Getting Past the Gatekeepers

Every buyer with any authority will have a gatekeeper, a person whose job includes keeping salespeople from wasting the boss's time. Gatekeepers can be very effective at this task; the ones that aren't are soon looking for other work. How can you identify and get through the gatekeepers?

Gatekeepers include the general receptionist, department secretary, and possibly a private secretary or assistant. In retail stores, the gatekeeper may be a clerk or even a manager — someone who has no buying authority. Each will have numerous responsibilities, one of which is to help buyers screen salespeople as appropriate.

The Gatekeeper's Job

Understand that, just like you, the gatekeeper has a job to do. Initially, it may seem like that job is to keep you from getting an appointment. Actually, the gatekeeper has a different function: to help the boss work more efficiently. The gatekeeper is often an assistant who provides a variety of important services to the boss, depending on the job description. The gatekeeper may perform office duties or be responsible for transactions or simply serve as an appointment maker for the boss. In each case, the gatekeeper will not let you pass until you are identified as someone who is valuable to the company. If the gatekeeper judges that you meet the entry criteria, you're in.

Selling the Gatekeeper

What is the entry criteria? You probably won't know for certain, but you can make an educated guess. If the buyer you want to see is responsible for buying all office supplies for the company, then the criteria probably is that all salespeople must first prove to the gatekeeper that she or he can provide better product, better service, or lower prices than current suppliers. Your first sales job, then, is to sell the gatekeeper.

Gatekeepers typically have even less time to hear sales pitches than do their bosses. And less interest. You must tailor your appointment pitch to the needs of the gatekeeper. Your goal: get an appointment.

  • I only need fifteen minutes of your boss's time to show your company how to reduce inventory while increasing profits.

  • I recently sold Bluebird Widgets an automation device that cut their production costs by 15 percent and I'd like to show it to your boss.

  • Can I send you a copy of our catalog and call you back in a week to see if your boss is interested in meeting?

  • In most cases, your initial contact with the gatekeeper will be by telephone, though it may be in person or by letter. Review the telephone techniques in Chapter 6 and make your pitch succinct. Understand that the gatekeeper's responsibility is not to keep you out, but to make sure that you have something of value to offer the boss. Understand what that is and communicate it — sell it — to the gatekeeper and you have improved chances of getting in.

    Developing the Gatekeeper

    Once you've had an appointment with the boss — whether you sold anything or not — make sure that you show the gatekeeper appreciation for the attempt. However, never present it as a bribe. It's not. It's an appreciation; if it is seen as a bribe, chances are that your next efforts to get by will be stopped.

    Appreciation can come in a variety of forms. By arriving early for an appointment, you may get the opportunity to personally thank the gatekeeper. In addition, you can find out more about the individual. Look for photos and mementos on the wall or desk. In most cases, simply taking an interest in the individual and appreciating the work done is sufficient to begin building a positive relationship. Keep it sincere.

    The gift for gatekeepers that keeps on giving is any useful item with your company name on it. For example, coffee cups, key chains, coasters, and other token gifts. If your gatekeeper works in the factory, warehouse, or other area where the temperature may be lower, an emblem hat, jacket, or sweater may be appropriate. Just make sure that it doesn't look like a walking billboard. And make sure that you get the appropriate size, if applicable.

    If you feel that a gift is appropriate, make sure that it is something that acknowledges the individuality of the gatekeeper or helps her on the job. Appreciations can include relevant samples of your product, tickets to sporting or music events that you've identified as of interest to the gatekeeper, or something decorative for the desk. Again, make sure that it is seen as appreciation for extra efforts, not as a bribe. Give the gift after the service rather than before.

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