Sales Training Article: Handling Gatekeepers

By John Holland, Chief Content Officer, CustomerCentric Selling® – The Sales Training Company

Whether making cold or warm calls trying to find new opportunities, it can be a humbling experience for salespeople. Our definition of prospecting is trying to take prospects from latent to active need. Another way to phrase that is to say that:

Prospecting is looking for people that aren’t looking.

When you think about it, that also means:

There is no budget so sellers should call high enough so that existing funds can be re-allocated if the potential value is sufficient.

An alternative to actively prospecting is for sellers to wait for “qualified” inbound Internet leads. These activities amount to doing “in-basket” selling. If your offerings are $50K or higher, be prepared when following up to talk with people that:

1. Don’t have the authority to buy.

2. Have a good idea of what their requirements are.

3. Have already researched multiple vendors.

4. Will be product/offering focused.

5. Do not have budget approved.

6. Have not created business cases together to justify purchases.

Without wanting to sound too cynical, starting at low levels will mean challenges for salespeople in getting access to higher levels, long sales cycles, high probabilities of “no decisions” and low win rates.

Reaching High
The daunting alternative is to call at very high levels. Executives are more likely to have admins (often referred to as gatekeepers) that invariably will ask a question that sends shivers down many sellers’ spines:

“Who is this and what is it regarding?”

Sellers that don’t have a concise answer often get stopped in their tracks.

Let’s take a step back and more closely consider the term “gatekeeper.” It doesn’t mean sellers won’t be allowed access. Instead it means sellers must have a compelling reason to talk with senior executives. Even then, there is the danger that admins will refer sellers to lower levels. It often makes sense to target one or more levels higher than where you want to get.

A Way to Handle Gatekeepers
I recently made a warm call (a letter followed by a phone call) to a CEO. I had read the company’s annual report and there was a compelling business issue that I gleaned from it:

To reach top-line revenue it seemed it was going to be necessary to migrate their salespeople from selling products to selling business outcomes possible with devices that were part of the Internet of Things (IoT).

In my mind this challenge was worthy of a CEO’s attention, if not his or her time.

I called the company headquarters and asked for the CEO. My call was routed to an admin that answered the call and asked: Who is this and what is it regarding?

My response what that it was regarding a letter dated May 12th about the challenges sellers faced in migrating from selling products to business outcomes that could be achieved by making devices part of the IoT.

The admin agreed to get back to me. In less than an hour I got a call from a Senior Vice President that had been asked to contact me.

Being Proactive Works In Your Favor
There are several advantages of making proactive attempts to start buying cycles:

1. You can start at levels that have the authority to create budget.

2. By taking buyers from latent to active need their requirements lists are clean sheets of paper.

3. If the call goes well you start off as “Column A.”

4. If there’s little chance of a buying decision, buyers won’t waste their (or your) time.

5. Higher win rates, shorter buying cycles and higher average transactions are likely.

Ultimately, the issues should be outcomes that specific titles would like to be able to achieve through the use of your offerings. It’s the first step in creating new opportunities.