Whether you’re pitching yourself in an interview or your service or product in a sales presentation, you need to be speaking to the person who can say yes. That person will inevitably have someone guarding her door and phone line. Your mission, if you choose to be successful, is to circumvent that gatekeeper.
WHAT IT MEANS: Getting past the gatekeeper is what separates the sales superstars from the rest of the pack. It takes resourcefulness, it takes persistence, and it takes a willingness to try different tactics. What works at one company may not work at another; indeed, what worked on Monday may not work on Thursday! First and foremost, you need to do the research to determine exactly whom you need to talk to at the specific company you’re targeting. Then you need to get through his or her gate.
ACTION PLAN: Here are some tips for getting past the gatekeeper:
When you call the office, treat the gatekeeper with the same respect that you would treat the potential partner. This will make them warm up to you. Sound important but courteous, for example, “Hello there, please put me through to Joe Smith.”
If you happen to know someone who knows your key decision maker, ask for permission to use his or her name. When the gatekeeper asks what your call is regarding, you can say, “His good friend Norm First asked me to call him.”
Adopt the gatekeeper. In other words, develop a relationship with him or her. Do this by engaging in a conversation whenever you call. Developing a relationship with the gatekeeper comes in handy when you’ve been unable to reach your potential partner because he or she is often out of the office.
Send a letter first. In the letter, ask the potential partner to expect your call on a certain date. This way, you can say, “He’s expecting my call” when the gatekeeper asks what your call is regarding. Another approach is to e-mail your potential partner to check if he or she has received your letter, and then ask for the best time to call him or her. In this instance, it’s likely that your potential partner will let their gatekeeper know that your phone call is expected.
If voice mail is the gatekeeper, it’s best to send in a letter first, and then follow up by leaving a voice mail message. However, if you choose not to send a letter first, then simply introduce yourself and the purpose of your call. Keep it brief, but try to pique your listener’s interest. What can you say that would make him or her curious enough to return your call or e-mail you?
EVEN BETTER: Go where—or when—the gatekeeper ain’t! Call executives during off-hours—between 7:30 and 8:30 in the morning and after 5:00 in the evening. Trade shows are also a good place to gain “face time” with senior managers with less restricted access.
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