By Dean Kaplan
No matter how well you’ve prepared your strategy for meeting with a potential client or business partner, you must first get past a gatekeeper before putting that strategy into action. A gatekeeper is someone who screens calls, deciding who to connect with a decision maker, and who to send off to oblivion. Therefore, your first job is to get past that gatekeeper.
If this task sounds daunting to you, don’t worry. The same people skills and determination that serve you as an entrepreneur will come in handy right now. Protect your earnings by using these 3 tried-and-true tactics to getting past the gatekeeper:
1. Be authoritative and confident. Now is the time to bring out your “senior voice,” which lets people know you are an important person. Use a relaxed and calm voice, and speak slowly and articulately. In the opening seconds of the conversation, if the gatekeeper senses that you are their senior, they are unlikely to risk offending you by pushing too hard for information. If someone believes you are important, you will be treated differently.
However, the gatekeeper may still want to ask questions about who you are and why you called, but remember that the one who asks the questions is the one who controls the call. Don’t divulge more information than necessary, and if appropriate, redirect with a question if you are unsure of the decision maker’s full name and company role.
Finally, even if you are uncomfortable or nervous, try to sound confident by taking deep breaths and practicing the phone call ahead of time. Hesitation, stammering, or any sign of nervousness will blow your cover.
2. Bring the gatekeeper over to your side. As you get revved up to make the call, you may start picturing the gatekeeper as the enemy. However, this approach will not work – you need to turn the gatekeeper into an ally.
Remember that gatekeepers are just doing their jobs, which include managing demands on the decision maker’s time. If you view the gatekeeper as an enemy, you will create a self-imposed psychological barrier that will be difficult, if not impossible to remove.
First, be sure to get the gatekeeper’s name so you can make it a personal conversation. Be polite and professional, never condescending. Easy-going conversation and humor go a long way.
Enlist the gatekeeper’s help by beginning your request like this: “Anne, I really need your help.”
Then proceed by asking to be connected to the decision maker, or by asking Anne to connect you with the person in charge of accounts payable, etc., if you are unsure of the decision maker’s name.
When you ask people for help, they usually feel important, and they want to help since it is tough to turn down a request. Use that to your advantage.
Even if you can’t get through to the decision maker right then, engage the gatekeeper so that they have a positive and friendly attitude towards you when you call again.
3. Plan out your approach before you call. Unless you’re Meryl Streep, don’t use a script on the gatekeeper because they will likely hear the scripted tone in your voice. Instead, plan out your approach, including what you might say to the range of responses they may give. Plan how you will respond to key objections, but leave the dialogue open so it will sound natural and relaxed.
Resist the urge to pitch the gatekeeper on your products, services or other reason for your call. This person has very distinct “powers.” One of them is the power to connect you with the right person. However, gatekeepers don’t hold any decision-making powers. If you try to pitch the gatekeeper, it will waste your time and annoy them, as they will just be waiting for an opportunity to tell you they cannot help you.
Remember your objective: getting a qualified conversation with a decision-maker. Though very important, it is the only thing the gatekeeper can help you do.
We use these and other best practices in our B2B debt collection efforts, but they work just as well in a sales environment. What other tips set you up for success in similar situations?
Dean Kaplan is President of The Kaplan Group, a commercial collection agency and consulting firm. He has extensive experience in finance, having closed over $500 million in M&A transactions as a CFO, consultant, and entrepreneur. You can find Dean on Twitter @TheKaplanGroup.