You might not think about it. It's probably so subtle that you might not even be conscious of it. In fact, I'm sure you rarely are. You might be in business development, inside sales, or channel sales, and you want to influence a Decision Maker - let's just call them (DMs) for short.
So you call and get a facilities manager, then an office manager, then an executive assistant. Along the way, with each transfer on the phone, you become more short or rude and leave some type of message indicating you are 'following up' on a call you received from their CEO, SVP, EVP, VP, or Director. For some of you, this call might be biweekly, weekly, or monthly. Some weeks you might be nice, some weeks you are just annoyed that it's the eighth call. The truth is - statistics say - that it takes approximately eight attempts to reach a prospect. Consequently, it's not surprising that people calling into companies use a myriad of methods to establish contact. Either way, with each call you become a tad more aggressive in your approaches. My personal favorites are:
- We met at _________ (The truth is, you didn't and you know it)
- I realized we know ________ (Sure you saw a connection, but did you ask before you named dropped?)
- I'm just following up on a call (This is 50/50, maybe the call happened, most of the time it did not)
- I'm calling from Dr. _____'s office with a confidential message (Please don't do this one; caller ID will get you every time)
WRONG. WRONG. WRONG.
First, stop lying. You are not following up most of the time. Someone liked your post on LinkedIn and after sending an InMail that went unanswered you decided to reach out in person. You don't want to deal with the Gatekeepers so you lie your way in. You aren't always lying, but you are bending the truth just enough to make it palpable.
The problem? You have pissed off every person along the way that could have connected you directly by lying and not being up front. The truth is, having been a support person early on in my career, I know the following to be true.
Gatekeepers have the ability to lock you out or let you in. How you treat them and how you interact during the sales process can make or break the deal. A business development rep that wants repeat business or future upsell knows how to create sales success, and it does not start with lying. I know what you are thinking: he/she/they are just an assistant. That is where you are wrong.
Many office managers, assistants, and coordinators are often asked their opinions on everything from vendor selection to what products they use on a regular basis in a relevant industry. Often times they are also in the rooms coordinating events, taking notes, and gathering data and information on corporate initiatives. Perhaps they know their company is shopping a CRM or expense solution. If you are calling in and are on their radar, they can make your path of entry to the top easier. They can drop information to the executives you are trying to reach, and most often they have excellent timing.
I once had an assistant make an exception on an RFP deadline because I was kind and explained my problem. Not only did she print out my RFP response at her desk, but she walked it over to the Decision Maker. Think about that for a second.
The perfect Gatekeeper may not be a six figure earner but knows how to get certain things done. They can talk a seasoned executive into booking Southwest instead of Business Class. They can position why everyone needs a standard set amongst computer equipment (new laptops that are thin, yay!). They can influence important policies in the company. They can also name drop the right person at the right time. More importantly, they are often tasked with putting together a team to research a new partnership, product, or software service recommendation. Most often, they are an informal sounding board to many people in the C-Suite.
Why is it, then, that in meetings I hear people talking about ways to circumvent these people when they don't have a relationship. The main tactic among of all of this discussion is lying, and it needs to stop.
Some business development representatives attempt to reach out to a Gatekeeper's boss. This approach either works or doesn't. Most of the time, it doesn't. Why? Because the boss will send them a response indicating them to reach out to the Gatekeeper. The Gatekeeper becomes annoyed that they were circumvented because they already knew the product or service was not a fit.
In my experience, here are the top six ways that can help improve your influence with a Gatekeeper:
1. These people are not internal obstructionists, they can be your allies if only you would let them. Be respectful, kind, direct, and sincere - they appreciate it.
2. Don't lie. Relationships that start with a lie never end well. (Tell the truth, there is less to remember)
3. Talk to this person as though their boss was in the room. You should be 'on' at all times - you never know if their boss is listening on speakerphone. (True story)
4. Don't call their boss and lie and say you have left messages and/or e-mails when you haven't. Not only are you lying, but you are also causing incredible damage to someone's reputation. (This will just catch up with you - Gatekeepers talk to other Gatekeepers - and boy does the world become incredibly small)
5. Strive to make an impression with them - you catch more flies with honey. ....(This does not mean taking them to endless lunches & bringing coffee)
6. If you have a Gatekeeper of your own, have them reach out. Sometimes more can happen based on a relationship at the same level. (Sometimes, Gatekeepers can empathize with a fellow Gatekeepers plight)