Many years ago, I wrote a book that required me to conduct interviews with several professionals who had attained celebrity status. In many cases, I had to work with secretaries and administrative assistants in order to get the interviews. These “gatekeepers” played a huge role in determining whether their high-profile bosses would or would not meet with me.
While people normally think of gatekeepers as problematic obstructionists, on a couple of occasions, I landed an interview only because of the gatekeepers. I befriended the gatekeepers in both of those cases and turned them into my advocates. They became my champions. One of those gatekeepers believed so much in what I was trying to accomplish with the book, that she pretty much forced her boss to do the interview.
Trying to land interviews with famous people is in many ways similar to the sales prospecting that you and I do every day. If you sell to decision makers at large companies or the owners of small companies, you may very well come face-to-face with a gatekeeper. Here are four things you can do to win over gatekeepers and turn them into advocates:
Treat them with respect. I’m not talking about the patronizing, artificial respect that too many companies show their admin assistants (like telling admins they are the “most important resource in the company” or giving them cheesy titles like “director of first impressions”). I’m talking about real respect, the respect that exists when you see someone as a partner or an equal.
When you reach a gatekeeper, explain what you’re trying to accomplish and why you are calling. Tell them the same things you say to their bosses. See the gatekeeper as a key part of your selling process. That simple show of respect will put you in the most likeable one percent of vendors who call the gatekeeper. Compared to the majority of sales reps who treat gatekeepers as lower-ranked obstacles, you’ll come across as positively different.
Remember to think of gatekeepers as partners in the process – partners to you and their bosses. Many decision makers are so close to their support person that they almost become one person. They can finish each other’s sentences. If the decision maker sees the gatekeeper as a partner, you should too.
One of the best things you can do to turn gatekeepers into champions is to ask questions. People like it when other people show genuine, sincere interest in them and their organizations. Asking questions gets the gatekeeper involved in your efforts and the answers they provide help you understand more about the decision maker to whom you will ultimately make your pitch. What’s another benefit of asking questions? The gatekeeper may realize that they don’t have the answers you need and may just let you talk to the big shot.
These days it often takes multiple calls to reach prospecting targets. It might also take several conversations to build a high level of trust with a gatekeeper. Even if the gatekeeper likes you, it still may require several callbacks to the keep the process moving. Remember that gatekeepers and their bosses are extremely busy. That makes you forgettable if you don’t stay front and center.