Knowing how to get past the gatekeeper is crucial if you work in B2B sales and you’re job involves cold calling.
I would go as far as to say that if you do not know how to get past the gatekeeper, you should not be making cold calls.
For context, I will point out that this may not be relevant for all sales roles in all countries.
For example, in Denmark, you can find the contact details for most decision-makers on the company website and just call them directly.
However, if you’re cold calling in the UK, US, Australia and quite a few other markets, you can expect to deal with gatekeepers frequently.
But even if you’re not in a market where gatekeepers are common, you should be trained to handle them, especially if you target large companies.
What is a Gatekeeper?
Gatekeeper is a word used to describe someone who controls access to something.
In sales, it’s used to describe a receptionist, switchboard operator, or personal secretary because they control access to your contact person.
A gatekeeper’s responsibility is to protect the time of the company’s employees by filtering sales calls.
When you dial the main switchboard number and ask to speak to your contact by their name or job title, you can expect to be interrogated by a gatekeeper.
It’s a little like getting through the border control officer to get into the United States.
I had the pleasure of dealing with gatekeepers during my first business-to-business sales role in an extremely competitive telecommunications industry.
My role was to book meetings for the regional business development managers, and my days consisted of hard-core cold-calling, so I became well acquainted with gatekeepers.
They blocked my cold calls and follow-up calls, screened my emails, and did everything else in their power to stop me from doing my job and reaching my contact.
It was a never-ending battle.
After making more than 8,000 cold calls during my first three months in that role, the gatekeepers started to get the better of me.
I was frustrated, negative and going into every cold call with my battle axe ready for the fight.
A short time after, I quit my job, declared bankruptcy, and walked away from the sales profession altogether.
Thankfully, I returned a few months later, and the rest, as they say, is history.
The gatekeepers were just as ruthless, but my experience helped me develop a tougher mental attitude.
However, it wasn’t until later in my career I realised some of the biggest mistakes I made when dealing with gatekeepers and started coming up with better strategies.
Befriending the Gatekeeper
The strategy of befriending the gatekeeper is nothing more than a reverse psychological trick designed to manipulate gatekeepers into doing something they should not do.
When I first received training in the art of dealing with gatekeepers, there was a huge focus on the importance of befriending them.
I still see many sales trainers recommending the same approach today. They’ll tell you to be polite, get their name, and tell them the compelling reason for why you are calling because people like to buy from people they like.
But let me tell you a story about a guy named Jonny who was the master of befriending the gatekeepers.
I started on the same day as Jonny at the telecommunications company I mentioned earlier.
Jonny was a charismatic and friendly chap of Greek descent with a strong cockney accent and a classic suave Greek appearance.
Jonny was well-liked in the office and had previous industry experience.
Hopes were high for him.
If there was one thing Jonny was brilliant at, it was building rapport with the gatekeepers.
Without a word of a lie, he used to take them out on dates.
Jonny would woo the gatekeepers with his charm on the phone, take them out that same week, and really take the cold out of cold-calling.
Jonny was such a smooth talker. He knew the name of the gatekeeper at almost every company he called and would speak to them like they were his friends about all sorts of rubbish for a few minutes every time he called. I always remember feeling very envious, wishing I had the same ability.
Despite his extreme ability to befriend the gatekeepers, it turned out that Jonny was booking more dates than meetings, leaving him consistently at the bottom of the sales charts, which eventually cost him his job.
As awesome as Jonny was at building rapport with and befriending the gatekeepers, his efforts had been a complete waste of time.
Most sales trainers who preach the befriending strategy fail to take into consideration quite a few crucial factors.
The 3 Types of Gatekeepers
In my experience, there are three types of gatekeepers:
Scarecrows are typically switchboard operators who are merely there to direct your call. They may ask you one or two questions, but this is only to announce your call or log you into their system.
You will typically find scarecrows inside larger organisations, and with the right mindset, they will cause you no problems.
Bouncers, frequently called receptionists, are semi-protective gatekeepers typically found in small- to medium-sized businesses. Their job role includes a variety of administrative tasks, including taking calls and messages for people.
Some bouncers are easy to bypass, while others can be hardcore. I often find it depends on how competitive their industry is and how well their day has gone.
Friday afternoons tend to be an easy ride, whereas Monday mornings can be a nightmare.
Parents I describe as the personal assistant or secretaries.
You’ll typically deal with parents if you are trying to reach senior decision-makers inside large organisations.
I would also describe the parents as the real gatekeepers and probably the only ones worth befriending. If you’re not on good terms with them, or if you don’t follow their procedures, you’re going to find it hard to reach your desired contact person.
A parent will often have a personal relationship with your contact person, so find out what calls your contact will take and what calls they won’t.
Some parents will also control your contact person’s diary and know where they are every minute of every day.
If you’re calling larger organisations, you will likely be dealing with scarecrows or parents, whereas if you are calling small- to medium-sized businesses, you will likely be spending most of your time dealing with bouncers.
My recommendation is to avoid wasting your time befriending scarecrows and bouncers. They often have little or no influence on your contact person, and as Jonny found out, befriending them can have the opposite effect.
Jonny’s approachable nature enabled gatekeepers to take advantage of what he offered. They reversed the reverse psychology on him and made him feel bad about asking them to put him through to his desired contacts – and for that, he lost his job.
Your Gatekeeper Mindset
“These are not the droids you are looking for.” -Obi-Wan Kenobi – Star Wars
If you’re unfamiliar with the above quote, it’s spoken by Obi-Wan Kenobi, a character in the 1977 movie Star Wars. He says it after being stopped by stormtroopers looking for the droids he is transporting.
Obi-Wan uses his mind tricks to convince the stormtroopers they do not need to ask further questions about his droids so he can move along.
I recommend watching the film clip on YouTube for the full effect.
If you can apply the same strategy with gatekeepers when trying to reach your contacts, you’ll be amazed by your hidden Jedi powers.
The term ‘gatekeeper’ is often so hyped up that you can easily find yourself locked in a constant battle with your mindset.
The worst thing you can do when calling out is always to expect the gatekeeper to block you.
This assumption will put you in a negative frame of mind and come across in your communication. You’ll either sound insecure, edgy or a bit of both.
A well-trained gatekeeper can sniff a vulnerable salesperson out in a heartbeat, and you’ll be sending an email to the info@ address before you’ve had the chance to give the reason for your call.
Even if you know the likelihood of getting through is small, you need to believe you should be put through and that your call is important.
But most of all, you need to come across like you expect to be put through.
It wasn’t until later in my career that I realised I had developed a powerful unconscious strategy to bypass gatekeepers which had been working flawlessly.
The ‘Three-Question Thank-You Technique’
The ‘Three-Question Thank You-Technique’ is my secret weapon for disarming gatekeepers.
If mastered, this technique will instantly improve your connection rates.
After making thousands of cold calls, I began to get a little sick and tired of repeating myself, so I decided to investigate why.
The first thing I noticed was that the gatekeeper often made me repeat everything I said when they answered the call.
The conversation would typically start something like this:
Me: “Hello my name is David White, and I’m calling from the company On Air Telecom. Can I speak to Lee Lomas, please?”
Gatekeeper: “Yes, can I ask who’s calling?”
Me: “Yes, my name is David White.”
Gatekeeper: “And which company are you calling from?”
Me: “On Air Telecom.”
Gatekeeper: “And what is the call regarding?”
Me: “It’s regarding your mobile phone contracts.”
Gatekeeper: “No thanks, we’re not interested.”
Within 30 seconds, I repeated my name, my company name, and quite often, the name of my contact person.
I realised I had delivered my information far too quickly, making it almost impossible for the gatekeeper to process it all at once, so I decided to try the strategy of giving it in slower, smaller chunks.
I figured if I called and started by asking for the contact person I wanted to speak to, the questions about my name and company would naturally come afterwards.
The results were instant.
I no longer had to repeat myself on every call, and immediately, I felt less frustrated.
But this change in strategy also highlighted something even better.
I had realised a strange sense of hesitance or lack of confidence from the gatekeepers when I entered my calls in this new way.
It was almost like they feared me a little.
I was no longer trying to explain what my company did, and I was getting through to my contacts at a much higher rate.
I realised the gatekeepers seemed to have an unconscious psychological rule that asking two questions was okay, three were borderline nosey, and anything over that was close to being rude.
And then I put two and two together.
The gatekeeper’s primary role is often to be at the professional forefront of their company.
They take calls from everyone, including customers, business partners, board directors, and other people.
So, when I was calling without any introduction and just asking for the name of the person I wanted to speak to, the gatekeeper had no clue if I was a salesperson or a board member; hence, the hesitancy and lack of confidence I had noticed.
There were also a couple of other subconscious elements to this new winning strategy too:
1. I’m British, so I often use my manners.
Saying good morning or good afternoon and using please and thank you are natural to me. I discovered these manners were having a magic effect with gatekeepers.
The use of ‘good morning’ or ‘good afternoon’ at the beginning of the call ensured I did not sound rude, especially considering I had stopped introducing myself by name right away.
And saying ‘thank you’ at the end of each response also acted as a psychological message that I now expected to be connected.
2. I’m naturally confident and straight-talking.
As I already mentioned, confidence is critical in sales.
By sounding a little authoritative when asking to speak to your contact person, you’ll make yourself sound like someone of importance and increase the likelihood of being connected.
Just be sure to remember your manners – confidence can easily be mistaken for arrogance.
So, with this new approach, my cold calls were beginning to sound more like this:
Me: “Good morning. Can I speak to Lee Lomas, please? Thank you.”
Gatekeeper: “Yes, can I ask who’s calling, please?”
Me: “Yes, my name is David White. Thank you.”
Gatekeeper: “And which company are you calling from?”
Me: “On Air Telecom, thank you.”
Most gatekeepers will put you through at this point, especially if they’re just busy switchboard operators (scarecrows) who want to direct your call with speed so they can take the next call or carry on with their other tasks.
With bouncers and parents, the conversation may continue to the defining question, “And what is the call regarding?”. Here, you need to come up with a short and vague response.
If you come up with a technical or confusing answer, you get connected immediately.
So, rather than saying my call was about their mobile phone contracts, I would just say, “It’s about the renewal of your subscription, thank you”, or, “It’s regarding a new batch of 5210s, thanks”.
Below is a list of examples of alternative responses for different types of businesses.
Example A: “The call is regarding your Google AdWords spend.”
Replace with: “It’s regarding your CTR, thank you.”
Example B: “The call is regarding your website SEO.”
Replace with: “It’s regarding your Metadata, thank you.”
Example C: “The call is regarding recruitment services.”
Replace with: “It’s regarding an employee matter, thank you.”
Example D: “The call is regarding website hosting.”
Replace with: “It’s regarding your VPS servers, thank you.”
I recommend you put time aside to come up with a variety of potential responses based on your own business.
You should then spend a day or two putting them to the test.
Your toughest challenge when applying this new strategy will be breaking the habit of introducing yourself at the beginning of every call.
You have likely been doing this for a long time, so it’s an unconscious habit.
The only way to truly break a habit is to replace it with a new one and practise it until it sticks.
So, with the combination of this ‘Three-Question-Thank-You Technique’ and your new Jedi mind powers, you are guaranteed to see a substantial difference in your connection rates, resulting in more conversations with your contacts and fewer headaches due to the gatekeepers.
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