Posted: 29th August 2017

By: WiRE Team


Jane Cavelle is a business coach and sales coach who particularly (though not solely!) works with women in business, be it their own or other people’s.   I do sales teaching, of the methodology of sales to prevent you suffering from that dreaded feast and famine on incoming sales

We all know how important it is to find the right person to speak to when you are selling.   But how to identify them and then how to get to actually speak to them can seem an unachievable nightmare.  These DM’s (or decision makers)  are almost always hugely difficult to get hold of, well protected by the people who act as their gatekeepers, with the magical power to keep the gate or door firmly shut in your face.

People blocking your way could include an old fashioned secretary or PA, an assistant, the receptionist or just about anyone in the office.  The thing they have in common is that they stay being “blocks”, till you have worked out how to make them your collaborator.  Here is a selection of my top tips for making them your best ally:

  1. Start thinking of them as problems and instead view them as an asset.  They can be your best possible friend in this process.   They have the potential to give you half a ton of information before you even speak to your prospect, information that will make your job in selling so much easier.  They are also the potential friend that can decide if you will be put through.
  2. Put plenty of time into getting to know the gatekeeper and treat them with respect.  They have the power to tell their bosses that the “nice / interesting / useful person rang today” or that they put off that “awful sales caller”.
  3. Get their name.  Write it down and use it often.  It is really important to make your relationship with them a personal one.   Their job is a tough as they probably get pressure from both sides – from callers and from their boss.  If they sound tense and tired, sympathise.
  4. Never, ever be rude to them – however rude they might be with you.  You have no idea what pressures they are under.  Treat them with compassion.
  5. Never sell to a gatekeeper.  It is wasting both your time.   Worse, it gives the gatekeeper the opportunity to say no to your pitch before you have spoken to the decision maker.
  6. The tougher the gatekeeper, the more power they have.  View a tough gatekeeper as good news as it means less competition will be getting through.
  7. Ask them questions.  Try approaching the gatekeeper with the common ground of not bothering their boss till both sides are sure that it would be worth it.  And under this guise, learn about the prospect’s needs, current buying, and your competition.  Your gatekeeper may also run out of information and at the point they are forced to admit not knowing the answer, you have the perfect moment to make a reasonable request to speak to their boss.
  8. When they ask you what your call is regarding, never respond with what you are selling, but put forward one of your benefits instead, be it saving money, increasing performance etc.
  9. Use silence.  Even gatekeepers fear silence.  Many are also nervous of getting rid of something that could benefit their boss too.
  10. Being a bit witless can be a useful tool which I have certainly used in the past.  Lots of rapport about both your jobs being tough, and appeals for help can work wonders with some gatekeepers.
  11. Remember they are just doing their job.  Unless you have actually offended them, their saying no will not be personal, so don’t take it like that.  And also remember that if you have gleaned one further piece of information during the call, you will have made a further step towards a sale, so it is not a failure.
  12. Once you do get through to the decision maker, remember to tell them how helpful their gatekeeper has been.   They are still your ally; they will still be in charge of you getting through or not getting through in the future.  So thank them as well.  Send them an email or a note afterwards to say so.
  13. While it is better to make friends, sometimes it just is not possible.  Say you will ring again the next day and ask what time they get in, go to lunch or go home – and ring outside those hours.   Many bosses work longer hours than assistants and pick up their own phones outside those times.  At worst, you may get a different gatekeeper who is more sympathetic to your cause.
  14. If you are being blocked by a receptionist, try asking to be put through to sales, marketing or accounts.  Those three departments rarely fail to pick up a phone.  When they do, you can ask to be transferred to the person you need.
  15. Treat gatekeepers as you would like to be treated yourself.
  16. Keep going.  Perseverance wins the day. 80% of sales are made after between 5 and 8 calls.  Yet most people give up after 2.  Don’t you be one of them.