7 Rules for Getting Past the Gatekeeper

Sales meetings

You’ve driven across town for a sales meeting, only to find the receptionist catching up on the latest issue of US Weekly while Dr. Jones is tied up. Now what? We’ve all been there – suddenly in a battle to get past the gatekeeper.

In many cases, gatekeepers are low-waged employees who don’t really understand the business. They don’t care about how awesome your product or service is. It could be the perfect solution to solve all their company’s woes, but it doesn’t matter.

Your purpose is never to sell the gatekeeper. Your purpose is for the gatekeeper to send you to the decision maker, and these strategies will help get you to the person in charge.

1. Dress the Part

We’ve all seen the caricatures of salesmen: baggy shirts with sweat stains, un-tailored pants, and the general look that they just climbed an uncountable number of stairs. This look doesn’t help your case. If you dress like a salesperson, you are the salesperson. But if you look like a hotshot, you’re going to get past the gatekeeper much faster.

In fact, the more you can blend into the office environment, the better. In pharmaceutical sales, some of the smarter reps wear scrubs. If you’re wearing scrubs and you ask to speak to Dr. So-and-so, no one even asks you why you’re there.

Don’t stand out, but if in doubt, err on the side of being overdressed, not underdressed.

2. Use Body Language

You’re trying to blend in with your clothes. Now, act casually. Don’t look like you’re about to pounce into a 5 minute monologue. You can even act confused: “Oh my! You’ve changed so much in here,” or, “It took me forever to find a parking spot. Are you guys always this busy?”

Body language works hand in hand with clothing choice: get in the door without being pegged as a salesperson.

3. Let Go of the Literature

People often make the mistake of holding literature in their hand when they walk in. This is an immediate turn-off. A gatekeeper’s first mission is to discover friend or foe. They have several roles: answering the phones, receiving packages, and trying to keep out the riff-raff (aka: you.)

If you come in holding a brochure, you’re sending a clear sign that you’re a salesperson. The sooner the receptionist discovers you’re in sales, the harder you’ll have to fight an uphill battle to get any information.

4. Learn to Talk to Strangers

You’ve been trained not to talk to strangers your entire life. Well, it’s time to start. Nobody likes talking to strangers, but it’s no reason to ruin your chances at sales.

Remember, it’s just another person. Practice talking to people in everyday situations without the pressure. The more comfortable you are, the more comfortable you’ll make the gatekeeper.

5. Capture Information

I love to walk in when a receptionist answers the phone because I have the chance to capture information. Listen to what she’s talking about, take note of names, look for clues about what she’s eating, drinking, or reading, and try to find some kind of commonality.

If she’s drinking a Red Bull I can later say, “I can’t stop drinking those things. How many of those do you drink a day?” Those little pieces of information pay off in the conversation to come.

6. Start a Conversation – But Not About the Sale

Gatekeepers’ jobs may be to keep out people like you, but they’re still human beings, right? Warm them up through casual conversation. Use the information you were able to observe to ask about their drink, talk about the parking situation, or note how busy they are.

For example, you may say, ”Hey, listen. How big is this office? I didn’t think you guys had this much space.” You want to have a conversation without giving the reason you’re there. The better you can connect with the gatekeeper, the better your chances are to move on to the person in charge.

7. Use First Names

First names are critical. Give them yours, use theirs, and speak about the person you want to see on a first name basis. Exchange names early on or casually use the gatekeeper’s name in conversation if you’ve read it from their desk.

If you’ve been able to find out the first name of the decision-maker via a phone call or LinkedIn, use it with the receptionist. If you say, “I’m here to see George,” it sounds like you know him and you’re more likely to get through. (The exception: doctors. They usually don’t want to be on a first name basis.)

There’s no need for the gatekeeper to stand in your way. Be proactive in your approach so one person won’t stop you from making your pitch and gaining a client.


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