Receptionists. Executive Assistants. Junior staff members.
They are all gatekeepers to the decision makers you have to reach in order to win lucrative corporate clients.
Not only do these gatekeepers take great pride in protecting their bosses from unwanted interruptions (especially from people trying to sell them something) — but they also fear getting in trouble should they accidentally let the “wrong” person through.
So how then can you “get around” these gatekeepers?
Unfortunately, a lot of the strategies you’ll find in books and online articles are old-school phone prospecting techniques — approaches that would leave most small business owners feeling like a sleazy sales person.
For example, one approach professional sales people will tell you to use is a directive statement + the word “please” many times over. Like this:
Assistant: “May I ask who’s calling?”
Sales person: “Yes, please. Please tell Mr. Smith that John Doe is calling please. I’ll hold please.”
Now, don’t get me wrong. Believe it or not, that strategy actually does work. But most small business owners who try those old-school telephone sales techniques do so with a knot in the pit of the stomach and require a long shower afterward.
Having been one of those gatekeepers…. Having had my own gatekeepers when I was a decision maker in corporate… and now being on this side of the table as a small business owner… I’d like to offer five different — and much more authentic — strategies.
1. Don’t treat a gatekeeper like a gatekeeper. Treat them like the decision maker that they are.
The funny thing about “gatekeepers” is that a lot of them (namely executive and administrative assistants, as well as entry-level employees) actually know a hell of lot more about what’s going on in the day-to-day activities of their company, their department, or their team than their bosses do.
In fact, it’s the assistants and bottom-rung employees that are where the “rubber meets the road.” So if you want to find out what’s going on in a department or company, as well as find out what their biggest priority is this minute, the very best way to do that is not to try to get “past” the gatekeeper at all. Rather — you want to try and “sell” the gatekeeper the exact way you’re eventually going to approach their boss. Show you’ve done your research. Pique their interest with an irresistible outcome. Ask a question to get them talking.
And remember… they are a decision maker. They are deciding whether or not they are going to let you through to talk to the right decision maker. They are deciding whether or not to help you. Win them over, and you’re halfway in the door.
2. Call after hours. Before hours. Or at other “odd” times.
I once called a Chief Marketing Officer of a $100 million company on a Friday evening around 7pm. To be honest, I was fully expecting to get his voicemail. But sure enough, Jason answered the phone. Not only that, he was in a very talkative mood (one of the benefits of calling outside the hustle and bustle of normal business hours) and the conversation led to an opportunity that was not only much bigger than what I had anticipated, but also one that I wouldn’t have even known existed had I not been able to engage him in conversation.
Bottom line: While receptionists and many assistants will exit the office at the more regularly scheduled quitting times, you can find decision makers at the office at all hours of the day.
3. Attend and speak at events.
One of my favorite ways to avoid gatekeepers is to take them out of the equation altogether. When you meet a decision maker at a live event, suddenly you’re not a ‘salesperson’ trying to get through; you’re YOU! In other words, now they see you as Lisa, Cindy, Mike, David, Carol… not a “dialing for dollars” sales guy or gal who is easily hung up on.
Did you know there are more than 5,000 live events every single day in the United States alone? There is literally an association or a conference for every topic, industry, expertise and niche imaginable. Just a few weeks ago, one of our private clients attended a luncheon within 15 miles of her office. Seated on one side of her was a top executive from a major retailer. On the other side of her was a top executive from a major e-commerce company — a name we all know too well. Guess who not only has their business cards, but appointments to speak with them further?
If you really want to get to the top people who can say “yes” to hiring your company in one conversation, it’s an absolute must to get out from your office and meet people in person. In fact, you don’t have the time not to do so.
4. Leverage LinkedIn.
I have a hard time remembering what the world was like before we had email, cell phones and social media. How did anything ever get done!?
LinkedIn truly is a blessing for those of us who want to get our foot in the door with companies. The mistake a lot of people make, however, is going straight to the decision makers themselves — which defeats the beauty and brilliance of LinkedIn.
The real power of LinkedIn is the introduction. When you find someone that you want to speak with in order to discover how you might be able to help their company, the best way to approach them is by getting an introduction from someone else in your LinkedIN network who also shares a connection with that person. This warm introduction once again allows you to be seen as a real person… a friend of so-and-so’s… an expert who can help them… not a door-to-door salesman.
5. Send a well-timed, incredibly valuable resource.
Imagine this. You’re a director at a mid-size company who has just announced a new program for your employees. A few days later you receive a package (via FedEx or UPS that requires signature) that includes a copy of a special report, e-book, insights paper, DVD, CD, book, or other incredibly helpful resource that is relevant to that very type of initiative or program. Along with the item is a handwritten note from an expert who says… “I saw the recent news coverage about your new employee program. I help companies to measure and maximize their results in this area and, based on what little bit I know so far about your efforts, I thought this resource might be helpful to you. Enjoy! – Jane”
Do you think Jane may have caught the eye of that director? Do you think that that director might swing his chair to face his computer and type Jane’s website address into his browser to see who this Jane is? Do you think when Jane calls in a few days to make sure he got the package and to ask if it was helpful that there is a greater chance that this director might take her call? (I do.)
These are five authentic strategies that have worked for me, as well as for my private coaching clients. But I would love to hear what has worked for you. Share in the comments section below your favorite ways for getting to the decision makers.