When prospecting new accounts, every sales rep wants to get on the line with the decision maker right from the beginning.
But oftentimes, that just ain’t happening. You’ve got to get past gatekeepers first.
At first, this may seem annoying. After all, you don’t want to waste valuable time trying to convince someone who ultimately doesn’t have any buying power.
But everybody in the organization knows something, regardless of who you’re talking to. In that sense, conversations with gatekeepers present incredible opportunities to gather as much information as possible.
You don’t want to do a lot of your discovery work and qualifying work when you’ve got the “VP of fill-in-the-blank” on the phone. Their time is too valuable, and you want to be respectful of that.
The more information you’ve armed yourself with, the more value you can provide when you do get the decision maker on the line.
Here are three examples of not just how to get past the gatekeeper, but how to glean information as you do.
1. The Assistant: Gather Information
It’s very rare that you’ll get a C-suite decision maker on the line on your first call. Odds are, you’ll end up talking to an executive assistant, administrative assistant, or receptionist first.
While your instinct may be to “get past the gatekeeper” as quickly as possible, not so fast.
If you’re talking to any live body within the organization — regardless of role or station — you’ve been presented with a priceless opportunity to gather information.
In fact, you’ll find that sometimes it’s better to talk to the assistant first. If you can win them over, they’ll help you out and become an advocate for you with their boss.
So how do you navigate these conversations? Here are a few practical tips:
- If a gatekeeper unexpectedly picks up the line, don’t be afraid to act lost; they may be able to redirect you to a better point of contact
- Humans have a natural instinct to help people when they ask for it, so make sure to specifically use the words “can you help me?”
- Focus on sharing information rather than selling a product
- Don’t be afraid to slip your company’s value prop into the conversation; that way, the assistant will know what to say when their boss asks them questions
No matter the specific tactic you use, always treat these people with the same level of respect as the boss. Not only is it common decency, but you’ll get a heck of a lot farther than if you just brushed them off because of their title.
Also, remember that if the assistant seems protective of their boss, it’s because that’s their job.
Always be direct and upfront with them. Don’t get defensive and beat around the bush. Let them know who you and why you’re calling, and, most importantly, why it matters to their boss.
Sometimes we over-complicate all this stuff. But extending a call and trying to gather more information isn’t really rocket science, and oftentimes it’ll lead to a real opportunity in the pipeline.
Remember: keep asking questions until someone stops giving you information. Simple curiosity can pay off in massive dividends.
2. The Operator: Find the Right Point of Contact
Talking to the operator is a completely different ball game. Here, the goal isn’t to gather information directly, but to get from the operator to another live body within the organization.
An easy place to start is to ask to speak to someone with a specific title (e.g. “I’d like to speak with the VP of IT“).
Unfortunately, you may run into a roadblock with this approach, as your CRM may be out of date or simply inaccurate. If that’s the case, the operator may come back and say “We don’t have anyone with that title here.“
In that case, you’ll need to push harder:
- Ask if they have an IT department
- Ask about the functional area where your product can be of help
- Ask for that person’s job function in layman’s terms (e.g. “If something were to happen to your computer, who in the company would you reach out to?“)
Don’t give up after the first hurdle. Keep pressing and asking until you get that live body on the line.
So let’s say you get past the operator and end up leaving a message for the person you’re trying to reach. Does that mean you’re done?
Dial “0” again and get back on the line with that operator and thank them for their help. It’ll leave a positive impression, which helps you stand out the next time you want to ask for help.
If you’re having trouble connecting with someone from the company, you could ask the operator for more details, like whether they’re in the office regularly and what times they’re available. If you’re persistent enough, they may start to feel bad for you and suggest someone else in the company to talk to.
3. The Automated Phone Tree: Learn About the Organizational Structure
The third place you might end up is in the phone tree. You know, “dial one for sales, dial two for customer support, etc.”?
This is probably the toughest gatekeeper to get past, simply because there’s no live body to talk to.
On the other hand, you don’t have to worry about pissing anyone off, because there’s no live body to talk to. So you can spend as much time going back into the phone tree and trying to find out more information as you want.
Here are some ways that you can use the phone trees to get critical information on your accounts:
- Listen for the different departments and how they’re setting up their organization. If you can just press 1 for a person vs. a department, you’ve got a pretty good guess as to the size of that organization. (smaller vs. larger).
- If it’s a dial-by-name directory, start with more common names (Smith, Jones, etc.) to see if you can get someone on the line. Remember to type fewer letters into the system to see if you can return more results.
- You may also want to look for patterns within the companies that you’re calling. If you know your contact’s extension is 105 and you’re not able to get through and they never pick up the phone, try calling 106 (or 104) instead. Keep moving your way through the phone tree.
As with the operator, the ultimate goal here is to get a live body on the line. However, you should also try to learn as much as you can about how the organization is laid out.
The more you know about an organization, you’ll be better able to find the right contacts and hold meaningful conversations that move the account forward.
One of the things to keep in mind with a phone tree is the time commitment. It will take a significant amount of time to get a hold of someone through a switchboard than simply calling a direct line. So if you can get a direct line — get it!
Just remember that gathering information by phone is a game. It’s a maze. It’s a puzzle.
When you hit a dead end in the maze, remember you can either sit down and give up, or you can try going a different way. There are a ton of creative ways to try to solve the puzzle, and you can always try something different and unconventional.
While your instinct may be to put up with the gatekeepers to just get through to the decision maker, don’t do that. Use these fact-finding opportunities to build your knowledge of your key accounts so you can have more effective and productive conversations.
Are you coaching reps through these kinds of conversations in a remote sales environment? Check out our Guide to Asynchronous Coaching for tips on how to help coach your reps even when you aren’t physically in the same room.