Turn the office 'gatekeeper' from a foe to a friend


For those who follow my articles regularly this article may seem, at first glance, to be a reprint.

In actuality, it is a follow-up to the original "Gatekeeper" article I wrote a couple of years ago.

During that time, "Gatekeeper" has received an incredible amount of feedback and, therefore, I felt strongly that I should write a follow-up piece incorporating some of the valuable input, questions and ideas I've received from readers.

In this article, I will also delve more deeply into understanding administrative professionals, developing a solid rapport with them and how these efforts can help pave the way for smoother, more effective selling.

When it comes to making cold calls, there seems to be a common misconception in selling that the "gatekeeper" -- the administrative professional who either answers the phone or is the first point of contact within the company -- must be circumvented at all cost.

Since this person is typically viewed as standing between a salesperson and the decision maker, getting past them would, in theory, seem essential. The fact that it is presented this way in much of sales training today only adds credence to the belief.

Though seemingly rational, this belief is, nonetheless, flawed.

In the all-out rush to get to the decision maker, most salespeople overlook the opportunity to spend a moment speaking with the gatekeeper because they do not understand how crucial he or she can be to making the sale. A savvy salesperson, on the other hand, understands what a gold mine of information this individual can be and chooses to see them not as a foe but as an ally.

The salesperson who understands this and takes the time to create a good rapport with the first point of contact is well on the way to turning a routine cold call into a sale.

Unless the person who answers the phone is new to the business world, you can assume that he or she has developed a keen ear for unsolicited sales calls. For many administrative professionals, this kind of weeding out process is actually a job requirement. Managers and executives count on them to keep interruptions to a minimum by keeping non-essential calls at bay.

Therefore, the salesperson who calls and asks: "May I please speak with the person who handles the such-and-such?" (i.e. purchasing, buying, advertising, office management, etc.) is all but guaranteed to meet with a negative response.

To an administrative professional, this is clearly a call from someone who knows nothing about the company, let alone the name of the person with whom they wish to speak.

Were you to make a cold call such as this, it would likely be buried in the voice mail graveyard or you could find yourself calling back endlessly for someone who is forever "in a meeting".

Worst of all, you could be cut off abruptly with the dreaded, "We're not interested," before you've even had a chance to say your name let alone talk about the value of your product or service.

To prevent being turned away and to ensure that your call finds the right person, you'll have to make a shift in your thinking as well as in your approach.

Ask anyone who is or has ever worked as a receptionist or in a similar administrative position and you will find that they are veritable hubs of company information.

Beyond having experience and expertise, the unique information they can provide about the overall climate of the company, the potential receptiveness of certain executives or decision makers to your presentation or the likelihood that the firm could have a potential need for your product or service can be invaluable.

Since you have them on the phone already, why not take a few minutes to introduce yourself, ask a few questions and then spend a moment listening to what they have to say?

Your interest in their knowledge of the company and willingness to listen can offer them an empowering opportunity to communicate as an expert rather than serving as a subordinate. When you show you are someone who values their thoughts and advice, you'll begin the process of creating a positive relationship with the company.

As we all know, politeness and courtesy are key in business and your dealings with those who are the first points of contact are no exception.

The initial step in the sales cycle, the Approach step, is the time when your prospect will evaluate your integrity and decide if they can trust you.

Never make the mistake of thinking that because this person is not the decision maker that their negative impression of you won't be shared with the person who is.

Being insincere, terse or rude because you assume this person is inconsequential is a grievous error.

Being polite and respectful of every person at every company with which you come in contact will reflect positively on you as a true sales professional and will serve to increase your sales in the long run.

Therefore, once you've introduced yourself and politely asked for a moment of their time, you'll want to ask a few open-ended questions.

Ideally, these questions will allow for plenty of elaboration and should be designed to provide you with the greatest amount of information possible. Ask questions to find out who the decision makers are, what the buying process is like, whether they currently have a supplier who handles the product or service you're selling (and if so, how is it working out?) the type of business they are in and how many employees they have.

Asking open-ended questions to gather this crucial information will not only help you to gain a deeper understanding of the company and their business but that understanding will allow you to more effectively demonstrate to the decision maker how well your product or service can benefit the firm.

Armed with this information, you'll be ready make a solid introduction once you are able to speak with the decision maker.

If the gatekeeper sees you as a kind, considerate person who genuinely values what they have to say, you may even find him making your introduction for you. What better way to meet the decision maker than to follow a staffer's introduction to his boss about the thoughtful, friendly woman on the phone from ABC Company who wants to help them find more affordable printer cartridges?

It would certainly make the time spent cultivating a positive relationship with the first point of contact at every company well worth the effort.



Roy Chitwood is an author, trainer and consultant in sales and sales management and is president of Max Sacks International, Seattle.