In sales you’re faced with all kinds of challenges and obstacles that attempt to prevent you from reaching your objective of booking a meeting or closing a sale, and people are often the most stubborn challenges to overcome.
Whether you’ve been in sales for a matter of weeks or you’re an experienced sales manager who has seen it all in your career, dealing with some people is never easy and its testament to your own ability to be professional - and personal - while also trying to get what you need from the conversation.
Some people will simply object to your attempts to strike up a conversation, while others will be more open yet unable to assist you with your initial enquiry. Then, you have people who are tasked with intercepting sales calls and either putting you through to the relevant person to speak to in the business, or stopping you in your tracks: gatekeepers.
Here we’re going to tell you a bit more about the role of a gatekeeper and how you should approach a conversation with one as a salesperson. Whether you’re new to sales or you’ve been in sales for years, gatekeepers are often the most difficult hurdle to overcome in the sales process, so hopefully these tips will make your life easier.
What is a gatekeeper, and what’s their role in business?
We’ve all come across them, even if we don’t actually know it! So that’s what we’re going to talk about today. Gatekeepers are everywhere and even if they don’t carry the title on their job description they are there to deal with salespeople and other callers looking to get a foot in the door, so we’re going to help you to understand their role and why they exist in business, along with how you can strike up a conversation with a gatekeeper that ultimately gets you what you’re looking for.
For those who haven’t come across the term before, a gatekeeper is someone who intercepts communications from external sources.
Imagine arriving at a shop, or even a restaurant, where you’re greeted by someone at the door and told where your table is, where you’ll find certain items, or that you’re in the wrong place entirely! Well, a gatekeeper works in a similar fashion by instantly analysing different forms of communication and acting on it according to best practices.
In business a gatekeeper might be a secretary or personal assistant, tasked with taking initial calls to an office or answering emails on behalf of an executive, and then they decide whether or not to pass that message or information on to relevant personnel, or to inform the sender that their services are not required.
Essentially, their job is to save the time of members of staff by ensuring that they only deal with relevant or important calls, emails and information, rather than every single call that is made or email that is delivered. Rather than receiving hundreds of emails every day in relation to different marketing pitches, email newsletters and client communications, the gatekeeper would work on behalf of members of staff to intercept this information and forward it if they think it is necessary to do so.
How to speak to a gatekeeper to get what you need
Whenever you speak to a gatekeeper, over the phone or by email, the most important thing to remember is that they are screening every piece of communication and only allowing the best quality and most relevant calls and emails through to the ‘promised land’ of the relevant person’s desk.
So how do you speak to them? Do you go all in for the sale, or do you bide your time and build up the conversation so you get your foot in the door? Ultimately, it varies from gatekeeper to gatekeeper and, of course, your own sales technique. There are five key strategies that you NEED to remember whenever you speak to a gatekeeper, and these should help you to at least reach the person who can discuss or even make a decision on your proposition.
- Don’t try to sell to the gatekeeper.
This person is highly unlikely to have any power to make a decision over whether or not the business will invest in your product or service, but they do have the power to cut you off immediately if you’re a typical cold-caller.
Instead of pitching your product and service to the gatekeeper, speak personally and introduce yourself to them along with your reason for calling. This way they can assess whether or not your call is legitimate or whether you are wasting the business’ time. Perhaps most importantly at this stage, be sure to thank them for their time and assistance - manners cost nothing!
- Be friendly.
Just because you’re trying to reach someone who can influence a sale, it doesn’t mean that you have to go completely to the script and forget all of your manners and personality. You’re speaking to another person, and personal skills are vitally important.
A gatekeeper will immediately stop you in your tracks and put up as many walls, barriers and drawbridges as possible to prevent you reaching your objective if you don’t come across as a friendly person. Whenever you’ve been in a shop or a sales call yourself, you know immediately that you’re not going to take the process to the next stage if the person isn’t friendly so practice what you preach.
- Be confident.
While many are slightly daunted speaking to gatekeepers because they know that they have the final say on whether or not you reach your prospect, it’s important to stay cool and confident in your approach to avoid saying anything that may affect your prospects.
If you come across as friendly and confident then your chances of getting through the gatekeeper increase, BUT, if you go overboard with your confidence you can hamper your chances. An overly ‘pushy’ sales approach and overconfidence can have a negative effect so work on finding a happy medium that shows you’re confident with what you are saying.
- Ask to speak to a person by their name.
If you know exactly who it is in the business that you want to speak to, ask for them by name. Gatekeepers are often put in place behind generic contact details, such as email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org and this is often to prevent salespeople contacting members of staff directly.
However, if you put some time and research into your approach you can find the specific details you need and increase your chances of reaching them. Many professionals post their profiles and employment details on platforms such as LinkedIn, so if you know you need to speak to someone called Michael or Sarah in a specific department, ask for them personally.
The personal touch is always more successful and shows that you’ve taken the time to have a look at the company rather than ‘spamming’ them with sales calls or emails. A message that starts with ‘Dear Sir or Madam’ always has less engagement than one that starts ‘Dear Michael’ or ‘Dear Sarah’, and taking the same approach here will help get you through the gate much more effectively so you can start doing what you do best.
- Leave a message and request a callback or better time to call.
Lastly, leaving your details and requesting a callback or a better time to ring someone specifically can help get you through the gatekeeper quickly and easily, especially if the prospect is already engaged or interested in what you might have to offer them.
If you know the person’s name, ask for them, but if they’re not available don’t give up there - the gatekeeper might be testing you! Ask for a better time to call back, or even request that they give you a call if that’s better for them. This shows that you don’t want to bother them with call after call, which can get you blacklisted, and instead you’re willing to wait for a better time - for them - to have this conversation.
The sales game is always about learning and trying new techniques that get you through to key personnel, or that improve your statistics. If you persist with the same methods for years you’re going to get nowhere, and developing your sales technique will help you to overcome common hurdles such as gatekeepers - who are people just like you at the end of the day.