“John isn’t available right now. Send me your information and I’ll share it with him.”
I’ve heard this phrase countless number of times in my sales career. Many sales people I’ve worked with see this as the end of the road, say thank you and hang up. In doing so, they overlook two important facts about prospecting through gatekeepers:
- Administrative assistants and switchboard operators are not your prospect.
- People in these positions have valuable information about your prospect that’s hard to find anywhere else.
Sellers dread interacting with gatekeepers because denial seems inevitable. Through an understanding of these two points, we’ve helped clients become enthusiastic about speaking with gatekeepers and switchboard operators, and see these conversations for what they really are: a rare opportunity to do research on prospects.
So, how can sellers build these approaches in to their own interactions with gatekeepers?
It starts with a little resilience, and an awareness of the big picture. A gatekeeper’s job is to screen calls and determine who connects with others in the organization. Executive assistants take this role very seriously, and sales calls are a red flag; many gatekeepers will respond negatively as soon as they realize you are calling in a sales capacity.
This means even the best-crafted cold call messaging can fall on deaf ears. It also means that when a gatekeeper objects to your call, it’s not a meaningful objection. Phrases such as, “John’s not interested – no need to call back,” often have little bearing on how receptive that executive will be to your message. Assistants may not always be aware of the ways your messaging can resonate with a prospect.
Therefore, gatekeepers aren’t a good channel for reaching prospects, but they are one of the best resources for gathering information. Receptionists and administrative assistants tend to sit at the “hub” of the office. This means they witness a lot of company interactions, and often maintain relationships with individuals across different departments. They can provide inside information about ongoing initiatives, reporting structure or communication preferences.
After getting some insight, the most effective way to get past a gatekeeper is to go around them. Instead of asking to be connected to your prospect, find their direct line, or connect with them on LinkedIn. Administrative assistants often manage the voicemail, and even email inbox of the executive they support, but it’s uncommon for them to manage that executive’s LinkedIn page.
By looking to gatekeepers for insight, rather than always trying to get through them, sales people accomplish several things. Not only do they open up new opportunities for gathering information about prospects, they foster rapport and change the attitude towards sales people at that account.
Finally, professional sellers with information acquired from gatekeepers will be differentiated from other sales people relying on more traditionally-accessible information about the prospect. Getting more from gatekeepers starts with a simple change of attitude.