One of the biggest challenges salespeople have is the eternal battle of good versus gatekeeper. No matter how prepared you are, how strong your product offering or how much benefit you can provide for this particular prospect, there will often be a gatekeeper standing between you and the decision maker.
By the description many sales people give about gatekeepers, you would think Gandalf was protecting decision makers by screaming “You shall not pass!”. The reality is not quite as dramatic.
But the fact remains, there is someone standing between you and the person you want to talk to, and all you have is a phone and a few seconds worth of time to get across an infinite number of client benefits and reasons they should work with you. So what do you do?
If you want to triple your commissions, you need to talk to three times as many decision makers. To achieve this goal, you have one of two options.
Firstly, you could change your breakfast to include an extra double espresso or two followed by your favourite energy drink (in the larger can of course!) and then push yourself more than ever before to make 3x the number of calls you normally make in a day. Forget improving, don’t change anything and just hammer those phones even harder than before. Remember, sales is a contact sport, the more contacts you make the more sales you make. I’m sure you can add in a couple more sales cliches to highlight the absurdity of this approach which still takes place on sales floors across the world.
Alternatively, you could try putting yourself in the gatekeepers shoes for a moment and spend a moment understanding their job role. Despite what you may think, they do not spend their days waiting for your call, using the time in between to come up with the most elaborate reason not to put you through. “I’m sorry, you just missed Mr Smith. He was abducted by aliens so we are not sure when he’ll be back!”.
I was running a sales training session once a couple of years ago, and before we started actually calling clients, I decided I wanted the sales people to spend some time understanding gatekeepers. I wanted them to discover the criteria that gatekeepers have for putting sales people through rather than simply deflecting the calls. What is it that gets a sales person through to the decision maker, and how could we use that in our upcoming call session.
One of the interesting things that came out of that session was that many gatekeepers can take over 300 calls per day. Think about it, 300 interruptions every day that distract them from whatever it is they are supposed to be doing in their daily action list.
What this means is gatekeepers are often on auto-pilot when they pick up the phone. Their instinctive reaction is to try and put the phone down as quickly as possible so they can get back to work. After doing this for a few days, let alone a few years, they will become extremely proficient at this process, so much so that it can feel cold and heartless to the determined sales person. However, it is no more heartless than you not thinking about tying your shoe laces. After a while, it just becomes automatic.
So what can we do about this? How do we change what we do to work with the gatekeeper understanding their challenges and requirements.
In the book Next Level Persuasion, we talk about cold calling in the Opening section of the book and look at the concept of Pattern Interrupts to get gatekeepers out of their usual pattern of behaviour. Pattern interrupts, from neuro linguistic programming, are designed to break the usual routine and relationship of sales person to gatekeeper so that automatic behaviour cannot take place. Let me give you an example.
In general, people spend a lot of time on auto pilot, so there are plenty of opportunities to practice pattern interrupts. One of my favourite ones happens on a Friday afternoon where people wish each other a good weekend. As you colleagues file out of the office, they will shout over to you “have a good weekend”, and our normal response is to smile or wave or some other noncommittal action.
A pattern interrupt is designed to break the flow of this usual behaviour, so instead of thanking them for their kind wishes, say this instead – “Don’t tell me what to do!”. I guarantee you will stop them in their tracks, normally followed by a confused look, and then if they get it, they will burst out laughing. Try it.
In cold calling, you can have a similar impact on your gatekeeper by using pattern interrupts such as being controversial, getting it wrong, asking for help or one of the other seven examples that we discuss in Next Level Persuasion.
One simple pattern interrupt you can use is to simply be nice. So many sales people still use the old approach of attempting to steam roll the gatekeeper by being abrupt and demanding. Being polite and treating the gatekeeper as a real person will get you surprisingly far in many cases. Try asking for the gatekeepers name and making them smile while you talk to that person before asking for the decision maker.
There are literally hundreds of approaches to dealing with gatekeepers, so please use the comments below to share some of your personal favourites and sales techniques which you find effective. However, remember to put yourself in their shoes, understand what they want to hear, and then deliver it in a way that is both concise and persuasive. Being better with gatekeepers will massively impact your commissions.