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The Green Sheet Online Edition

December 23, 2013 • Issue 13:12:02

Street SmartsSM

Gatekeepers are people too

By Dale S. Laszig
Castles Technology Co. Ltd

If selling is your chosen profession, sooner or later you'll find yourself in front of a gatekeeper, someone who has the authority to control access to a decision maker.

Who are these people, and what's their agenda? Why do they seem so invested in keeping us from the people we most want to meet: the ones who can say yes?

Yes is not a word that's in most gatekeepers' vocabularies. As Dan Kosch and Mark Shonka wrote in Beyond Selling Value, most gatekeepers are quite good at saying no.

"Gatekeepers come in all stripes," they wrote. "Some are overtly hostile, while others are a little more subtle – smiling the whole time while ushering you out the door. In many cases, the subtle, friendly gatekeepers provide a more difficult challenge than their antagonistic counterparts."

Multiple strategies

There are many reasons why gatekeepers may want to restrict our access. They may have a cousin or friend who sells merchant services, or perhaps they've been told to block all solicitors.

We can empathize with their situation, but we still need to get through that gate, and there are varying techniques for doing just that.

As you reflect on your own experiences with gatekeepers, what strategies have you used to gain access to decision makers? We had a variety of responses to this common challenge in GS Online's MLS Forum.

Following are several highlights from our discussion thread.

Be assumptive

Having confidence is essential in every phase of selling, from the first time you meet a prospect until you close the sale by asking for their business. CSandifer recommended announcing yourself with a certain degree of authority, a technique he learned from Mike Brooks, who is known as "Mr. Inside Sales."

CSandifer wrote, "When they ask who you are, say, 'Please tell (Prospect Name) that (your first and last name) is holding, please'. Just like that, redundancy and all. Say it with authority, like they should know who you are."

Marinesteban agreed that being, can help get you past the gatekeeper. He said he does it "quite often and the more secure and determined you sound, the better it works." He added that he also asks the gatekeeper to direct him to the decision maker's voice mail.

Build your professional network

JGarza advocates networking as a way of improving access to decision makers. As you grow your professional network you'll have more direct access to the people who have the authority to buy your products and services. "Strategic alliances, investments in referral partners and other strategies don't require outbound calls with gatekeepers and still have soaring closing rates," he wrote. "Invest time in building distribution channels and you will never need to go through [gatekeepers] again."

Be personable

Many people who screen calls are doing so at the behest of their employers. If we employ a modicum of empathy toward them, it can differentiate us from other less sympathetic sales people who employ a variety of ruses to get to the boss.

"A gatekeeper can be your best advocate or your worst enemy," Clearent noted. He recommended a courteous, personalized approach.

Quoted from the forum are three recommendations he offered for doing just that, beginning with using gatekeepers' first names:

  1. Use first names: "Hi Mary, good to talk to you. This is Bob. Is Phil around?" Often they are [disarmed by] your familiarity – seems you know them. If they aren't the stone faced gatekeeper, this can get you to them – once. After that, it becomes very difficult. Oh, and never leave a message with a company name.
  2. Get to know the gatekeeper. Simply put, spend more time with them than asking to see the owner, etc. Talk about how it has to be frustrating with all these people trying to see Phil. I bet she hates having to be the mom and say no all the time.
  3. The "okay, I know your role" approach: "Mary, I sure appreciate that you have a job to do, and you do it well. I bet hundreds of people a day want to see Phil. And I am one of those. But you know, I don't want to waste my time or his. So, before I even ask to see him (even though I am pretty sure he wants to see me), let's you and I talk."
Bluestar also reported good results when he addressed gatekeepers by name. He wrote, "I always used the first name only technique (for both of us) especially when calling on small business owners. It makes the gatekeeper (whatever employee answers the phone) feel that it is a friend or close associate calling, and it definitely works."

Remember that gatekeepers are people too

One of the many rewards of selling merchant services is the ability to meet and interact with numerous people. Of the many people with whom we engage not everyone has the ability to sign a contract, but each person is an integral part of every client's business and deserves our attention and respect.

NCHome recognized that gatekeepers have a job to do, adding that if they let too many of the wrong calls go through, it could cost them their jobs.

"My approach is to sell the gatekeeper," he wrote. "Treat them like they are human, like they count for something. I use the line, 'If you were me, how would you get this info to Mr. ________. Is he the right one or is there another person you would approach first? Many times I send the material to the gatekeeper to put in the right person's hands. I then can follow up with the gatekeeper."

He added that he sends the gatekeeper a gift card after he closes the sale, acknowledging their part in making it happen.

Overcoming stereotypes

Gatekeepers are an inescapable reality of professional selling, but if we look past the stereotype and remind ourselves that they, too, are just trying to do their jobs, we may find more opportunities for engagement than barriers to entry. end of article

Dale S. Laszig is a writer and payments industry executive specializing in business development and sales performance improvement. She manages channel sales at Castles Technology and sales effectiveness programs through IMPAX Corp. and C3ET Credit Card Consortia for Education & Training Inc. She can be reached at 973-930-0331 or dale_laszig@castechusa.com.

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