What is a Gatekeeper and How Do You Work Your Way Around Them?

Even the term can make you feel queasy, and a tad bit hesitant.

It’s got a medieval tone and puts you in a defensive mode before you ever pick up the phone or attempt to make any sort of contact.


What is a gatekeeper, and how do you work your way around them?

Every business seems to have one. It can be frustrating, trying to get to right person or decision-maker at a company that you’re prospecting.

And it’s frustrating for a reason: the gatekeeper is doing their job. The gatekeeper is someone who is trained to keep you away from the prospect. It’s usually a receptionist, secretary, or assistant. Their job fills many roles, and many times the most important one is to protect the decision maker.

But clearly, there are ways around it. Deals get done everyday, and the gatekeeper obviously lets some people through to the appropriate person.

One approach that has worked in the past for The Advisor Coach James Pollard, is bulky mail. He sends a package with an item inside, like a book.

“The gatekeeper almost never throws lumpy mail away,” Pollard said. “From there, if your prospect doesn’t call you as a result of the lumpy mail package, you can give a  follow-up call and say something like, ‘I’m the guy who sent you the book last week.’ That tends to get people through.”

It’s certainly not uncommon to confront a gatekeeper. It’s actually quite common as the majority of decision makers are hit with pitches on a daily business.

One of the keys is to be non-intrusive. People calling from certain cold-calling backgrounds think pressing is effective. It is not. Instead, always ask if it is a good time, and offer an alternative time or tell them you’ll call back at a later date.

“The first key is to try and establish a reason for connecting with a specific person at the company,” said Casey Hill of the Hill Gaming Company, who also says that that portion of your call should be done in advance. “If you want to connect with the engineering manager for instance, but you are getting support, say something like, ‘Hey Sarah, is John available? I’m looking to chat with him about our work on X.’ If pressed, don’t lie about your position or reason for calling. It’s fine to invoke familiarity with something like the above response.”

It’s important to remember, too, that the gatekeeper is just doing their job. Start everything off by showing them respect, listening to them, being nice and building rapport. If you show respect, they’re more likely to pass you through.

You must also be compelling and brief. Don’t try to oversell and don’t be long winded. Quickly explain the value of the service to the gatekeeper in words they might believe will be helpful to the business. This could very likely lead the gatekeeper to engage the decision maker, who, if your presentation is concise and compelling, will allow you to get transferred directly to the decision maker.

But there are also strategies that skip the gatekeeper all together. It may sound too easy, but consider the hours the gatekeeper is working.

“Let’s say that the gatekeeper is an administrative assistant for a Vice President. The reality is that the administrative assistant works traditional hours, something like 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., whereas the VP is likely in early and out of the office late,” said Max Tochinskiy, co-founder of deputyrabbit.com . “This is your shot, as calling at this time likely means going straight to the target, without having to deal with a gatekeeper at all.”

Sneaky? Maybe, but it works, and it’s not the only way to skirt around the gatekeeper. Successful sales people often will reach out directly to the decision maker via social media. Decision makers often handle their own accounts directly.

But in the end, as is with everything else in life, it’s all about being respectful and honest when you do deal with gatekeepers.

“I find there is many antiquated techniques that are pushed online that involve strange physiological tricks to try and get past gatekeepers,” Hill said. “Instead, be honest, be helpful and be direct.”

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