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How to Bypass the Gatekeeper

Get the meeting at the level that counts: Four key sales strategies to get you in and out with sales in hand.

 I’m tired of reading and hearing about how to get past the gatekeeper. Emails, articles, news flashes, blasts, webinars, podcasts… they make my blood boil. These “gatekeeper” tactics are insincere, duplicitous, unprofessional, offensive, and a waste of sales time. A waste of your time. And, really, who has time to waste?

The gatekeepers–receptionists, administrative assistants, and executive admins–field calls for the decision-maker. They’re valuable to the executive, but not to you–not until you’ve developed your relationship. And certainly not when you cold call.

My goal is to change your business-development, prospecting, and lead-generation strategies to referral selling, to change the way you sell and succeed. Get past the gatekeeper. And close more business in less time.

Dump the Script

We’ve been trained to make sales phone calls: Say your name (never your company name), why you’re calling, and then relay some brilliantly simple benefit statements about why the person on the other end of the line would want to schedule a meeting with you as soon as possible. Make sure your voice is friendly and upbeat, and don’t wait for the person to respond until you get through your script. And, thank the receptionist or assistant for their help to get them on your side.

In my world, the world of referral selling, cold calling from a script doesn’t cut it. Ever. Think of the opposite sales approach. When you receive a referral, you don’t need a script. Your referral source has pre-sold you and your capabilities. All you need to say is who you are, who referred you, and schedule a time to talk. You’re “proud” to mention your company name. Because you are introduced by a terrific, trusted resource, your prospect wants to know who’s calling–they want to know it’s YOU calling! Done.

Get the List That Counts

The Web 2.0 world promises to increase your prospecting productivity by delivering qualified leads to your inbox at the prospect’s time of need. We’re all familiar with availability of “bought” lists. But take a closer look: Are these leads really qualified, or are they just names?

You might get so-called leads from your website, special offers, email campaigns, direct mail, trade shows, advertising, cold calling, and conferences. These are not sales leads; they are lists. A list will get you to the gatekeeper and no further. Until you qualify them, lists are not sales leads.

The fastest and least expensive way to meet the people you want to meet and who want to meet you is to get a referral and a personal introduction. There is no gatekeeper.

Stop Cold Calling

A sales call is either cold or hot. Here’s my definition (make it yours): A cold call is one that’s made to someone who doesn’t know you and is not expecting your call. Make a cold call, and you’ll get the gatekeeper. Get the gatekeeper, and go nowhere. Salespeople delude themselves into thinking they are making “warm calls” when in fact they’re actually making cold calls.

Consider the following situations. Cold or hot?

  • You call someone because you got the name came from a colleague or friend. Cold!
  • You call someone and then follow up with a letter. Cold!
  • The person’s name came from a specific list. Still cold!

These are all cold calls–the person doesn’t know you and is not expecting your call. Even though you think you’ve been able to avoid sounding like a telemarketer, this type of call is still cold.

Referrals: They’re Hot, Hot, Hot!

Recent research by a global sales organization asked executives why they would take a meeting with a salesperson. The top two reasons:

1.      A referral from someone within their company

2.      A referral from a trusted source outside the executive’s company

Clearly, referrals matter and make an impact. Make every sales call a HOT call by getting an introduction from your referral source.

Adopt a referral-marketing system and shorten your sales process by at least 30 percent, be pre-sold, gain the trust of the prospect, eliminate the competition, and attract new clients more 50 percent of the time. There is no other sales prospecting or sales strategy that can claim these results.

Get the referral, and get the introduction. The Gatekeeper has left the building. So walk right in and close business!

61 Responses to How to Bypass the Gatekeeper

  1. Once again, Joanne, very salient information. A good reminder for all.


  2. Deidra Jow says:

    Nothing beats a referral. Nothing.

  3. let just try to understand: are you saying that all the efforts that a salesman usually put into finding new “cold clients” prospecting should be on the contrary spent in looking for active references rom existing clients? And that the usual “new business activity” should be definitely removed from our sales action plan? Thanks for your clarification. Paolo

  4. Hi Paolo:

    I am definitely saying that cold calling should be removed from a salesperson’s business development activity.

    Instead of cold calling, salespeople attract new clients and build sales when referrals are their business development sales plan. Yes, referrals from existing clients, but also from many others.

    For more clarification, listen to my 30 minute mini-webinar here http://www.nomorecoldcalling.com/wp/salesworkshop-nmcc_webinar.html The link is in the red box on this page.

    Thanks for writing

  5. “Say your name (never your company name”
    That cracks me up!

    If you get past ANY Gatekeeper WITHOUT divulging your company name, then that Gatekeeper hasn’t done their job properly and doesn’t deserve the title of Gatekeeper…

  6. Thanks Joanne for your clarification. One more question: do you think this approach can be applied to all kind of sales or do you recommend for a specific kind of sales. I mean, I’m studying the different kind of sales. It’ not fair neither true to say that selling is universal, unbiased on what you sell and to whom. I’m dealing with several companies here in Italy with very different approaches and markets: from huge printing machines (B2B) to creams and milks for babies or coockies (B2D) to long term car rentals (or fleet management) to labels to Congress organisation and so on. It is not definitely the same: so I was wondering if this approach could be suitable for every kind of sales. By the way do you have a methodology to classify sales? and by the way your book, that I ordered a couple of days ago, will be shipped today and hope I can get it next week! Ciao and thank you once more. Paolo

  7. Hi Paolo:

    Referral selling works in any kind of sales when the sales person has a large group of sales prospects. (Which is true for most salespeople)

    Sometimes, a salesperson tells me that his product is specific to a small group of businesses, and he knows all the contacts. Then, referral selling doesn’t apply.

    My experience is mainly Business to Business, but referrals also produce results in many Business to Consumer sales situations.

    My referral system is great for people looking for a job.

    So, you see, there is broad application for referrals.

  8. Thanks Joanna for your explanation. I’ll come back when I’ve read your book. See you soon…

  9. Tenders says:

    Great read. I cant express enough how outdated cold calling is. Really people, stop doing it!

  10. Mark P says:

    After sifting through so many “Warm” leads and getting nowhere…we changed our process and went down the referral route – What a difference it has made! No more wasted time cold calling for me thank you very much! Joanne – your book has completely changed the way I spend my time. Thank you!

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  13. Chris says:

    Overly simplistic, utterly unrealistic…total waste of my time. “Stop cold calling!” 90% of my call center’s sales are from cold calls. If we called only our referrals we would be out of business by the end of the quarter. Sales is a numbers game, and anyone who tries to say otherwise is delusional.

    • Hi Chris:

      About 5% of salespeople tell me that they have great cold calling stats–especially in commodity sales.

      If what you’re doing is working, keep doing it. But don’t discount the power of asking for referrals from your current clients. That’s a goldmine waiting to be tapped.

    • supreetha says:

      I agree with Chris…..

    • Chris says:

      I also agree with Chris. I think people hate cold calling which is why they say it doesn’t work. It doesn’t work when a person is nervous or isn’t enjoying it because the other person on the other side of the call can pick up synchronistically/subliminally/subconsciously or even consciously the fact and then give the objections.

      It’s all about mindset, being at peace, being confident, being professional and enjoying the process, then we get the respect we deserve.

      If the prospect doesn’t respect you then they will shut you down, be abusive, hang up the phone, argue, give objections and so on.

      It’s important to be 100% present in the now.

      Not thinking too much, not protecting in the future, the past, but being present.

      Ask questions.

      Sales is about asking the right questions.

    • Josh says:

      Hello Joanne & Chris.

      Chris, I have to ask what kind of tactics your call center is using to reach decision makers?

      In my experience, most business people don’t want to buy anything if they can help it. I find most of my calling is a complete waste of time. I usually speak to the underpaid service employee answering the phone and never get past that point. It seems business owners are fine with the fact that their lowly employees make decisions on their behalf all the time. If I do speak with a decision maker who is interested, they seem to have many demands and supposedly not enough money to pay for the service they require, almost like they expect our service and product to be free.

      I just wonder if all these folks, who write these cold calling books and blogs, are just failed salesmen who decided to try writing a book instead.

    • Chris Scott says:

      Hey, I think cold calling and referrals are both great ideas to expand your business. You can’t rely on one or the other in the beginning of your career. In the beginning, you have to build up a reputation before you can get referrals. If you are experienced, have clients and are gaining referrals, you’ll get some business, but you’re also limiting your potential by not planting more seeds outside of your centers of influence. Try everything, and I bet your sales will increase.

  14. supreetha says:

    That is true in these days .. but how do we manage in a callcentre scenario ..where we have to close deals on phone …. when it is B2B …

  15. Larry Kaul says:

    My referral network is broad, deep, and useful. The article misses a critical point. What if the prospective company is not accessible after mining the referral network and trying to connect at trade shows. Meaning you HAVE to engage this company.

    Many consultants are saying the same thing and suggest a focus on social media. That works but what do you do when it doesn’t lead anywhere. Leave social content work to marketing but follow people on Twitter and research on social networks. Find common connections and network. I’ll reach out cold for advice when I have something in common on LinkedIn and ask for ideas. These tactics are great, but cold outreach still has to be part of the strategy.

    Blanket statements such as “cold calling doesn’t work are misleading.” Of course it works. Customize the opening. Find a business problem and reference it in the subject line and first paragraph. At the VP level there is no gatekeeper. At C-level reference that you will call their assistant and that it is worth their time to forward to the assistant and let that person know you will be calling. Ask for 2-3 minutes and mean it. Nobody selling at an executive level uses a script. Come on that makes no sense.

    The assistant will most likely refer you to a VP. Ask why the executive leader suggests this is the right person. C-level executives do not spend time on problem/solution conversations. If the introductory email references financial impact and other clients who are relevant it gets their attention. Don’t talk about problems you solve or how you do it. Save that for the VP. Explain that you identified a need to “increase market share” for example or SG&A expenses grew by 12% last quarter. Explain that you have a way to help and know the company is not currently using the capability. You should know that.

    Tell them you can back that up with references and indicate financial results that are relevant to their industry. You can redact the company name if needed. If you can’t prove it and don’t have relevant cases why are you reaching out to this person in the first place?

    Of course the hit rate is low but what else can be done after the referral network has been tapped out? I’d love to know and stop the cold outreach. C-level executives have no problem with cold outreach. They aren’t overwhelmed because they have assistants. The ones who hate it are at the Director or Manager level and have to field the calls themselves.

    • Hi Larry:

      You make an interesting point.Of course you always have the option of cold e-mailing or cold calling. I just don’t do it. It goes against my belief and is not worth my time.

      I identify companies who could use my services. I check all of my social media connections, and then see how well they know the person I want to meet. Sometimes I come up empty handed. Either I have no connections, or the connections are not strong.

      If that’s the case, I still follow the company and check back weekly. As I’m speaking with my colleagues, I’ll ask about the company. I then move on…quickly.

      There are loads of good prospects out there, and I always find a strong connection and someone willing to make an introduction. In fact, two of those introductions occurred just this week.

      So, if you can’t get an intro at first, keep the company on your radar, and go on to your next sales prospect.

      • Larry Kaul says:

        That’s an interesting reply. It is a great idea unless the addressable market or territory is too small. My approach is also to follow companies and individuals of interest in Tweet Deck and Google Alerts.

  16. Hi Joane,

    I just started reading your book and I have started looking at my own personal results. I am really tuned into what you have to say because 90+% of my business has come from referrals. Friends, Church Members, Club affiliations and satisfied customers. i am a small one man operation. i have grown my business part time over the past 3.5 years and have steadily picked up new and larger accounts from referals. The funny thing is, I don’t have a system in place yet, and I rarly ask for referrals. Intuitivly, I know i should. Heck, a system would probably help me quit my day job. I just have not figured out how to do it with out sounding like a begger.

    Some of the above comments make me puzzled. i figure if you are providing a quality product or service and adding value to your customer, they remember you and want to help you. If you are dealing up “crap’ and poor customer service then it would not surprise me that you are cold calling all the time to drum up new business.

    Quite frankly, I hate cold calling and I hate being cold called. it is annoying and a waist of time. I get spammed to death by companies that want me to sell their wares. i go to trade shows and try to connect and all i get is their latest catalog. They are playing the numbers game and spending a lot of money trying to get me to buuy, but they don’t know me. They don’t know who i sell to or what their needs are. they have a pitch with no real solution. All most all of the companies i buy form come from referrals from collegues who vouch for their quality and service. I make plenty of referrals based on the experiece I have had with a company.

    Some of my best referrals have come from people who have never bought from me. i enjoy meeting people and building possitive relationships. That is about as close as i get to cold calling. people learn what I do and connect me with folks that can use my services. i am looking forward to finishing the book and becoming a “no more cold calling” pro. joane keep teaching. i am ready to learn and apply.

  17. Mark Vincent says:

    Larry Kaul makes a very good point regarding accessibility of many companies.

    Cold calling has a much lower hit rate but is the fastest way to approach a market and address sales KPI targets required to meet current sales revenue requirements.

    Referral marketing has a greater chance of success but the time investment necessary for each new contact to develop is far too great a risk for the sales management to consider it viable.

    A scan through the BDM and sales account manager job advertisements is unfortunate testament to the faith that business places on cold calling. Terms like “Hunter mentality”, “Cold Call champion” dominate the position descriptions and requirements for these roles.

    Whilst the merit of referrals selling is becoming well known in many industries, HR firms are still under pressure to hire sales specialists that are of themselves able to generate sales independently of the brand or marketing communications. KPI measures for sales often include input measures such as cost per call, volume of contacts approached, appointments per week, call duration. Unfortunately, your method scores badly on all of these sales metrics at the monthly meeting.

    Convincing the sales people is therefore not the answer.

    Senior management and the marketing communications team are the ones who actually need to be educated in the benefits of your approach.

    Sending a soldier in with the best equipment and terrain knowledge is no good when the generals have no clue what they are dealing with and there is no strategic air support in the form of marketing to aid their efforts.

    It is not to say that referrals selling is the solution any more than a better weapon will win every war. History has shown many examples of much smaller resources providing success through winning strategies that are coordinated across the entire campaign.

    Referrals selling to bypass the gatekeeper will only work where it is embraced by the marketing and management of the organisation and recognised as a viable sales strategy with its own set of relevant KPI metrics.

  18. Estelle says:

    I am creating a company that sells an app to Doctors: how do you get referrals? They are not much on social media. They do not spend their time in conferences…

    Thanks for the advise

  19. I hardly leave comments, however i did some searching and wound up here How to Bypass the Gatekeeper.
    And I actually do have a couple of questions for you if you tend
    not to mind. Is it simply me or does it look like some of the remarks come
    across like coming from brain dead individuals? 😛 And,
    if you are posting on additional social sites, I’d like to follow everything fresh you have to post. Could you list of the complete urls of your public sites like your Facebook page, twitter feed, or linkedin profile?

  20. Joshua Surtees says:

    Hi there,

    Thank you for this article, I found this very interesting, however i am struggling to put the warm call method into practice.

    I am a ‘headhunter’ working in quite a niche market, our candidate base is typically a certain type of person who tends to be very withdrawn from social media, and other methods of contact. This therefore makes them difficult to track down via LinkedIn, Twitter and other related search methods.

    Can you please advise me any ways where cold calling could be avoided in this instance, as this market is very competitive, and callbacks from headhunting alone are dying out massively. If I don’t have other information, or anything that I can mention as a referral type message, is there any other tips that you can advise on a ‘warm headhunt call’ ?

    I look forward to your response!

    Thanks, Josh

    (p.s. I have put the warm call method into my clientele side, and it is working wonders!)

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  22. Gandalf The White says:

    I think this is so funny. I don’t know how things work anywhere else but, in NY this is too funny! I AM the gatekeeper you’re referring to. I was hired to weed out calls like these. Say your name and not your company? You’re never ever getting past me, you are going STRAIGHT to v.m. It is my job to make sure my boss isn’t annoyed. I’m hired to ensure that he never has to talk to someone he doesn’t know, or doesn’t want to talk to. No matter what you think I am so stupid I am going to fall for, I wont. Just as you have your procedures, so do we. “Gatekeepers” aren’t just “lazy bitches”, we are instructed not to let you through, they don’t want to talk to you, they don’t care. My boss is actually important and busy! In most cases your best bet is to not be a nuisance to me while my switchboard is going berserk because your rolling off some speech that’s not going to matter to me one way or another. That’s the thing, my goal is to get you off my phone fast as possible. I cant wait to transfer you out of my ear so that I can get back to my work too! If you become a problem for me, ill transfer you to the wrong voice-mail and my boss wont ever even hear your message. Be polite, to the point, and don’t take it out on me, i don’t care 🙂
    Basically if you have no business with us, consider me Gandalf the Grey…you shall not pass! 🙂

    • Love Gandalf says:

      I absolutely love, love your reply, thank you for bringing in the gatekeeper’s voice! In the spirit of full disclosure, I am a sales trainer who is struggling to help our sales people get to the DM.

      If you would be so kind: you mention some tips on how to treat people like yourself which are very valid; My question would be: what types of conversations WOULD compel you to let a sales person through to your DM/boss? Surely folks that talk to him/her had to start at somewhere. How did they get through? How can we get through? (I realize that this is a situational question based on many variables, but I’m taking a stab nonetheless…)

      Your additional insight would be very much appreciated. And thanks again for your perspective

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  24. Jen Mahon says:

    Excellent advice – another way to get past the gatekeeper is to actually connect and engage with them on LinkedIn. Here’s an article our CEO recently wrote about this:

    5 Reasons Why Salespeople Should Engage With Gatekeepers on LinkedIn http://buff.ly/1g2HP57

    • I agree with Jen. I think the whole issue is not about Hot vs Cold, but about how you break the ice. In this day and age, there’s plenty of ways to establish a connection and warm up the relationship before you make your first call or send your first email.

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  26. Ryan says:

    I think cold calling is easy, you just have to know how to have your way with people. And just have all your rebuttals down. After 2 months in a company you should be a machine with all your verbal combos.

    But by not asking for referrals you are defenatly leaving money on the table. I say max out your referrals with powerful relationships, and keep cold calling after you run out of referrals.

  27. Tim Rowe says:

    I agree with Joanne referral based marketing is the best. Think about it when you shop Amazon for a camera, you will be presented with a couple of other cameras. You made your choice which one you are going to buy, but why that one?

    What was the real reason you selected the one that you did?
    I submit that it was the reputation, it was the referrals from those who also purchased a camera and they left a referral to you which one you should choose.

    What is the one word that the review was doing?

  28. Richard says:

    Any advice to get the person’s e-mail by phone?

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  30. Marcus says:

    Wonder how this relates to sales that need mass appeal super fast and not built up over time. My company pulls in 1500 new customers a week rolling out a government grants programme to businesses to upgrade their broadband for free in UK. We have until march 2016 to expand to 350,000 new customers so we adopt any type of sales process possible. i have teams out on streets door knocking , telesales calling and digital marketing through social media , email and advertising. The government is helping with TV, Billboard and adio advertising too. We are now adopting referral business by asking new customers to refer others. Do you think incentivising them may help ?

  31. Stephen Sockett says:

    A rose by any other name…

    If the prospect doesn’t know that you are calling and doesn’t know who you are, it’s still a cold call. The trick isn’t in getting around the idea of cold calling with semantics…the idea is to become a better cold caller.

  32. Christian Jake Laspinas says:

    We can still use cold calling techniques when your pipeline is not that full. This is still useful to generate qualified opportunities. And I have experienced this as Sales Manager. Thank you so much.

  33. Sarah Smith says:

    I’m a ‘gatekeeper’ and read advice threads like this with amusement. I have a list of 30 or so managers who have specifically asked that I do not put sales calls through to them, but to take messages instead..

    So they will ALWAYS be ‘unavailable’, ‘in a meeting’, ‘with visitors’, ‘away from their desk’, ‘not answering their phone’…..whichever reason I pick off the top of my head.

    They would much rather receive one message from a caller that should have been put through, than have me dump 20 unsolicited sales calls on them every day.

    There is nothing that a cold caller will say to me that will make me put them through to their ‘target’. All the ‘thank yous’ at the end of each sentence are futile. I’ve heard it all – “He’s expecting my call..” – really? And he didn’t give you his direct number? If I can offer any of you some advice it’s this:

    Don’t refuse to leave your details – if you won’t leave your details, you will get the same ‘not available’ response from me the next time you call….and the next….and the next……..and I’ll happily repeat that ad nauseum..

    If you do leave your details, don’t phone back two hours later asking for them again – I truly DO email all messages to people and I then move them into a folder I can quickly access… I can tell you exactly when you last left a message.

    When a ‘gatekeeper’ says “I’ll pass the message on and if he’s interested he’ll give you a call” – hear what we’re saying there – IF HES INTERESTED….

    Don’t be rude to me… You’ll just get added to the cold caller list which flashes up on the switchboard every time you ring – before I even answer, I know if it’s a rude cold caller – you’ll get no-where with me…

    …..or my lunch time stand in either.. 😀

    Oh and don’t lie… I had a cocky girl reluctantly leave her phone number for our I.T Manager but refused to tell me what it was about… When I said she’d probably not get a callback without a reason for her call she spat “I.T” at me…When I asked what aspect of I.T (maintenance, software, phones) she said maintenance…. One quick google search of the number she left me (ohhh yes, I google all numbers before passing them on) showed she was ringing from a recruitment agency…

    So not only was she asking for completely the wrong person, she was lying to boot….Not a good advert….

    The best cold call I ever received was from a chap wanting to sell his packaging company to us…. He gave me his details, said that he’d appreciate them being passed on to the relevant person… then he went on to say he wasn’t a sales pest as he knew we were a busy company so wouldn’t be calling back twice daily like other sales pests…

    And he didn’t. He totally kept his word.

    But he got some work from us simply because I had mentioned in my email to the relevant person how courteous and professional he had been….

    Food for thought there….

    Be pushy, insistent or expecting = you’ll not get past me, ‘thank you’. 😉

    Be polite and willingly leave your details = you might just have a chance.

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  44. Gerri Brooks says:

    Hi Everyone,

    Any thoughts on this dilemma? We’re asked to do a closing spiel even if we’re talking to a gatekeeper. Our closing spiel goes like this – Thank you for choosing (company name). I feel awkward using it since the gatekeeper isn’t the one who has done business with us. Do you think we should use the same closing spiel even if we’re talking to the gatekeeper? If not, can you suggest a closing spiel that we can use that still mentions our company name for Branding purposes?

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  46. mshahabi says:

    If the prospect doesn’t know that you are calling and doesn’t know who you are, it’s still a cold call. The trick isn’t in getting around the idea of cold calling with semantics…the idea is to become a better cold caller.

  47. Rich says:

    What a joke, ideally no one building their new business wants to cold call and of course referals are a better way to go.

    But this is not easy, you say it as if its as simple as just getting referals.

    Cold calling is a necessary evil for a lot of people staring out and trting to pick up work and it does work if you are relaxed and human on the phone and as you say “dump the script”.

    Referals eventually come organically and they are great but you cant start that way.

    In the digigtal age we live in today its much easier to curate a hit list of contacts you want to target and if you persist you will puck up the work. Its like the world has a way of rewarding you for trying and grinding.

    Fortune favours the brave

    Humanise your approach.

    Nuf said!!!

  48. TRUE! These are the worst recommendations ! thank you very much

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