Coming (metaphorically) face-to-face with a gatekeeper can be incredibly intimidating for new sales reps, and endlessly frustrating for more experienced ones.
As a sales enablement professional, you need to equip reps with a wide range of skills which will allow them to navigate their way past gatekeepers while they go outbound into the great unknown.
It’s important to tell your sales reps that while gatekeepers can be difficult to deal with, they’re a challenge that can be overcome with practice and patience. That will channel their innate competitive spirit and help them view each gatekeeping experience as a learning opportunity, rather than finding themselves deflated by the encounter.
In this article, we’ll cover:
- What a gatekeeper is
- Your initial interaction with the gatekeeper
- Getting past the gatekeeper
- Information gathering when you can’t get past
By the end, you’ll hopefully be better equipped when preparing your sales teams for their encounters with gatekeepers.
What is a gatekeeper?
Before we get into the tips, tricks, and best practices for getting around gatekeepers, we should briefly touch on what they actually are.
A gatekeeper is anyone - a receptionist, personal assistant, phone operator, and so on - who answers the phone before, or on behalf of the prospect you’re trying to reach. Their role is to screen incoming calls before they get to the decision-maker and judge whether they’re worth the decision-maker’s time.
They’ll either put you through to the prospect, or give you some sort of reason as to why they can’t put you in direct contact with them. They’ll tell you the prospect isn’t available, doesn’t take sales calls, isn’t interested, or something along those lines.
Why can gatekeepers be frustrating or intimidating?
As mentioned above, reps can find gatekeepers either frustrating or intimidating.
An experienced rep will be irked by a gatekeeper as the rep knows they can have a productive conversation with the prospect, but only if they can actually get to the prospect.
A new, more inexperienced rep however may find themselves intimidated by them, especially if pushing through to speak to the prospect isn’t in their nature. It can be easier to just accept a “they’re not interested” from a gatekeeper than to look for ways to get more information.
As a result of these issues, it’s important that you incorporate adequate training for these types of circumstances into your sales enablement training initiatives.
It’s no good having reps who are great in front of a prospect if they can’t even get in front of the prospect in the first place!
First contact: your first interaction with a gatekeeper
First things first, your attitude counts. If you make a call and are greeted by a gatekeeper as opposed to the prospect you were hoping to speak to, keep a positive attitude!
Be nice, polite, and kind - that alone can make the difference. Put yourself in the gatekeeper’s shoes; no one wants to answer the phone and introduce themselves only to hear someone who’s clearly disgruntled on the other end.
Pay attention to what they say, listen out for their name as they introduce themselves and be sure to use their name in this and future conversations. It shows that you care and are listening to them, and people love being listened to.
The goal is to create as good a relationship and first impression as possible, and it’s really simple. Here’s an example:
“Hello, this is Mary from Prospect Company Ltd, how can I help you?”
“Hi Mary, this is Steve from Outbound Calls Inc, could you please put me through to Mr. Joe Bloggs?”
Doesn’t that sound like a professional, yet pleasant exchange? That can be the difference between a gatekeeper viewing you in a positive light and a negative one.
Tips for getting past the gatekeeper
Now that you’ve made contact with the gatekeeper and made a polite introduction, it’s time to cut to the chase and get in touch with your prospect.
Scenario 1: They put you through to the prospect
The gatekeeper tells you that they can put you through to the prospect without a problem. Is your job done? No!
Thank them for their help, and ask if there’s an extension that you can note down in case you need to get through again. Oftentimes they’ll tell you that it’s company policy to not hand the number out, but upon occasion you’ll get it.
Again, politeness is important here.
Scenario 2: They ask if you’ve already spoken to the prospect
Occasionally, a gatekeeper may ask you whether you’ve been in contact with the prospect already. In this case, you just need to say that you’ve been communicating via email/LinkedIn regarding [product area].
You don’t need to go into much detail here for a few reasons. Firstly, you want to pitch to the prospect, not the gatekeeper.
Secondly, it’s quite unlikely that the gatekeeper has the subject matter knowledge that your target prospect does, so there’s not much use in explaining your product in that much depth.
Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, you don’t want to position it as a sales call, but instead as a back-and-forth conversation with the prospect (which it will be if you’re a good rep).
A gatekeeper is more likely to put you through if it doesn’t sound like a plain old sales call, no matter how much value you know you’re bringing through that call.
Scenario 3: They ask what your call is regarding
The gatekeeper might ask you what the purpose of your call is, or what it’s in relation to. Like in the above scenario, just say that it’s for a discussion regarding [product area].
The gatekeeper likely won’t be an expert in the market so you just need to be vague, while still expressing the value the conversation will bring to the prospect.
Scenario 4: They ask if the prospect is expecting your call
If the gatekeeper asks whether the prospect is expecting your call, don’t lie. That goes against the principle of being polite, kind, and respectful that we talked about earlier in the article.
In this situation, you have a few options but the most important thing is to remain confident. This question from a gatekeeper can often cause inexperienced reps to be flustered as they try to bluff around the fact that the prospect isn’t expecting the call.
So what are your options? Firstly, be honest and then immediately redirect the focus to the value the conversation would bring to the prospect. For example:
“Is Joe expecting your call?”
“No, it’s about [product area]”
Another option, which works especially well if you’ve had a positive, cheerful attitude throughout, is to be jovial. When you’re asked if the prospect is expecting the call, say “I hope so!” Putting a smile on their face can make the difference in this situation.
Sometimes, total honesty can go a long way. Admit that yes, it is a cold call, and that it’s in relation to “something that a lot of people in [Joe Bloggs’ role] are using”. Often that’s all it’ll take.
One last option you might choose to employ is to send the prospect a LinkedIn message or InMail, stating that you’d like to connect and are planning to drop them a quick call as you know they’re busy. That way, the conversation might go as follows:
“Is Joe expecting your call?”
“I dropped him a message to let him know I’d be calling today”
Lying and telling a gatekeeper that someone is expecting a call from you when they’re not is one of the biggest ways to break trust and hurt your professionality. As long as you don’t do that, and go into your answer with confidence you’ll be in with a chance.
Scenario 5: They say the prospect isn’t available at the moment
This is the classic gatekeeper line. If they tell you the prospect isn’t available, there’s a few options at your disposal.
Ask them if they know when the prospect will be available, or if there are times that the prospect is usually around. This is a good opportunity to ask for an extension, direct line, or email address if you don’t already have it.
If you’re told that they’ve just gone into a meeting, ask what the best time to call back is. View every pushback from a gatekeeper not as something to sour your mood, but as an opportunity to learn more information.
With luck, you might get a response like “they’re in a meeting at the moment, but call tomorrow around 10am, they have a gap”.
Lastly, if there’s another individual from the same organization who you’re aiming to prospect, ask for their name instead!
Scenario 6: They say that the prospect doesn’t take sales calls/is only contactable via email
This is always a disappointing response to get, but make sure to thank the gatekeeper for their help regardless.
Tell them you’ll send the prospect an email, and use this as an opportunity to confirm the email address (or perhaps discover one you didn’t know about).
Information gathering from the gatekeeper
Even if you can’t get through to the prospect, there’s a lot of information that you can learn about the prospect and their organization through the gatekeeper if you ask nicely.
We touched on some of it above, but here’s a quick list of some of the things you can learn from a gatekeeper that’ll make your next call easier:
- The prospect’s direct line or extension
- The prospect’s email address
- The best time to call the prospect
- Whether they’re on vacation
- If there’s a better person to contact on the subject matter
- The prospect’s attitude towards sales calls
While this article has listed lots of scenarios and how to handle them, there are attributes that will always be vital, regardless of what kind of gatekeeper you face. Those are politeness, respect, and confidence.
If a gatekeeper picks up the phone and is greeted by a rep with these qualities, they’re much more likely to lend a helping hand where they can.
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