Every month I receive a variety of questions from salespeople and their managers. These come from a variety of sources - my live seminars, the monthly phone seminars, questions that are sent into my newsletter, and issues that arise in the course of my consulting work. Out of all of these, I select those that I think have the most universal application, and respond to them here.
The Question Was:
Q. In the last telephone seminar, someone asked about getting past the gatekeeper to find the decision-maker. If the name of the decision maker is known, is there any potential pitfall in stating to the gatekeeper, "This is my name and I am calling for Mr. Johnson," instead of asking, "This is my name, is Mr. Johnson available?"
It is my opinion that if you were to say you were calling for Mr. Johnson, then at least the gatekeeper will be of the opinion that Mr. Johnson is expecting you and that you may indeed get through on this premise.
If however you ask if Mr. Johnson is available, then the gatekeeper has to call Mr. Johnson to find out, and if Mr. Johnson is a little busy he is more than likely to say he isn't available - too many choices for Mr. Johnson.
Furthermore, I would like to suggest that if sales people make appointments they are more likely to see the person full stop. If you can say to the gatekeeper, "I am here to see Mr. Johnson for our 2.00pm appointment." then neither the gatekeeper or Mr. Johnson can turn you away.
In suggesting to our representatives that they make appointments, we have cut down on many a wasted call. We find our customers to be more responsive and our reps to be more prepared.
In response to the question how to get to the decision maker either of the two suggestions would not make a difference - I have found that however you ask for Mr. Johnson, the chances of getting through is almost zero. However, if you approach the call as "Mary (assistants name) this is John Smith, is Dave (Mr. Johnson's first name) available right now?" tends to work much better. They still may ask you what you are calling for, but if said with confidence and authority, you can get through.
In general, I have found that telling the gatekeeper who you are calling for is more effective than asking if he's available. Every time we ask a question, we leave ourselves open to hearing "no"...and we already get enough of that! Also, people are trained to do what they are told. Most importantly, when we speak to others, we are also speaking to ourselves, and stating that I am calling for the decision-maker reminds me of my purpose, and removes the possibility that I will not get to speak with them. A gatekeeper will hear in my voice that I deserve and expect to be put through. That's why I am calling, and any other outcome would be...well, strange.
With this posture, I have had gatekeepers actually apologize to me if the decision-maker was not available! I want to be clear that I am never pushy or rude. I am well aware that the gatekeeper has the leverage- always. But I do have confidence and credibility. Once you make enough calls in your life, you stop looking for practice, and start going for results.
The only exception to this practice that I can think of is when the receptionist is an amiable, accommodating personality. This personality style often dislikes saying "no" more than we dislike hearing it, and a lighter touch, giving them the opportunity to be of service, works best with them.
However, when in doubt, remember that we don't ask our purpose...we declare it!
As a gatekeeper of the President of a large corporation, I would say it doesn't make much difference at all. I divert anywhere from 20 to 30 calls per day from our President. The ones that impress me the most (and by the way, that's what it takes), are the ones that give me all the valuable information up-front. Most people call and insist on speaking only to him and the answer that works the best is "he's not here". If they are up-front with me, telling me what they need him for and giving me the information I require to have a discussion with him about it, then it's possible that he may be interested and have me return their call.
Most of the time people are calling for the President and he is not the person that they need to speak with at all. In our company, maybe a CEO, COO, Vice-President, Office Manager, or Sales Manager would be more likely to handle the phone call.
If the person calling explains to me what it is they want, they can usually be referred to someone else that handles whatever it is they are offering.
I have a thought on the above that has worked for me.....
While there are certainly two approaches here, one is a bit more effective (or at least has been for me). You can take the "bull in the china shop" route and attempt to blow-by the gatekeeper in hopes that his/her training was poor and you are not interested in creating a relationship with him/her by simply stating a demand that you are calling for Mr. Johnson. This approach implies that you do not care about the gatekeeper, and that he or she may not even be human.
By using a phone voice that shows you care, not only about getting to your contact, but also through to the gatekeeper, you have created an "open-door" for future phone calls. By establishing rapport with the gatekeeper up front, your tone of voice, the questions you ask, and the manner in which you ask those questions, makes all the difference in the world in gaining the opportunity to meet with your contact and create a mutually beneficial partnership.
The age old "Getting past the gatekeeper!"
How about this; Just like you would do with the decision maker, you need to establish a rapport (relationship) with the gatekeeper. The first call will let you know if he/she is tough or not. Ask for her name. Next call might go something like this:
- ABC Manufacturing, Can I help you?
- Hi, is this Betty?
- Yes, this is Betty.
- Hi Betty, this is Joe from XYZ Magazine, how are you today?
- Fine Joe, how are you?
- I'm great. I was looking for John, is he in today?
- What is this in regards to?
- Well Betty, I wanted to visit with John on the phone a couple of minutes, we have some great advertising opportunities available and thought John would be interested in hearing from me. You told me last time I called that he was the person in charge of marketing and advertising for your company.
Gatekeepers are people too! Talk to them that way!
Put a smile on someone's face today.
With regards to the gatekeeper question. I would suggest be less formal, act as if you know Bill instead of Mr. Johnson. "Hey is Bill around? Tell him Keith is calling." I find that works for me.
Here are some tips from when I worked as a gatekeeper:
At some companies, the relief staff is not as efficient at gate keeping, so try to call during lunch and coffee breaks. You might get through.
If you sound like you know the person you are trying to reach, you have a better chance that the gatekeeper will announce your call (instead of politely informing you that your target is not available at the moment and offering to take a message).
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