When I ask salespeople to define what a gatekeeper is, I generally hear: "Someone who keeps out people who will waste the boss's time."
But gates are two-sided - they open as well as close: a gatekeeper's job is actually to make sure the boss gets to spend his/her time efficiently.
I've probably gotten approximately $500,000 in business as a result of the word or deed of gatekeepers.
How have I done this? By remembering a few simple rules:
1. whoever answers the phone is my client;
2. in order for a gatekeeper to open OR close the gate, she has to decide which category to put me in - in, or out.
3. it's the job of the gatekeeper to make sure her boss gets to speak with people who can help him/her do a better job.
My own secretary has a very unique habit of putting messages on the bottom of my In Basket when they are from folks she doesn't like - and she keeps moving these back to the bottom as I go through the pile. But I've come to trust her judgment (once I got over the initial discovery of her deception. Of course, I look there daily now, and just don't tell her.)
"WHY are these HERE?" I asked the first time I noticed a rather large grouping of pink message slips at the bottom of the pile. "I was WAITING FOR THIS CALL."
"He was rude to me, and I didn't trust him."
I address my follow up calls with her feedback in mind; she has saved me time, money, and effort through her gut responses. And she's never been wrong.
Here are two stories of how I got business from gatekeepers. Note that I was using Buying Facilitation with each of them, and taught them how to decide to choose me.
TWO CASE STUDIES
Case Study #1
I got the name of the Vice-President Southwest Region of DEC (Remember DEC? It's been subsumed by Compaq/HP.) Dave Heil was allegedly a dynamic, innovative thinker, and was located in Albuquerque, NM when I lived in Taos. His secretary Judy answered the phone.
Judy: Dave Heil's office.
SDM: Hi. My name is Sharon Drew Morgen, and this is a sales call. I know you're busy so I'm wondering if this is a good time to speak.
Judy: it's never a good time. Thanks for asking. How can I help you?
SDM: I'm wondering how you folks are adding new sales methods to any current sales training you're doing.
Judy: Can you get here next Wednesday at 8:10? Dave is on vacation til Wednesday, and his first meeting is scheduled for 8:30. He always gets in at 8:00, and I bet he'd like to spend 20 minutes with you before he starts his day. SDM: You're having him meet with me the day he comes back from vacation??
Judy: Yes. I speak with a lot of people trying to get through to Dave; you're the first one who respected me, and who trusted my involvement. I also know that Dave is always on the lookout for innovative material, and if your opening question was a representation of what you're doing, and I suspect it is, Dave will be interested in meeting with you. Can you come?
Of course I went. At precisely 8:10, Dave walked in with a dark tan. "Well, you must be a very smart person that I need to meet. Not many people get through Judy. So, who are you and why do I need you?"
I got the job; Dave Heil is still my friend and colleague 13 years - and several job moves - later.
Case Study #2
I was given the name of a small manufacturing company (company has since been subsumed by a much larger company) and told that they were seeking new sales training. I called in and spoke with the receptionist, Susan.
Susan: Hello. This is Company X. Who would you like to be connected with? SDM: I'm not sure, but maybe you can help me. Are you sure this is a good time?
Susan: I've got the time. What do you need?
SDM: My name is Sharon Drew Morgen, and this is actually a sales call. I've developed an innovative and ethical sales methodology, and am not sure if your company either seeks innovation, or has a desire to bring in new material. Can you tell me how your company chooses to bring in new sales material?
Susan: If you send me a packet with your stuff in it, and call me back in a week, I'll make sure it gets to the proper person.
I sent her a packet on Wednesday. On Friday, Susan called me back.
Susan: I put your material on the desk of our sales director. Two hours later he was fired, and he cleaned out his office. He either threw your stuff away or took it with him. Can you please send me another packet and I'll get it to the new person?
I sent her the packet immediately. The following Tuesday I got a call.
Joe: Hello, Sharon Drew. You don't know me, but the receptionist gave me a packet of information, and I promised her that not only would I call you, but I'd report back to her on what we decided. Since this is my first day, you must be a very important person. Who are you?
I began doing work with this company about 2 months later.
WORKING WITH, NOT THROUGH
For some reason you have been taught to view the person answering the telephone as a deterrent to getting where you want to get. But this person is your guide. And, since she decides whether you 'get through' or not, she's in control of the conversation. No matter how smart you are or how good your product is, no matter how much your prospect needs you or how much money you can make or save them, if the gatekeeper doesn't put you through, you're toast.
Whole books and programs have been devoted to 'getting through' the gatekeeper. But this person is a human being, with a job. And she is happy to help you. I've heard of sales people using an authoritative voice to show her they're important (um, they're in control, remember? Doesn't matter how important you are to you - she's the one who determines if you're important or not); or sounding familiar and suave, as if they are friends with the boss already (and, you don't think she knows who the boss knows?); or using the name of a reference as if it were the boss's best friend (the boss rarely knows the reference well, or the reference would have already called the boss on your behalf and the secretary would be awaiting your call).
These are all ploys to 'get through'. Why not teach the gatekeeper how to choose to help you? Here are a few stories of what gatekeepers have done to help me over the years [Note: all of the following responses have been to my calling on a cold call, with no reference and no prior contact]:
1. go into the men's room (literally) to get their boss to hurry up so he would speak with me and not keep me waiting;
2. tell me when the prospect would be available, with a clear calendar;
3. give me a specific time and date, and put my incoming call on the calendar so when I'd call in the boss would be awaiting my call (and, when the boss's calendar shifted even called me back to give me another time commitment);
4. told me the correct person to speak with so I wouldn't waste my time on the person I thought I needed ("Oh, you don't want to talk to HIM. He'll turn it over to her anyway, so you might as well start with her.");
5. told me to hang up and call back during morning hours when the guy would be, um, more able to have a cogent conversation rather than after his lunch break (This guy must have been REALLY productive in the mornings!);
6. given me lists of names to call in addition to the name I had, with an offer to get more names if I weren't successful with the ones I had.
A supervisor I was coaching from a large software company called to ask for one of the Project Managers. He used a very snooty, condescending voice.
Gatekeeper: Hi. How can I help?
Seller: Give me Stephanie please.
Gatekeeper: Stephanie is on holiday for two weeks. I'll take your name and have her call you back.
I asked this man to call the number again and this time I took the call. I believed there was something more than a vacation happening here.
Gatekeeper: Hi. How can I help?
SDM: Hi there. My name is Sharon Drew Morgen and I'm with XYZ company and?..
Gatekeeper: you're from XYZ company? Do you have any idea how long we've been trying to reach you? We've put in over a dozen calls to have you fix a problem here, and no one has called us back. I'm the Systems Analyst; let me get the Project Manager.
Stephanie: Hello. This is Stephanie. I hear you're finally calling me back, but it's too late. We've taken you off of our preferred supplier's list.
We fixed the problem (groveling works!), but my client realized that his attitude was quite annoying to the person on the other end no matter who answered the phone. He had assumed - hearing a woman's voice - that the person who answered was the 'gatekeeper' and he had to show her who was boss. The Systems Analyst wasn't going to be treated that way by anyone. How many other times had prospects been 'on vacation' or at a 'meeting' because the gatekeeper was being verbally abused by a seller's attitude? If you act as if everyone who answers the call is your client - and everyone is your client! - you'll have an easier time getting to speak with the right person sooner.
Sharon Drew Morgen is the author of NYTimes Best seller Selling with Integrity. She speaks, teaches and consults globally around her new sales model, Buying Facilitation.
She can be reached at:
Morgen Facilitations, Inc.