In the rush to get past the gatekeeper many salespeople also pass on the inherent opportunities in openly talking with them. So much of today's sales training focuses on getting past the gatekeeper rather than aligning with them.
Whether it's in person or on the phone, salespeople often ask questions similar to this (especially when making cold calls): "May I please speak with the person who handles fill-in-the-blank?" (i.e. accounting, advertising, office equipment, etc.). Do you think this is the most original, most effective way to get the response you're after? My guess is that they hear this question daily.
What's more, many gatekeepers are better trained and more skilled at detecting a salesperson than the salesperson is in getting around them. And once detected, they'll gladly bury you deep in the voice mail graveyard.
Since you're speaking with them already, why not take a few minutes and align yourself with the gatekeeper? People prefer talking to listening anyway, and, oftentimes for the gatekeeper, it's a refreshing change to be able to communicate as an expert rather than a subordinate. To have someone value the thoughts and expertise they may be unable to normally share in their position.
Therefore, cater to him/her by conversing with them. Ask open-ended, feeling-finding questions (questions in which you ask for their personal thoughts and feelings), then move forward.
The opportunities resulting from positively aligning yourself with the gatekeeper are many. And by far the greatest is the preliminary qualification you can conduct before speaking with the decision maker(s). This qualification is exactly the missed opportunity what I was thinking of when I wrote that many salespeople rush to pass the gatekeeper. Think of all the information you miss if your objective is to get past them, general company information like:
- The type and size of business.
- Whether they are currently using a product/service similar to yours.
- If yes, their opinion of what the company is currently using/doing/etc.
- If no, whether they think there's a need for your product/service.
- What the buying process is like.
- Who the decision maker(s) is/are.
My office staff estimates that in 75 percent of all cold calls made to our company, the salesperson knows nothing about our company yet asks to speak directly to the president or the head of a specific department. You'd serve yourself well to either research a company prior to calling on them or immediately align yourself with the gatekeeper.
Remember the first step in the sales cycle is the Approach step wherein the prospect makes a positive or negative valuation about your integrity and your judgment. Just because this person isn't the decision maker(s) doesn't mean they don't make these valuations and share them with the decision maker(s).
This leads to another opportunity you have with gatekeepers: they often affect the buying decision, many times dramatically. It's been written that a person's true character can be judged by viewing how they treat those who can do nothing for them. This was never more true than in selling.
So many salespeople are often insincere, terse and rude when talking with people who they think can do nothing for them. These salespeople are making a grave mistake, however, and are closing any opportunity of doing business before they ever open it.
Although the gatekeeper isn't the decision maker, you'd better believe they play a part in the decision-making process. And if they've been mistreated, they play a huge part in the decision-making process.
If a staff member tells me that a salesperson was rude or impolite, I don't care what they're offering, I will not do business with them. Yet many salespeople will be rude to my staff and then hit the happy button in those few times I take the call. They soon discover there's no chance for business as I only accepted the call to tell them I don't do business with people who aren't professional to everyone.
Also, you can use your communication with the gatekeeper as both a lead in and a reference when you do speak with the decision maker(s). You can summarize the gatekeepers comments and, if sincere, compliment the decision maker(s) on the politeness and competence of his/her staff. Remember the Approach step? This is where you're at and you want the decision maker(s) to judge you positively.
Although the gatekeeper can be your foe, stopping you cold, he/she can also be your ally, providing you with vital information and the decision maker(s) with positive feedback. Take a few minutes to align yourself with him/her rather than trying to go around him/her.
Roy Chitwood is an author, trainer and consultant in sales and sales management and is president of Max Sacks International, Seattle.