Every organization has them, though that is not their primary purpose. They can be the scourge of the planet or your best friend. Which would you prefer? Regardless of what a sales manager says or expects, it isn’t always possible to call the decision maker direct. That doesn’t mean you will never talk to them, just that you are not starting with them.
Gatekeepers or non-decision making entities can actually help you. Learning how to deal with them is paramount in gaining access to the real decision makers. This is the sister article to Reaching the Decision Makers published a few weeks ago. So how do you start when encountering a gatekeeper?
- Ask questions having an answer(s) only the decision maker can answer (or a high likelihood). This allows them to direct you to someone who does know the answer. If they pause, or show a hesitation in wanting to let you know, ask if they could suggest someone.
- Ask what functional units your product might impact. Now ask for that person’s name.
- Use your past experience and suggest that similar past projects always involved the CIO or CFO. By doing this, you can ask, “Are you sure the CIO or CFO (or whomever is applicable) will not need to see this”?
Gatekeepers have the duty to guard the castle thereby protecting the company. Some take this responsibility particularly personal and will do what is necessary to swat everyone that tries to enter. The problem with this is they really do a lot of harm. The jury is still out on if the harm is more than the good. Sales people have two reactions to the gatekeepers; love ’em, hate ’em. Those that hate ’em are the ones that are not successful in winning their support.
When you first encounter a gatekeeper, they usually ask the typical, who you are and what you want. Most will ask you to send some “documentation or some brochures”. To get past this, simply say “I would love to but we do not have the standard type of documentation you typically receive from other companies. If Mr. CxO is interested in saving XYZ% off his bottom line expenses, then I would be happy to discuss this with him and follow up with custom documentation.”
This immediately compels them to pass this on, make the appointment or put you through right then. It also does not pigeon-hole you as a vendor or salesperson; you are bringing value. This is where you start to build yourself as a trusted business partner. If there is any push back, ask if they think the XYZ% is compelling to them. How can they say no? They can, but the logic of doing so escapes me.
In closing, there are basically two types of gatekeepers, the one that is charged with keeping everyone out, and the other has the discretion to pass value-producing propositions through. You can be fairly certain of the type you have run into by asking the above question. One last item you might try if there seems to be an interest on the part of the gatekeeper, just not the willingness to pass you on. Ccntinue the conversation with the gatekeeper. Educate them on the value of your solution. They can actually pre-sell the idea in your stead.
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