In the Lord of Rings, the Fellowship of the Ring faces many obstacles. One roadblock in particular — unlocking The Doors of Durin — presents a unique challenge. There’s no key to unlock the door, rather The Fellowship must answer a riddle.
In sales, gatekeepers are like riddles. Whether they’re an agent or broker, it’s their job to prevent you from getting to the decision-maker. They’ll make it hard, but once you crack their code, the doors will open.
Gatekeepers naturally react to sales calls with a “fight or flight” response. The key to getting past gatekeepers: prevent them from identifying you as a sales call.
Here are five ways that’ll help you fly under the gatekeeper’s radar.
1. Do Your Homework
You wouldn’t take on an opponent without doing a little research beforehand, would you? Come armed and ready for battle by doing your homework.
Have Names in Hand
Here, it’s okay to name-drop. Having names in your backpocket alludes to the gatekeeper you have an pre-existing relationship with the company, even if you really don’t.
Try to find out who the CEO or decision-maker is beforehand. When the gatekeeper answers the phone, you’ll be prepared to ask for “Greg,” instead of saying “May I speak to the owner of the company?”
And while digging for info, you might even stumble across contact information (phone number, email address) for the decision-maker, helping you bypass the gatekeeper altogether.
Script Your Message
Never wing a sales call. Prior to any call, prepare what you’re going say, and keep it brief — 30 seconds at the most. Knowing what you’re going to say will save you from stumbling over your words.
You want to be in control of the conversation. Remember the person asking the questions controls the call. By redirecting the conversation with your own questions, you’ll throw the gatekeeper off guard.
Prepare Open-Ended Questions
The gatekeeper will be ready to shut you down, typically by saying “No thank you, we don’t need that service.” But don’t take no for answer.
Take a cue from singer Meghan Trainor, and don’t ask questions that can be answered with a ‘no.’ Instead stick to open-ended questions like “Our company provides warm transfers, live customers looking for insurance. How is your company currently acquiring customers?”
Gatekeeper Tip: Before you pick up the phone, do your homework.
2. Avoid Sales Buzzwords/Phrases
Think of the gatekeeper as a sleeping dragon. Sales-related buzzwords will wake the dragon. To avoid getting “burned,” be sure to avoid using these common sales phrases.
“This is John from Company X.” The first part of this phrase is fine, it’s the company name that triggers the gatekeeper’s “sales antenna.” To remedy, simply say “This is John.” Refrain from giving out your company’s name until asked.
“How are you doing today?” Unless you have a pre-existing relationship with the gatekeeper don’t use this phrase. Save it for when you’re further into the process (e.g. follow-up calls).
“Let me be honest with you.” Trying to sell someone on honesty tends to have the opposite effect. It’ll make them question whether you’re actually sincere, plus it’s indicative a hard sell is coming. Scrap this phrase.
“Checking in/Touching Base.” Again, refrain from using this until you’re further into the process, and when you do use it, always elaborate as to why you’re calling. For example, let’s say you call a client who you spoke to last week. You could potentially say, “I’m following up after last week’s campaign set up call. Just checking in to see if you have any performance or optimization questions?”
Gatekeeper Tip: Avoid sales buzzwords.
3. Sound Authoritative, Not Desperate
Desperation is a red flag. To avoid giving off desperate vibes, here’s what not to do:
- Don’t Beg. Begging will get you nowhere.
- Don’t Threaten. Not only is it a turn-off, you could land yourself in legal hot water.
- Don’t Refuse to Take a Hint. Perhaps the gatekeeper explains why your product isn’t a good fit for them. And they’re legitimate reasons why they aren’t a good fit for you, too. Why waste your time and theirs? Move on.
- Don’t Let Your Voice Give You Away. Should nerves or desperation creep into your voice, you’ll immediately turn the gatekeeper off. Instead you want to sound authoritative.
To sound authoritative, avoid conversational faux paus like vocal fry (e.g. Kardashians) or uptones (e.g. cheery secretary voice), instead stick to using downtones (e.g. newscaster).
A humble tonality will put the gatekeeper at ease, but that doesn’t mean you’re handing over the reigns to the gatekeeper. Give the impression of confidence, that you have something important to deliver.
For example, don’t do this:
“Hi, I’m a representative with ABC Company. I’m calling to see if Emily has a few minutes to talk about how our product might help her company grow. Is she available?”
Instead do this:
“This is Jennifer, can you put me through to Emily, please.”
The latter example is still polite, but commanding. You have no time for idle chit chat, you have something important to discuss with Jennifer.
Gatekeeper Tip: Use a downtone to sound more authoritative.
4. Call Outside of Normal Office Hours
Gatekeepers typically work when the office is open to the public. Try calling outside of normal business hours (e.g. before 9 a.m. and after 5 p.m.).
Odds are, another person will answer the phone, or you’ll automatically get dumped into an employee directory where you can search for and choose the decision-maker’s extension directly. Most executives also arrive early or stay late, so you could potentially catch them answering their own phones, too.
Try Another Department. If the call directory requires the employee’s last name, and you don’t have the decision-maker’s last name, considering pressing the extension for sales, customer service, or accounts receivable. These customer-service oriented departments theoretically should help you get to where you need to go.
Take Advantage of Lunch. Try calling between noon and 2 p.m. There’s a good chance someone needs to relieve the gatekeeper. That person may be more open to patching you through to your golden ticket.
Call Off Digits. With the gatekeeper out of the office, take advantage of calling one or two digits off from the phone number you’ve been calling. You might just get someone willing to transfer you directly to the decision-maker.
Gatekeeper Tip: Call outside of normal office hours.
5. Make the Gatekeeper Your Ally
EksAyn “Eks” Anderson, author of “The Key to the Gate,” has one key to getting past gatekeepers: treat them like gold.
Anderson once had a high-level director tell him, “I have people call me all day, and you are the first one I’ve allowed to come in to show me your product because you were so nice to my secretary.”
Gatekeepers hold the keys to the castle, so treat them with respect. Call them by their first name to make the conversation more personal. And enlist their help, giving them a sense of importance, albeit within reason. Remember the gatekeeper may have the power to say no, but they don’t have the power to say yes.
It’s important to understand where the gatekeeper is coming from. They’re just doing their job, so don’t take their cold as ice demeanor to heart. By employing these tactics to disarm them, you’ll be one step closer to the decision-maker, and one step closer to closing the sale.
Gatekeeper Tip: Make the gatekeeper your ally.
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