Gatekeeper: Friend or Foe — It’s Up to You

August 28, 2012


A  company’s sales process management needs to address all steps in the sales cycle, including those which occur well before the appointment, in order to qualify its sales process as a thorough system. Handling gatekeepers is one of these steps — an art form that is not stressed enough. Gatekeepers are defined as the assistants, employees, family and associates of a decision maker which control access to said decision maker.

Here are a few pointers in getting on good terms with these very important people, which can make or break your chances at a sale.

Establish your credibility

The first step when approaching an unknown gatekeeper is to reference the person who referred you, the research you have done on the company, or the triggering event that established the company as a prospect in your eyes. In other words, show up with a definite purpose and as someone who means business, not someone who happened to idly walk by and happen upon the office.

Treat them like a decision maker

Gatekeepers should be treated like the person who makes the final buying decision because, in many cases, they are! Often, secretaries or a junior executive are the ones that actually do all of the research and then present the solution they think is best to the boss, who simply signs off on it. Or, the decision maker might ask his staff or friends for a recommendation, and if you have made a favorable impression with these lower-level personnel, you have a good chance of getting an appointment.

Key points:

  • Don’t be dismissive.  Show respect to the overworked receptionist and don’t brush him or her off as unimportant. Talk about your product or offering directly to them if they ask (as they could potentially be the real buyer as previously mentioned).
  • Do not try to bypass them. Follow the chain of command, unless the gatekeeper is really an impossible personality. If you do bypass them by using tricks to talk to the decision-maker, you run the risk of both the decision maker and his gatekeepers resenting you as a shyster.
  • A personal touch works, but don’t overdo it. Constantly bribing with chocolates or other little gifts can make you seem desperate and are usually inappropriate.

Set ground rules

Setting ground rules with gatekeepers is part of the sales process management process. It can take several weeks of trying before getting the much-desired appointment, so salespeople should establish these “rules of engagement,” at first contact to prevent inadvertently stepping on anyone’s toes during this period of time

Things to establish:

  • Contact methods. Does the boss prefer face-to-face meetings, emails, or text messages? Can you have the boss’s email to send messages directly? If not, should you send the email to the gatekeeper for her to forward?
  • Telephone rules. Do not let her take a message or send you to voice mail. Instead, ask her to set up a scheduled call if a face-to-face meeting isn’t possible.
  • Ownership. Keep the gatekeeper involved as the “owner” of any appointments, meaning that she will be cc’d on all communications and you are counting on her to confirm the appointment and make sure it happens as scheduled.

Once an appointment, and hopefully, a sale, have occurred, sales process management should include a reminder to personally thank the gatekeepers. This is the appropriate time to send a thank you card and/or a small gift. And go out of your way to greet them next time you have to service the account or are just in the area.