The Problem With Gatekeepers

Cartoon 1The one question I get asked most often by salespeople is, “How do I get past the gatekeeper“? I usually ask in return, “Why do you talk to gatekeepers in the first place“? With so many options available to salespeople in the information age to get direct dial numbers, and the opportunity to call prospects early morning (0800) or late afternoon (after 5:30), I’m surprised that the ‘Gatekeeper Screen’ continues to be a problem for salespeople around the world.

Gatekeepers have a job to do, and we should respect them for that, but that aside, they remain an obstacle to salespeople that desperately want to make contact with decision-makers. To help us all understand why the gatekeeper remains an obstacle, let’s take an closer look at the role of the gatekeeper in modern times.

The Attention Economy
We are living in a new era called The Attention Economy. The Internet age has created the Attention Economy, and it delivers to us an overwhelming abundance of things we pay attention to on any given day. Take a look at the sheer volume of information coming at you on a daily basis in the form of e-mails, text messages, and tweets. With so much information in play there simply isn’t enough time to pay attention to it all. Under the weight of so much information sales prospects can only skim the surface in terms of interpreting all the information that comes their way, and they are very quick to discard anything that doesn’t meet their standards for being attention worthy. Consider this, if sales prospects paid in-depth attention to every piece of information coming at them in all forms, chances are they would never get anything done.
Like attention and money, anything that is in high demand and in short supply increases in value. It shouldn’t surprise you that attention in general is in very short supply, and as such, attention is treated  like currency by decision-makers. For many sales prospect’s, their attention has become so valuable that they actually need a guard (gatekeeper) outside their office door in order to protect their attention from being stolen by others, and that of course includes cold calling salespeople.

Gatekeepers Are ‘Human Attention Filters’
Because of the enormous value of their bosses attention, gatekeepers are constantly on guard against any threat to the theft of their superior’s attention. That’s why you are constantly asked about the purpose, or to explain the nature of your call. Upon hearing something that sounds like a sales call the gatekeeper defaults to asking you to send information, or tells you that the boss is in a meeting. (Yeah right…)
Gatekeepers know how to play the game. If you want proof of this, have a listen to any of the recorded interviews I’ve conducted with real live gatekeepers on the telephone.
On these recordings I candidly ask gatekeepers to reveal their tricks of the trade. I ask how they know it’s a sales call? What are the tell tale signs that a salesperson is cold calling? And finally, what do you say to salespeople to screen their calls? The information they share may, or may not surprise you. One thing is for certain in the Attention Economy, veteran gatekeepers know a sales call right away when they hear one.

What to do about Gatekeepers?
There’s no simple answer to the question about how to handle the gatekeeper screen. Some experts say that you should befriend the gatekeeper, and make her your ally. In principal I agree. On the other hand I think with so many ways to avoid the gatekeeper altogether I suggest doing whatever it takes to make direct contact with your prospect. Either call them very early, or stick around the office and try prospects between 5:30-6:00 PM, or even later. Some of the best sales appointments I’ve ever set have been with chief executives that answer their own phone around 6:00 PM.
I will also go as far as to suggest that if you call your prospect and the gatekeeper won’t put your call through, that you should simply say “thank you”, and say that you will call again later. There’s no need for you to suffer through 20-questions, and still wind up having to leave a message that will never be returned. In some cases you might want to consider saying that you have the wrong number and apologize. With gatekeepers in The Attention Economy, why subject yourself to a zero sum game with very little chance of a positive outcome?

That’s my take on things with gatekeepers. What are your thoughts? I’d like to know…


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