The Harvard Business Review doesn’t mince words when it describes the gatekeeper’s function. “By controlling (literally keeping the gate open or shut for) information and, sometimes, vendor access to corporate decision makers, the gatekeepers largely determine which vendors get the chance to sell.”
In other words, love them or hate them, gatekeepers play a huge role in the sales process. For some, they can fast-track a cold call right up to the ideal buyer. For others, they can slow the sales process and add complexity to the mix. And still for others, the gatekeeper can stomp a deal into the dirt before it ever has a chance.
That last one sound familiar?
If so, you’re not alone. The vast majority of cold callers have a hard time getting past the gatekeeper. After all, gatekeepers are trained like World Cup goalies to deflect anything that smells like a sale or a pitch. And to make matters worse, it seems like gatekeepers are becoming more savvy all the time with better screening tools to guard the executive’s time. (Hey, they’re just doing their job.)
Don’t worry, there’s hope. With a little preparation and strategy, you can outmaneuver the gatekeeper and consistently have your voice heard by C-level executives. But be warned, it’s more of an art than a science. And it will take some practice to perfect the method I’m about to teach.
So without further ado, let’s get right into it.
Keep in Mind: The single best way to get past a gatekeeper is to avoid them completely by going through the back door with a direct line (which I’ll touch on later). I know this isn’t always possible, so keep reading to learn the ins and outs of gatekeeper finesse.
A Quick Note on Respect
The average sales guru will tell you to build trust and show immense respect to the gatekeeper. But I’m not average, I’m not a guru, and I know this is a losing approach. Now – I’m not saying be disrespectful, but the moment you seem weak in the eyes of the gatekeeper, they will smell blood in the water and you’re done. That’s it. While sometimes this “build trust” approach will work, in the majority of cases it won’t.
Remember, the C-suite executive assistant (the CEO’s gatekeeper!) is highly-trained at putting cold calls on ice. And you don’t want that. You build trust with c-level decision-makers, not with gatekeepers. There’s a better way.
One caveat: If you happen to have the gift of gab and you can charm a snake from a wicker basket, then by all means, smooth-talk right past the gatekeeper. But chances are, this hasn’t worked for you, and that’s why you’re reading this article.
Become a C-level Salesperson
That’s right, it’s time to become a C-level salesperson. I’m not telling you to muscle your way up the org chart. I just mean act like a C-level executive. It’s time to do some method-acting and become an equal to your prospect in the eyes of the gatekeeper. Because here’s the hard truth: only important people get past the gatekeeper. That’s the secret. That’s the “Why”. And now I’ll unpack the “How”. I’m going to show you how to do it.
When the gatekeeper picks up, instead of kissing their you-know-what, try being matter of fact and almost curt. For instance:
“Hi – Jeff please.” That’s it! You’re asking for Jeff.
Say it with confidence and urgency. Your tone should carry almost a tinge of irritation — as if to say I have an important matter that I must speak to Jeff about, and this person is standing in my way. Often, the gatekeeper will ask your name and put you right through, thinking you are a close business associate off Jeff’s, or a fellow investor. In the gatekeeper’s mind, important people talk fast and with purpose.
Now, if they pry for information, then go ahead and give it to them.
“What is your name,” they might ask. “It’s Johnny-Lee Reinoso.” And say no more. (Obviously say your own name.)
The gatekeeper might ask, “Do you have an appointment with Mr. Wainwright?”
You say, “No – I don’t. Just tell him it’s Johnny from [your company name] and he’ll know what it’s about.” By this point, most gatekeepers will have put you through to the decision-maker — but only if your tonality is filled with urgency and purpose.
Now, if you’re worried about the ethics here (it can get dicey if you go overboard), then one simple workaround is to just send a quick LinkedIn message to your prospect before you call him or her. This way, you have full license to say something like “he’ll know what it’s about.”
The Psychology Behind Why this Works
Imagine a real-life situation with a business-building lobby and a receptionist (gatekeeper). If some guy off the streets comes inside and casually walks up to the receptionist asking to sit with the CEO, there’s little chance he makes it through — even if he is charming and respectful!
Now imagine a man in a business suit striding in with a commanding presence. He looks like he belongs there. He looks like he has places to go. There’s a chance he walks right past the receptionist without even talking to her. If she does stop him, in her mind it’s just a quick formality to screen him. The fact is, within the first three seconds of seeing the man, without even consciously thinking it, she knew she would eventually show him to the elevator to the 51st floor. It’s how the mind works!
While this method of getting past the gatekeeper is highly effective, it’s not a silver bullet and sometimes it just doesn’t work. Nothing in sales is 100% effective. But again, if you’re reading this, I bet you’re ready and willing to try something new. So I highly recommend trying it out — and don’t be surprised if you start having more conversations as a result.
Of course, the best way to get past the gatekeeper is to go direct to your prospect, bypassing the gatekeeper completely. It’s not hard these days to find the direct dial numbers and emails of C-level decision-makers at companies across America. If your company has ZoomInfo or LinkedIn Navigator, be sure to leverage these tools to find this basic information. It might be basic, but it’s powerful.
So armed with this knowledge, it’s time to get on the phones and start priming the pump and generating pipeline. You’ve got this.
Until next time…