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Passing a Gatekeeper

A gatekeeper is anyone who is preventing you to get in contact with your prospect. In most cases it is a secretary whose job it is to filter out all attempts of solicitation.

Be Informal: Below is an example of a standard approach of sales person during the cold call:

"Hello, my name is Tom. I am calling from XYZ company. We specialize in printers. Can I please talk to Mr. Ron Williams?"

This approach screams "I'm here to sell you something" and it is guaranteed that you will either be asked never to call again or a message will be taken politely that Mr. Williams will never see in his life.

When you are informal you put everyone at ease and imply that you have a legitimate business talking to someone. When you make a cold call pretend you are calling a friend. Would you call your mom like that:

"Hello, my name is Tom. I am calling from home. I am calling about a personal business. Can I please talk to Mrs. Smith?"

This would be a really awkward way to start a conversation with someone you are very close with. So why would you demonstrate that distance when you are prospecting? A more natural way to to start a phone call with your mother would be:

"Hi mom!"

Is this not how your conversation begins 99% of the time? Apply the same logic to a cold call in the first example:

"Hi, is Ron there?" or "Hi, Ron?"

That's it! I am implying that I know Ron because I address him by the first name. I am not explaining what I do because I am implying that I call him all the time. In fact, a gatekeeper may assume that I am someone within the company and put me straight through.

Who is this?: The number one objection you will get from a gatekeeper. Gatekeepers are trained to screen all incoming calls. They will frequently ask this "Who is this?", "What is this call about?" or something similar.

The key is to keep the answers short.

Keeper: "Who is this?" You: " Tom"

Keeper: "Tom from where?" You: "XYZ company"

There is absolutely no incentive for you to explain to a gatekeeper why you are calling because no matter how valuable your proposition is, to them its a sales call. Their livelihood is literally made by screening out calls like that. If you keep an answer short you are implying once again that you have been in contact before.

Gatekeeper may not be completely certain and ask the following objection:

"Is he/she expecting your call?"

You cannot be untruthful, however, you can stretch the truth. The answer is always:

"I don't know if he/she expects my call right this second, but yes he/she should know what's this about"

There is a small chance you may be called out on that answer. To defend it you would argue that your product/service is so crucial to their business that "Mr. Williams" had to know that you would be reaching out at some point. Much stronger defense would be if you have sent a cold email prior to the call. In this case, you have definitely been in contact before, just not over the phone.

If the prospect is unavailable: If the prospect not available you may fish for information. One way to do that is to ask questions that come with an answer. This way it demonstrates to a gatekeeper that you already have a relationship with a prospect. That will put them at ease.


Keeper: "Mr. Williams is unavailable right now, do you want to leave a message?"

You: "Oh is he in a meeting or he finally took a vacation?"

Keeper: "He is on a business trip."

You: "Oh poor guy, he works so much and now has to travel?"

Keeper: At this point the conversation will become informal and it is a good idea to chit chat and build a relationship. Keep it brief, however, and circle in with questions you want the answer to.

You: "I'm sorry I did not catch your name?"

Keeper: "My name is Charlene"

You: "Charlene, when will Ron be back at the office?"

Keeper: "Thursday"

You: "Thank you Charlene, I'll give him a call then"

In an example above, I have no way of knowing if Ron ever is in the meetings, takes vacation or works hard. That does not matter, because those attributes are logical to assume just about anyone. They are safe guesses when trying demonstrate a personal relationship with a prospect to a gatekeeper.

It is also vital to establish a rapport with a gatekeeper if opportunity exists. In the example above we were able to fish out two pieces of key information:

  1. Ron is back on Thursday - No point of calling him before then.

  2. Secretary name is Charlene - Next time I call its not a cold call anymore. I'm calling Charlene! I am also not some stranger; I am "Tom" a nice guy who thinks that Ron works too hard.

"Can I take a message?": When the call ends and you are unable to reach your prospect, a gatekeeper will either ask if you want to leave a voice mail or leave a message with them. You can leave a voice message if offered. However, do not leave a message with a gatekeeper. In doing so, you will disclose that it is a sales call. If offered to leave a message with a secretary you have two options:

  1. "Thank you, I'll just give him/her a call later"

  2. "Just let him/her know that Tom called, he/she will know what's this about"

Calling without knowing who the target prospect is: Sometimes you will be forced to make a cold call without knowing who the decision maker is. Standard approach would be something like that:

"Hello, my name is Tom. I am calling from XYZ company. We specialize in printers. Can I please talk to a decision maker?"

For the reasons already discussed, this is a bad approach disclosing you are a sales person. In addition, you are disclosing that you know nothing of their business. There is no incentive for a gatekeeper to forward your call.

In order for the call to get forwarded, you will have to find a billion dollar reason why you should speak to a decision maker. The reason why it is a billion dollar reason, is because a gatekeeper has to feel like a company would lose a billion dollars if they do not put your call through. Would you want to get blamed that a company lost a billion dollars because you did not forward a call? Neither does a gatekeeper!

The billion dollar approach will require some investigation to defend your assumptions.


"Hi, this is Tom from XYZ. I was at the conference and I heard that your company is about to sign off on a multimillion deal for the new printers. At XYZ we are aggressively going after market share and we calculated that with a company of your size, we are likely to undercut competition by $10 million dollars. I heard your company is about to sign off on the agreement! This is urgent! Can you please put me in contact with someone who is in charge of purchasing?"

In this example the goal is to scare a gatekeeper that their actions may cost company $10 million dollars. Is XYZ really ready to undercut the competitor by $10 million dollars? No one knows until we reach someone in purchasing.

Generally, this approach will work if you have a strong product to sell and you do know some inside information about the company that can tip urgency in your favor. Again, you do not want to be untruthful. It is important to have enough information to defend your assumptions if required.

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