How to get past gatekeepers and reach a decision maker

Who are gatekeepers?

As a telemarketer or salesperson, when you call a new business prospect, the first person that answers your call is often a receptionist, personal assistant, or secretary. In the telemarketing industry, we refer to these people as gatekeepers.

Simply, they are front of house. It is often their role to answer and manage all inbound calls and ensure that they are rerouted to the relevant person within the business. Similarly, it is their job to ensure a company’s management staff are not inundated with sales calls.

Therefore, if you wish to pitch your product or service to a business, the greatest challenge is actually making it past the first hurdle – the gatekeeper – in order to reach a decision maker, the person with the seniority and authority to listen to your pitch and decide whether your product or service would benefit the business.

Reaching the decision maker is the first major milestone in the sales process, and it is vitally important to understand the best ways to achieve this. After all, a gatekeeper is unlikely to put you through to their manager without first asking about the purpose of your call, and as soon as they know that you’re here to pitch a product or service the alarm bells in their head will start ringing.

Unfortunately, this is just part and parcel of the telemarketers role – businesses are swamped by sales calls, it’s understandable that they would want to filter out as many as possible, so how can you convince a gatekeeper that they should pass you through to the decision maker on the other side?

We’ll discuss each of these in more detail, but in summary, here’s how to get past gatekeepers:

  • Be kind and polite
  • Don’t leave a message
  • Avoid pitching
  • Turn them into your ally

Be kind and polite

Remember, the gatekeeper is not the enemy. They are simply a person doing what they’re being paid to do, so treat them like you would anyone else.

People tend to react in the same state as with which they are confronted. If you behave negatively towards a gatekeeper in any way (rude, pushy, impolite, etc), then they are likely to react in an equally negative manner and you will be no closer to reaching the decision maker.
Knowing even a little about what makes humans tick can be the difference between a successful telemarketer and one that struggles to ever get through to a decision maker. For example, anyone who has read Dale Carnegie’s famous book ‘How to win friends and influence people’ will know that people love the sound of their own names. Make use of this when you speak to the gatekeeper, it will help to quickly build rapport and get them “on-side” (more on this below).

Don’t leave a message

How often have you tried to get through to a decision maker and been met with the response: “He’s not available right now, would you like to leave a message?”.

As tempting and easy as it is to leave a message and move on to the next prospect, the chances are that your message will either not be passed on (either intentionally or unintentionally, remember gatekeepers will be busy with other work and are likely to forget), or will be passed on but not with any great detail (“Mr Jones from ABC Ltd called”). Either way, there is no way the decision maker will return your call.

Instead of leaving a message, ask when they’re likely to be available, thank the gatekeeper for their help and time, and inform them that you’ll call back later or follow up with an email.

Avoid pitching

This is a simple one. Do not waste your time pitching to a gatekeeper. By all means, tell them the purpose of your call, where you’re calling from and why you would like to speak with John Smith in marketing, but be aware that reeling off your entire pitch is actually more likely to damage your chances of making it through to the gatekeeper.

A gatekeeper doesn’t have the authority to decide whether your product or service is worth the company’s time. The most likely response you’ll get from pitching to a gatekeeper is, “That doesn’t sound like something we would be interested in, but thanks for your time.” End of call, done, finito.

Worse still, they might put you on hold whilst they relay the basic outline of your pitch to their manager. The chances of a business wanting to work with you after hearing your pitch delivered by someone else are extremely low.

All in all, when a gatekeeper asks what your call is in regards to, or asks for more information, do not fall into the trap of giving them your best spiel. Give them the highlights, enough to suggest that this call is important and that they should put you through.

Turn them into your ally

Sometimes, it is our initial perception of gatekeepers that is the problem. We assume that they are going to block our path before we’ve even had a chance to speak to them. The truth is that we can often turn gatekeepers into our allies, and thus make them genuinely want to help us.

Engage with the person you’re speaking to by asking them about their day and showing genuine interest, listen to the little nags they have, ask them questions about their role (and the decision maker too – this can help qualify a lead). By striking up a relationship you can get the gatekeeper “on-side”, and they’ll be more willing to help you out.

Final thoughts

Getting past the gatekeeper is often the most difficult part of any sales call, but it’s fundamental if you wish to be successful. We hope the tips above will help, but if you or your staff are often struggling to get through to a decision maker, we offer flexible, bespoke telemarketing training courses to help develop and improve skillsets – as part of this course we teach two advanced strategies for getting past gatekeepers. Please get in touch for more information.