A person performing the role of a gatekeeper has one purpose: to protect the decision-maker’s time. And it’s the salesperson’s job to help the gatekeeper realize he or she’s important enough to earn a meeting with the boss.
A recent survey asked 50 telephone gatekeepers how they determined who gets through to a decisions-maker. The top answer was “People I like.” So treating whoever answers the phone with respect is in the salesperson’s best interest. This person is very close to the decision-maker and has a lot of valuable information. So work with him or her to establish a friendly rapport.
Four tactics to pass along to your sales reps:
1. Use a conversational, yet confident tone of voice
If you were standing in the lobby of their office, the gatekeeper would first size you up based on your appearance. They do the same with the way you sound on the phone, so don’t sound sloppy or unimportant.
Try to avoid weak words and phrases, such as:
- Is Ms. Smith available or is she busy?
- Can Mr. Stevens talk or is he in a meeting?
2. Get — and use — the gatekeeper’s name
Early in the conversation, ask for the screener’s name. Use it on the call, put it in your notes and greet the screener by name on the next call. You will seem much less of a stranger on subsequent calls.
3. Treat the gatekeeper like a buyer
If the screener asks what the call is about and needs a strong reason to put you through, be ready. You should be able to answer the screener’s probing questions and not make him or her feel as though they’re shadowboxing with you. They need to be satisfied that you have something of value for the boss.
Be ready for the No. 1 question most gatekeepers ask: “Is this a sales call?” Don’t dodge the question. Answer like, “I don’t know yet. If there’s a fit for what we have, it might be. Otherwise it’s not. I’d like to ask Ms. Smith if we have the basis for further conversations.” This is the type of answer that may get you to the next step.
4. Listen for the names of others
Any time the screener mentions the name of someone else in their organization, jot it down. Then ask the screener what that person does. Ask about their title and function. They may be a key player in the sales process. Find out for sure.