In prospecting, gatekeepers are people who work closely with a Decision-Maker (DM) and are in charge of sifting incoming calls, communication inquiries, and even schedules. As a rule of thumb, they are operations professionals who protect a DM from unwanted intrusions.
Although gatekeepers aren't influencers in the business process, they have the power to decide whether to connect a salesperson and an executive, or not. In the worst-case scenario, they can become insurmountable obstacles.
Since gatekeepers stand in the way of a company’s sales goals, there are multiple strategies that a salesperson can use to overcome them. Some of these methods run counter to one another.
However, there's one strategy, that no sales rep should ever apply:
Once again — reps must not lie, ever. No matter how badly they want to reach their intended target. Instead, it is suggested that sales reps can use the "not technically a lie" strategy. If a gatekeeper asks you if it's a sales call, good advice here would be to say: "Yes. And the DM should be expecting my call."
To sell or not to sell to the gatekeeper
Some sales professionals advocate heavily against this practice. They emphasize that trying to sell to a gatekeeper is a waste of time and is also a risk of getting rejected by a person who doesn't have the power to say "yes" or "no" to your actual offer.
On the flip side, there are salespeople who suggest showing the value of your product/service to a gatekeeper at the individual, department, or company level might win him/her as a champion for your deal.
Either way you play it, it’s useful to come to terms with the strategy you’ll want to employ, if for no other reason than you’ll hit a ton of gatekeepers in the course of standard outreach.
"Act like a senior" vs. "Act like a friend" approaches
When a manager calls, she or he speaks in a slow relaxed voice. They don't get into much detail about the reasons they call. If a sales rep is able to imitate such a tone, the bet is that a gatekeeper won't ask too many questions about the reasons for a call.
An opposite approach suggests being nice, polite, and empathetic. A sales rep can build valuable relations with a gatekeeper. The latter being a valuable source of information about a decision-maker, a rep should be asking as many questions as possible to collect important sales intelligence.
Don't get through, walk around
Instead of trying to talk a gatekeeper into connecting you with a DM, you can simply get their direct phone number. Learn how CIENCE can help.
A more nuanced strategy
There's another definition of a gatekeeper that you might find on the Internet. According to Frank Cespedes, Senior Lecturer of Business Administration at Harvard Business School, gatekeepers are lower-level managers who vet sellers as well as the products/services. Cespedes juxtaposes gatekeepers to senior managers and emphasizes the importance of making questions to the former.
This view supports the idea that no call is ever truly wasted, as there is plenty of information a prospector can pull from a gatekeeper. Particularly clever are strategies that detail organizational details from the inside out. Presumably, it is a poor gatekeeper who doesn’t know the castle. Thus, gates are only a narrow part of the job description.
And since gatekeepers are generally available and call connect rates (where gatekeepers are involved) are quite high, the enterprising prospector might probe for pertinent information deliberately.
It’s amazing what can be learned when you just ask.
Going around the gatekeeper
Upon learning how gatekeeping is done at a target organization, a strategy that necessitates avoiding the gatekeeper can be employed. This can be as simple as calling outside “normal” hours. Or it might be as complex as starting lower in an organization or bridging to a connection via referral.
The advantage of navigating around the gatekeeper may actually also prove to be a positive point of emphasis for the executive — especially framed correctly:
It took an entire strategy to get you on the phone… Because this conversation had to happen!
With proper intent, this is typically the hustle that most DM’s respect. Hard-to-reach individuals often value those who are able to crack through because of the level of effort inherent.
In cold calling, gatekeepers are a way of life. They are part of a rich ecosystem established at the target organization you wish to penetrate. Since they are part of that system, it is useful to experiment and determine the most appropriate strategy for success (e.g. whether you choose to overcome or go around the gatekeeper, treat as friend or foe, or pump for information) towards your ultimate goal of landing a meeting with a prospect.