Dave was the CEO of a large client of mine, and Mary was his executive assistant. Most people would have described Mary as the gatekeeper – there to prevent salespeople from reaching her boss. Anytime an opportunity came up in their large company, I knew that I could call Mary and determine whether or not the project was worth pursuing. I would simply call and say “Mary, one of the managers was speaking with us about project X. Is this something that is important to Dave, or are we just enabling a big waste of time by engaging in discussions with them? We want to focus on the items that are important to Dave. Do you think we could find 5 minutes on his calendar to know if it is worth our time to try and help?”

Mary would often have insight about the project, which she was happy to share. If we determined it was appropriate to speak with Dave, I would be sure to never exceed the allotted time.  And, after each conversation, I would report back to Mary so she knew what transpired. We did millions of dollars of business with their company, and Mary was a key element to each interaction.

I often work with sales professionals who endlessly complain about the people they reach on the front lines for target clients. The salespeople whine that they can’t get “past the gauntlet” to reach the decision maker. So, why do some people have an easy time, and others have such a tough time? It comes down to three simple steps:

  1. Their job is to protect their boss’s time. The so-called gatekeeper’s job is to protect the executive from people who would waste their time. If your message is about you and not them, realize that you are not getting through. If you focus on the types of challenges you solve for similar clients, and you are specific about the short amount of time you would require to see if there is a fit, you might earn a few minutes to determine value. But, if you show up as a pushy salesperson talking about you or your company, you won’t be invited back;
  2. Be honest.  I was at home the other evening when a telemarketer called. They said “I’m not selling anything; I just wanted to ask you a few questions.” I responded “That’s too bad, I was hoping to make an impulse purchase, but I’ll have to get over it.  What are your questions?”  Nobody wants to buy from someone if the relationship starts off with a dishonest tactic.
  3. Respect their position. The gatekeeper, executive assistant, receptionist, etc. wields incredible power. Many a salesperson has made the mistake of not treating their position with appropriate level of respect. Know their names, and wherever possible, ask them for their help: “Pat, I have been trying to reach Kathy for three months without success and I’m starting to look bad with my management. I don’t even know if we are a good fit, but within 5 minutes, Kathy and I will know whether or not we should continue the conversation. For the right clients, the executives say we deliver exceptional value. What’s the best way for us to get that five minutes together, provided I stick to that timeframe?”

When you ultimately reach the right person, be sure to give an honest assessment. If they do not have a need, or you don’t have a good fit, be direct in saying so. It will earn you the right to call on them in the future.  In fact, they might even be inclined to refer you to someone who is facing that challenge. Don’t forget to circle-back with the person who made it possible.

We’ll be covering this topic and others in detail during a full-day workshop on June 5.  Click HERE for information.

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