In the past, the gatekeepers—people who can grant or deny access to a recognized authority within a company—were receptionists, administrative assistants, executive administrators or the personal assistants. But that has changed. Technology has allowed companies to reduce clerical staffing, and the prevalence of consensus decision-making means many individuals can veto your pitch and many must collectively say yes. Today you have to adopt new tactics for getting past the new-generation gatekeepers.
Here’s what you’re up against:
The admin staff might have been replaced with an even more difficult gatekeeper: voice mail. You’ve been here before, haven’t you? You’ve called. You’ve navigated the phone system options to reach an important contact’s extension. You’ve left message after message. Your messages have been completely ignored. That’s one tough gatekeeper.
Or if you face a human obstacle, this gatekeeper probably doesn’t have a title that indicates that he or she fills that role. Instead the new gatekeeper can be any person whom your contact trusts to vet salespeople before meeting with them.
For example, one of my clients is the president and CEO of his company. Good luck getting him on the telephone or securing a meeting with him by contacting him directly. If you want to reach him, you are going to need to get past at least one of his gatekeepers, the very best being his vice president of marketing. My client trusts her implicitly, and if she says you are worthy of a meeting, you get the meeting. If she says you aren’t, then you are finished. He has other gatekeepers, too. His chief operations officer is a second example. Two additional gatekeepers are lower-level managers who have proved that they know who is worth seeing and who isn’t. All of these gatekeepers have the keys to the castle, and if you play your cards right, they’ll guide you through to see their boss.
Whether you are trying to get past a digital or human gatekeeper, the test for you is the same. Pass the test, and you are in. Fail the test, and you will be kept outside.
Open the Gates
The test is whether you can prove you are a value creator.
To get past any type of gatekeeper, you have to offer something valuable to the person you are trying to meet. Your clients aren’t sitting around waiting for salespeople to call and offer to come in and pitch them their products, services or solutions. Clients have raised the stakes. The price of admission is your ability to help produce better results, and you must have a value proposition for your meeting request that proves you can walk your talk.
Let’s look at the digital gatekeepers first.
In the past, you might have left a message that sounded something like this: “Hi, Jane. This is Chris with XYZ Widgets. We are the leading name in widgets, and I’d like to come out, introduce myself and my product, and show you how our widgets can make a difference for you.”
Jane will hit delete before she even finishes listening to your voice mail. That message is all about you. There is no value in it for Jane. Jane didn’t wake up this morning and think, I hope some salesperson will call to pitch me their products today. That never happens.
Your new and improved message needs to sound like this: “Hi, Jane. This is Chris with XYZ Widgets. I am calling you today to schedule a meeting where I can share with you the three biggest challenges you and your industry are going to face this year and what you can do about them. Listen, even if you never buy anything from me or XYZ, I promise the information I share with you is going to help you navigate those challenges. It will change some of the decisions you make. I’ll follow up this voice mail with an email to get on your schedule and try to reach you on the phone again tomorrow.”
This message is different. It indicates that you have value to offer beyond pitching your product. You and your product can help Jane navigate her challenges, and you establish yourself as a value creator by focusing on delivering your ideas and insights. There is no reason to wait for Jane to call you back; she didn’t commit to doing so by listening to your voice mail. Your promise to call her back lets Jane know you aren’t giving up or going away.
Now let’s look at human gatekeepers.
Regardless of who answers the phone when you reach out to prospects, you will have to prove you are worth letting through.
The problem most folks have here is the same problem they have with voice mail: Their pitches don’t demonstrate value. They sound like this: “Hi. I am trying to reach Jane.” The reply is often, “May I tell her who is calling?” The salesperson says, “Yes, this is Chris with XYZ Widgets.” The gatekeeper asks the dreaded follow-up question, the one that strikes fear in the non-value-creating salesperson’s heart, “May I tell Jane what this is regarding?” The answer from most salespeople almost always sounds very much like the voice mail: “I’d like to introduce myself and my service.”
Instead, you need to lead with a killer value proposition. Say, “Hi, this is Chris with XYZ Widgets. I am calling to schedule an appointment with Jane. We’ve discovered three challenges that companies in your space are struggling with now and want to share the three best ways to deal with those challenges. Jane is going to want to see this, and it is going to help her navigate this tricky landscape. Can you put me through to Jane?” It helps a lot to name the three challenges so the gatekeeper gets a sense of what is at stake and the compelling nature of your call.
It has never been easy to get past a gatekeeper, and it’s more difficult today than it was just a decade ago. But switching from pitching to instead providing real value—your insights and ideas that can benefit your prospects—is key to opening that gate and meeting with valuable contacts.
Know Problems and Offer Solutions
Creating a compelling value proposition that gets you past the gatekeeper can sound like magic, but the process really isn’t all that difficult.
First, identify the two or three problems that your clients face. What are their biggest challenges? Where are they struggling? What has changed in their world, and what impact is that having on their business? If you want to know how to compel someone, find out what is already compelling them. Make a list of those challenges.
Second, it’s really handy to have new stories, statistics and industry opinions about those challenges and their impact. When you have these conversations, you need to be armed with the facts. Facts are stubborn things. It’s easy for a prospect to disagree with a salesperson about his or her industry and the political, social, technological or cultural changes that are impacting their business; it’s much more difficult to argue with unbiased facts (customer demographics or return-on-investment statistics, for instance) and the opinions of industry thought leaders.
Finally, you need to provide answers. Share what you can do to help your customers with their challenges. Once you sit with them face to face, your clients are going to ask how you can help. And once you’ve made the case for change by sharing the problems and the surrounding facts, they will be very interested in how you can help.
This article appears in the October 2015 issue of SUCCESS magazine.