Campaigns & Execution

How to Get Past a Gatekeeper

How to get past the gatekeeper when cold callingWhether you’re cold-calling a prospect or trying to pitch a high-level marketing partnership, you’ll likely run into a roadblock early on.

A gatekeeper.

Now I have no trouble dealing with gatekeepers, but I’ve been doing this for 20 years.  It takes practice and confidence.  But if you or your team can’t get to the decision maker, you may as well go home.

Some sales managers suggest to make the gatekeeper your friend.  The idea is that if s/he likes you, s/he’ll put you through. (I’ll say “she” from this point forward — it’s just easier.)

In my experience, the gatekeeper is not your friend.  Be nice to her, don’t make her your enemy, but always remember that she’s out to protect her boss from interruptions, not make new phone buddies.  Every caller sounds the same, and if someone is truly important, she’ll realize it and put the caller through.

Here’s How I Get Past a Gatekeeper

Here’s my strategy:  Make it sound like a personal call.  Be positive and confident — any hint of uncertainty or apology will kill you.

Me:  “Hi, it’s John Austin, is Paul in?” (His first name + my full name, but no company name — that makes it obvious that he doesn’t know you and you should be denied.)
Gatekeeper:  “Can I tell him what this is regarding?”

Don’t go into your pitch!  If you start selling the gatekeeper, you turn her into the decisionmaker and you’ll always lose.  She’ll either try to tell you they’re not interested, send you to someone else, or say she’ll relay the message — and that message will be 1% as powerful as when it’s coming out of your mouth.  Instead, mention previous contacts (or attempts) you’ve made:

Me:  “I’m following up on a prior conversation with Paul.” or
Me:  “I sent him some information and am checking in to see what he wants to do next.”

Gatekeeper:  “Do you have an appointment / is he expecting your call?”
Me:  “He should be, based on the info I gave him.”

If the gatekeeper is exceptionally tough or you don’t feel comfortable pushing the envelope, reach out to the person via personal email, a letter or a referral from a mutual contact.  That way you can honestly say “I’m following up / I’ve been referred by so-and-so.”   (I’ll write more about referrals next week.)

And then there’s my “unholy grail” — a last resort I use when nothing else works:

Me:  “I’m returning his call.” This ruse can make you some enemies, so you’d better have a good plan to soften him up.  I’ll write more about that another time – there’s one more point I want to make on gatekeepers.

Never leave a message.  He’s never going to call you back and you lose strength when you leave unreturned messages.  Instead, find out when he’ll be back and then call back.

And finally, if you keep calling and keep getting the “he’s not available” spiel, here’s what I do:

Me:  “Listen, I’ve called a million times and know I’m driving you crazy.  How does Paul decide who he talks to?”

At this point, I’m willing to cut a deal with the gatekeeper.  “If I send some information to you, would you walk it in and hand it to Paul?  If you promise you’ll do it, I promise you’ll only get one more unsolicited call from me — to find out whether he’s willing to talk.”

Get Past a Gatekeeper Summary

In my next post I’ll tell you how I warm Paul up after these antics … but for now, here’s a recap:

1)  Make it personal
2)  Never sell to the gatekeeper
3)  Be confident
4)  Take ownership of the next contact

Have fun!



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