The gatekeeper is not your enemy. Cold calling is.

Much has been written about how to get past the gatekeeper, and many salespeople believe that gatekeepers are the source of all their prospecting  woes. Apparently, receptionists and executive assistants are all that stand between cold callers and would-be clients, and salespeople have been convinced that digital technology should solve all their business development challenges. But it won’t.

There’s still no button to get past the gatekeeper and gain access to decision-makers. That requires conversations and real-world relationship-building—skills that many salespeople have let become rusty.

Turn the Dreaded Gatekeeper Into a Trusted Friend

The decision-makers you want to reach aren’t playing hide-and-seek with your team. They don’t have time to talk to cold callers. And their dutiful gatekeepers are not only used to salespeople trying to get past them; they know every trick in the book.

(Image attribution:
Karolina Grabowska)

One assistant told me cold callers lie and tell him the CEO asked them to reach out. Most are cocky; others are downright rude; and some try to lay on the charm. A lot of them keep calling, hoping to eventually get the green light. But no matter how suave they think they are, he shuts down every cold call without a second thought. The only calls that get through are the ones his boss expects.

There’s only one way to get past the gatekeeper, and that is to be an expected and welcome call. When I wanted to talk to the CEO of a Fortune 500 company about what I could do for his company, it took one call to his assistant, and the meeting was scheduled. How did I get on her good side? I had a referral introduction, so my call was expected and welcome. The gatekeeper was never my enemy; she was happy to help.

Are You Always Successful at Getting Past the Gatekeeper?

I’ve been polling sales audiences for years about their top challenges, and “getting past the gatekeeper” is always at the top of the list. So, I included the question “Do you always get past the gatekeeper?” in my Referral I.Q. Quiz (a 14-question “Yes/No” assessment that can be completed in a few minutes).

Out of almost 600 respondents, 79 percent answered no.

Well, that’s embarrassing. After all the effort put into getting past the gatekeeper, salespeople flunk again and again. What does that say about their prospecting prowess?

Now, here’s where things get a little confusing. I asked the same group, “Are you totally comfortable having an executive conversation with a real person?” This time, 85.6 percent said yes.

Salespeople know how to talk to executives, but not executive assistants? It seems counter-intuitive. Shouldn’t the former be easier than the latter?

This does, however, explain why prospecting is so challenging for most sales teams. They’re making cold calls—and getting frozen out.

The Trick to Getting Past the Gatekeeper: Be a Welcome Call

It’s much, much easier to get to decision-makers when you have a referral introduction. Prospects will always take meetings with B2B sales reps who’ve been referred by colleagues they know and trust. There’s no need for duplicitous gatekeeper tactics, because their bosses actually want to talk to these salespeople.

I’ve spent more than two decades working with sales teams on selling through referrals, and I’ve seen what happens when they adopt a referral process. Sales reps:

  • Get every meeting with prime prospects with one call
  • Arrive with trust and credibility already earned
  • Shorten their sales process because prospecting time collapses
  • Beat out the competition because they get in early and build relationships
  • Save money (referrals don’t cost a thing)
  • Convert prospects into clients more than 50 percent of the time (typically more than 70 percent)

Referral selling is your biggest competitive differentiation. No other marketing or sales approach comes close to the results you get with referrals.

In my experience working with sales leaders, less than 5 percent of companies have committed to referrals as a strategy and implemented a referral system with precision.

Here’s the deal: Your current clients would be happy to refer you, but they probably won’t think to do so unless they’re asked. And your team won’t ask for referrals unless it’s part of your sales process.

So, what are you waiting for? Give them a way to get past the gatekeeper for good.

Help your team understand how referrals guarantee a one-call meeting. Invite Joanne to speak at your next sales meeting or professional development event.

(Featured image attribution: Mike B)

This post was originally published on January 5, 2020 and updated August 25, 2022.