You’ve worked on your presentation, your communication skills, and your research in order to persuade a particular client. But then you realize that getting to the decision maker is going to be more difficult than you imagined, because that person has a gatekeeper. Let’s discover some strategies for getting past the gatekeeper effectively, without creating a conflict.
First, it’s important to understand that there is more than one type of gatekeeper. The first type of gatekeeper is the permanent one, who is usually an executive assistant, administrative assistant, or secretary. This person probably holds all of the access to the decision maker, and he or she can make the decision as to whether you get through to that person or not. The second type of gatekeeper is the temporary or situational gatekeeper, which is a person who is working on a project with the decision-maker. That person may be a committee member, a team member, or a person on a project who is assigned to RFP’s and demonstrations. It’s important to understand what type of gatekeeper you’re dealing with in order to fashion your strategy. What works on one type of gatekeeper may not work on another. Now, let’s take a look at three strategies for getting through the gatekeeper – or avoiding him or her completely.
The first strategy is a direct approach. You’re dealing with a decision-maker, who sometimes may be a manager or director. Think about how that person operates. He or she is probably someone who is confident and works with self-assurance. If he or she were to request to speak with someone, he or she would probably be direct instead of “beating around the bush”. You can use this approach to get through the gatekeeper. Be polite, and never take a rude tone, but consider saying, “Could you tell Mr. So-and-so that Bob from XYZ Company is on the line?” This approach may not always work, but it may cause the gatekeeper to stray away from asking too many questions.
Another strategy may take you all the way around the gatekeeper. In this strategy, you must consider using another “gate”. Are there industry groups or networking events that the decision maker belongs to or attends? If so, consider going to these events or joining the group in order to get an introduction. Remember that groups such as Chambers of Commerce or industry-specific groups use their events for networking; you cannot go to an event without the prospect of someone introducing him or herself to you. And decision makers know this, as well. In fact, some decision makers go to these events for the purpose of seeking out possible business partners. Here’s another way to use this approach. Once you’ve met the decision-maker, you can use the direct approach with the gatekeeper, as we just discussed. But when the gatekeeper says, “What’s this about?” you won’t be stuck fumbling for an answer. Say, “I just met her at the Chamber of Commerce meeting and I have a business opportunity to discuss with her.” When you relate it that way, the gatekeeper is far more likely to let you get through.
A final strategy is also a very effective one with permanent gatekeepers. Make an ally of the gatekeeper and sell to him or her. Think about it. Many executive level decision-makers trust their entire lives to the assistant. That person has control over the executive’s calendar, office, files, etc. The decision maker most likely respects that person’s opinion. First, find some common ground with the gatekeeper. Then introduce yourself to him or her as a solution-bearer. When you do this, you’re “getting chummy” with the gatekeeper and you’re going to have some influence there, as well.
The important thing to remember when formulating strategies for getting through a gatekeeper is that the approach is not a “one size fits all”. When you do your research, find out if a gatekeeper exists. Find out what kind of gatekeeper he or she is – and judge how that person will react to various approaches. If you make your gatekeeper strategy a part of your initial research and preparation, you’ll find that your sales process is easier – and that getting through the gatekeeper is not such a terrible chore.
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