicited, might be considered important calls to the boss? Clients, service professionals like CPAs, attorneys, current vendors?  What questions do they typically ask to be put through?  What is their demeanor when they call?  How do they treat the receptionist?

Don't get me wrong: don't lie. It's unethical and stupid. Do not pretend to be a customer or a vendor. 
Deceit will always return to haunt you.

But how do you project an air of importance while remaining truthful?

Use Jargon to Paint a Picture

One of my favorite techniques to bypass the gatekeeper is to use language that only the person I'm trying to reach will understand.  Maybe I'm trying to reach the Chief Financial Officer but don't know his or her name.  In a professional but friendly voice, I'll ask the receptionist: "Who is the person in charge of ensuring return on equity this quarter is in line with financial projections?"   If she acts confused for a moment, I help her out: "Would that be the CFO, you think?"

Because I use the language of the person I'm trying to reach, the gatekeeper will associate me with the person I'm trying to reach.  And because people are often uncomfortable passing judgment on subjects they don't understand and are intimidated by experts who do, she'll probably want to pass me through quickly.

To reach the VP Marketing I might ask: "With whom would I speak to discuss the market research from the focus groups...?"   By using the language of the person you want to reach, you remove yourself from looking like a sales rep. If the gatekeeper can't label you as a sales rep, she must assume you're legitimate. If you're upbeat and confident as a legitimate professional would be, she will pass you on to your target.

Do you see how this can help you reach a decision maker in any area of the company?  

Get Put on a Prospect's Calendar

If you're dealing with an executive who has an assistant, you can use the same technique to encourage them to put you on their boss's calendar. I once used this technique and in thirty seconds, I was talking with the CEO of a Fortune 100 computer company. All because the assistant couldn't figure out what I was talking about.  

Try it and let me know how it works for you. Leave your comments and questions below.  Until then,

profitable business All!


  1. Hi

    I did sales for my company for a while, the hadest thing sometimes is getting past these people, it's really just good to become friendly with them, build up a repor.
    Great article, thanks for taking the time to do this, really informative, great blog.

  2. Hi Essex,
    Thanks for your readership and your comment. Yes, I think you're right. Every sales training class talks about "developing rapport." Here is a quick way to skip it with the gatekeeper entirely, develop instant credibility, and be handed off directly to the decision maker where you work to develop rapport with them. Which approach would you prefer?


  3. Hello

    Yeah you have a really good point there, it is important to get to the person in charge as quickly as possible, it's allways handy to have the 'gatekeeper' on your side though, as they will put through their vision to their superiors, which can instantly boost your image before even talking to them.


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