Recently, I was talking to a salesperson about his first month on the job.
“I’m experimenting with new techniques,” he said. “For example, when I’m trying to reach a prospect, I’ll call someone else at their company and pretend I dialed the wrong extension.”
“Uh, does that work?” I asked skeptically.
“Well … it worked one time!” he said.
It’s definitely frustrating for reps to be shut down or denied access to decision makers. But resorting to manipulative, sleazy tactics is the wrong response. Not only are they rarely effective (as this rep discovered), but they give salespeople a bad name.
If you regularly deal with gatekeepers, make sure you’re not making these 12 major mistakes.
1) Not Researching the Gatekeeper
Having a couple key details about the gatekeeper will give you an instant advantage — and thanks to LinkedIn, company websites, and other online resources, finding those details is relatively easy. Before the call, spend a few minutes figuring out where the gatekeeper fits in the organization, how long they’ve been there, and what their responsibilities are. If you can find a commonality, even better.
Having this information helps you build rapport and ask the right questions. If you know the gatekeeper loves hockey, you can mention that you’re a big fan as well.
Many of the calls they receive won’t be anywhere near this pleasant, so treating them with respect and courtesy will likely go a long way.
2) Using a Script
Gatekeepers can spot a rehearsed pitch from a mile away. And since they typically equate “rehearsed” with “disingenuous,” you’ll quickly get screened out.
Although there’s nothing wrong with using a script — in fact, it can help you stay focused and avoid rambling — opt for one you can customize on the fly. That typically means a loosely filled-in framework rather than a completely prepared paragraph.
3) Not Mentioning Your Referral
Nothing gives you instant trust like a referral. Some salespeople neglect to mention their mutual connection to the gatekeeper, since they assume the name will only mean something to the prospect. But that’s a mistake — gatekeepers will pass along this information, and then you’ll have a much greater chance of having your call returned.
4) Pretending You Called the Wrong Number
As already discussed, some reps try to out-maneuver the gatekeeper by pretending they’ve accidentally called the wrong number.
Most gatekeepers will see right through trick. And even if they don’t, they’ll usually take your contact information and let the prospect know you’ve called. If the prospect doesn’t recognize your name, you won’t hear back.
5) Saying You’re “Calling Them Back”
Unless you’re actually returning the prospect’s call, don’t use this line. The vast majority of gatekeepers will check before they put you through.
And even if you meet the rare gatekeeper who doesn’t check, you’ll be black-balled as soon as the decision maker discovers the ruse.
6) Selling to the Gatekeeper
Since gatekeepers don’t have purchasing authority, launching into your pitch is a waste of both their time and yours. They’ll want to get off the phone as quickly as possible — usually by saying, “We’re not interested,” and hanging up.
7) Giving Way Too Much Information
“I often see people give up way too much information right out of the gate,” says CeCe Bazar, a sales strategist at OpenView. “It’s like word vomit. ‘Hi, this is CeCe calling from OpenView Labs. I’m calling today because of this, this, this, and this, and this.’”
“It’s overwhelming to a listener and, frankly, not very interesting,” adds Jeff Hoffman, creator of the Your SalesMBA™ training program.
8) Pretending You’re Not a Salesperson
Pretending that you’re not a rep might fool the gatekeeper at first. But as soon as they start asking about your relationship to the prospect, the truth will become obvious — and then you’ll have permanently lost their trust.
9) Trying to Intimidate The Gatekeeper
Whatever you do, don’t bully your way past the gatekeeper. Most gatekeepers have a lot of power and influence — so acting disrespectful or rude isn’t just ineffective, it’ll also earn you a toxic reputation within their company.
Along similar lines, don’t write the gatekeeper off or assume they’re unimportant. You never know who you’re dealing with — a salesperson I know once ended up talking to the CEO of the company, because she’d picked up the phone while the receptionist was in the bathroom.
11)Creating a False Sense of Urgency
Claiming you need to talk to the prospect as soon as possible because “it’s urgent” doesn’t work. Rather than responding, “Of course, I’ll connect you right now!”, 99% of gatekeepers will say, “Of course, I’ll give [prospect] the message immediately. What does this concern?”
When it becomes clear the situation isn’t urgent, you’ll lose all credibility.
12) Forgetting The Gatekeeper Has a Job, Too
You’re focused on connecting with the prospect, so it’s easy to forget the person on the other end of the line has their own mission.
Whether they’re an executive assistant, an office manager, or a scheduler, they’re charged with protecting the decision maker’s time. Keep this fact in the back of your mind, and you’ll naturally be more considerate during your interaction.
EksAyn Anderson, author of The Key to the Gate, remembers a high-level director who told 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.”
Looking for more tips on making it through to the decision maker? Check out 10 ways to get past gatekeepers.