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Business gatekeeper

The success of your business could hinge on your ability to make connections with potential clients. Unfortunately, if you don't know how to deal with the business Gatekeeper your sales campaign could fail. Don't let that happen.

A business Gatekeeper is a person at the front desk who greets people in person or over the phone. This person determines who is permitted to speak to the employees within the business. If the Gatekeeper feels you are calling to sell an unsolicited product or service you will likely be denied. Learn how to deal with the Gatekeeper by using three strategies; 1) timing is everything, 2) building rapport, and 3) befriending the Gatekeeper.

Let's get started.


When you mustered the courage to start a cold calling campaign were you met by a Gatekeeper like this one?

"Good afternoon. May I speak with Mr. Smith please?"

The person on the other end of the phone taps several keys on their keyboard before replying. "I'm sorry. Mr. Smith isn't currently available. Can I take a message?"

The robotic tone of the person on the other end catches you slightly off guard. The Gatekeeper is manning the gates. You gave the most pleasant greeting you could muster and it didn't seem to breach their defenses. Quick, say something clever. "Ah-" Oh no! Don't stammer. "Is it possible to arrange some time to speak to Mr. ..."

"What is this about?" interrupts the Gatekeeper.

You smell blood, but unfortunately it's yours. "I represent a company that provides ..."

"Mr. Smith doesn't accept unsolicited phone calls."

Graciously, the Gatekeeper pauses allowing you to make a polite retreat. "Okay," you begrudgingly gasp. "Thanks for your time."

The phone disconnects.

Most businesses that are large enough to afford a person to "man" incoming calls employs a Gatekeeper. The Gatekeeper's responsibility is to shield important employees from solicitous individuals like you!

In this example we used a phone call, but with the rise of technology, Gatekeeper's are also manning e-mail accounts. That is, if you're lucky enough to find an e-mail. Oftentimes you find a web form on the website that will save your message to a database and is very likely never to be responded to.

Something I recently noticed was e-mails automatically sent to junk folders. I know this because I call clients when they have a support question and far too many times they tell me they didn't get my e-mail. It is only after I ask them to check their junk folder do they notice my replies. Very frustrating!

There are a variety of ways to deal with the Gatekeeper.

First, you must determine how important contacting the potential client is to you. If you're in an industry that has massive payoffs for success, you'll want to go real far. If the margins are tight, you might not want to go too far.

Let's discuss your options.

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This tactic tries to bypass the Gatekeeper altogether. Gatekeeper's are usually fulltime employees and they take their breaks, lunch, and go-home time very seriously.

If you manage to get someone on the phone that isn't the Gatekeeper, a forceful-confident-but-polite tone might be all you need to get connected to your target... I mean potential client. If the client isn't available, insist on a follow-up call with the client.

The goal here is to get your name on some type of list. Hopefully not the creepy stalker list. That way, when you call back and get the Gatekeeper, you appear to have a soft-lead-in.

If you call and get the answering machine, don't bother leaving a message. The Gatekeeper will resent you for inconveniencing them, forcing them to listen to your boring message. They'll remember your name and hold the message against you.

I need to qualify this strategy a little more. I don't think you should always bypass the Gatekeeper in this way. No. In the event you know the Gatekeeper is hostile, or you tried calling in the past and could not get anywhere, then use this strategy. I recommend you learn to build rapport and develop trust with Gatekeeper's as a general rule. However, you can only build rapport and trust if you are involved in a business that warrants that kind of investment in time and effort.

If you are involved in a business that has lower profit margins, or just doesn't allow you to build rapport and trust with the Gatekeeper, then this strategy might be your best recourse. What can you lose? If you keep getting shut down by the Gatekeeper, you aren't going to get a client out of the attempt anyway. Try it and see what happens.

A word of caution.

Don't do harm to your brand or reputation. You never know who the Gatekeeper knows, or future opportunities that may arise with the company in the future. Don't burn bridges.

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"Build rapport with the Gatekeeper."

Easier said than done, right? Thanks goodness we got your back.

Get the Gatekeeper's name. Make a point to appear interested in their name. In all honesty you should be interested in their name. They'll be the person you'll have to go through every time you call this client. So have some forethought.

You might meet their initial greeting with, "I'm sorry, I missed your name."

Write their name down and don't forget it.

Is there anything unique about their name? If their name is "Unique," fight the urge to make a pun on their name. Pun's aren't funny. Not ever! If their name is unique, or you happen to know something about the name's origin, ask an innocent question.

For example, the Gatekeeper says their name is, "Siobhan." Oh my! You just happen to be Irish and that is clearly an Irish name. You might respond with, "My mother's name is Siobhan. I don't usually run across people with that name these days. Are you Irish too?"

Is she is Irish, you just scored! In fact, you score when you get the Gatekeeper thinking of anything other than shutting you down and disconnecting the phone.

The conversation can still go in a lot of directions. A yes or a no would be great! That means the Gatekeeper is answering your questions and that gives you a small advantage. If you get the brush off, you need to work harder at building rapport.

Now what?

Don't stammer or stutter. Call Siobhan by her name and ask for her advice.

Try the following:

"Siobhan, I could really use your advice. I know [CLIENT NAME] is really busy. A mutual friend of ours recommended I contact him/her regarding [SERVICE OR PRODUCT]. I was told he/she was looking into [SERVICE OR PRODUCT] for his/her company. Is there a way to arrange a 2-3 minute call or meeting with [CLIENT NAME]?"

Why did we ask the question like this?

Firstly, you insinuate you have a friendly connection with the person through a mutual friend. Secondly, you plant the idea the client is actively seeking the service or product you're offering. Lastly, you're not asking to be connected right away and you're not asking for too much.

The Gatekeeper is going to weigh the scenario quickly in their mind. The thought process might go something like this:

  • the caller and the client might know each other so I don't want to sound disrespectful
  • if the boss is looking into their product or service I don't want to hinder their access to information
  • I don't have to bother the boss right now, I can play it safe and ask permission or schedule something

Depending on the Gatekeeper's relationship with their boss, they are more than likely going to take the path of least resistance. You must offer a least resistance path that will likely get you some kind of speaking opportunity.

If you crafted your greetings properly, only in rare circumstances will the Gatekeeper refuse to connect you with their boss. If that happens you have two choices; 1: cross the potential client off your list and move on, or 2: escalate your tactics!

The following tactic should be employed if the pay-off is big!

Shamrock, Luck of the Irish

May the luck of the Irish be with you.


What makes the Gatekeeper tick? How do you find out? Did you catch their full name? Do you know what floor they work on? Can you see what they are drinking in the morning? Do they love wearing weird cat sweaters?

You are going to have to do some leg work. Literally.

Remember, these tactics are only if the pay-off is big and you are geographically close to the business. If you don't meet these criteria, scratch the lead off your list and move on. However, if you are close, and you just can't let it go, read on...

Learn more about the business you want as a client. Are there any angles to gain an audience with anyone in the company? Preferably, you want to be in contact with the Gatekeeper. Find a legitimate reason to be there and meet with the Gatekeeper.

When you meet the Gatekeeper, look for anything that you can differentiate upon. The Gatekeeper might like Starbucks coffee, or have a cool Funko pop on the desk. Anything! Strike up a light hearted conversation around the topic. Drop the fact you are there to meet with Person X.

You want to prove you are harmless and credible. You are a good person and deserve to be there.

If all goes well, sometime in the future, you might drop by the business location and ask Siobhan if she would like a latte or if she saw the new Funko collectible that just got released. Have a nice light hearted conversation for a second time. Don't ask for anything.

Your third encounter, if you did a good job building rapport, you can ask for the meeting with the potential client. It might go something like this:

"Say, your boss is [CLIENT NAME] right? I heard he/she might be interested in [YOUR PRODUCT OR SERVICE]. Have you heard anything about that, Siobhan?"

If the answer is yes or no, it doesn't matter. If you managed to get yourself "inside the bubble" you'll probably get a meeting with the client.

Too cold hearted for you? Who's to say you haven't sparked a real friendship with Siobhan? Heck, if the pay-off is big, you can soothe your guilty conscience with a new toy.

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Your business is unique. Some of these suggestions may not work for you. What you should take from this is the frame of mind you need when dealing with a business Gatekeeper. Their goal is to shield management from unwanted sales calls. If you're able of building rapport, develop trust, or otherwise circumvent the Gatekeeper your sales campaign might have a fighting chance. For more information on this topic, you may want to have a look at how to create a sales call framework.

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