None Shall Pass? A Message from a Gatekeeper

by guest blogger Renee Calvert

Recently, my role within People First Productivity Solutions changed a little. We moved out of our home office and into a spacious office suite, which, for me, means that instead of working in the same room, back to back with my boss, I now have my own office down the hall from her.  This also means I have my own phone… and with that phone has come the responsibility of answering it.

100_2445Because we’ve moved, we’re now on the radars of endless telemarketers and companies looking to capitalize on needs we might have as a “new” business. Phone companies, merchant processing services, and the like have all called our business relentlessly. And while it’s a nuisance, it’s not necessarily the calling I mind. But every single  one of these sales people has made critical mistakes that guarantee I won’t give them the time of day, much less pass along the information about what they’re selling to my boss.

I am the gatekeeper. And if you want to get past me, here are some things you should never do.

Don’t treat me like an enemy.

I am not a troll that eats every billy goat that crosses my bridge. Despite being a barrier between you and the decision maker, it isn’t my job to make sure no business gets in.  We do have needs, and I consider it a good thing to facilitate getting those needs fulfilled. I would be glad to discuss and pass along useful info.  I’m here to help and to be a link between you and my employer. Why alienate me with blatant hostility?

Don’t blow your first impression

You only get one chance to make a good impression on me (and, consequently, on my company). So it’s a mystery to me why many sales people are short-tempered, snippy and demanding. It comes across as unprofessional and causes me to think you’ll be difficult to do business with. I don’t want to work with someone who is going to treat me like that… and really, would you?

Don’t be condescending

I may be answering the phone, but I am not “just an assistant.” Many salespeople never even bother to ask who I am or what my position is, assuming instead that my voice and canned greeting mean that I’m the admin, or someone unimportant. This is untrue – I actually do make a lot of the decisions about which vendors we’ll do business with. Furthermore, there’s no way you can tell what experience a gatekeeper has by their greeting alone. I have a Master’s degree and a respectable IQ, so talking down to me doesn’t fly. Whether or not someone is the decision maker or “just an assistant,” never, ever be condescending.

Don’t blow me off

I might not be the owner, but my opinion has clout at this company. When you demand to speak to the owner  and then refuse to leave a message after I’ve offered, insisting that you’ll just call back, it leaves a bad impression and tells me you’re not really interested in doing business with my company. I get that you may have a call metric you need to meet, and that “wasting your time” on a gatekeeper isn’t a priority, but therein lies the problem. Talking to the gatekeeper and leaving a good message is not a waste of time because you never know how much influence the gatekeeper has.

Don’t retaliate

If I sounded crabby or sharp, I apologize. But a lot of my work is sensitive and requires a great deal of concentration – I do not sit around all day, waiting for the phone to ring. When it’s 10 am and you’re the 8th person to call (and perhaps the first person who has actually spoken to me instead of hanging the phone up as soon as I say “hello”), my patience is pretty thin. You’d be cranky, too, especially if the person on the other end decided to huffily demand to speak to the owner and blew you off when you offered to take a message. But regardless of whether or not my tone is grumpy, it is not an excuse for you to be rude. If anything, it’s a signal to be even nicer and acknowledge me or thank me for sacrificing my time to get your info to someone else. Remember, a cranky gatekeeper is a stingy gatekeeper, and you’ll need to work extra hard to get past.

Don’t bully me

If I’m already being short with you, bullying me is going to get you nowhere. It doesn’t work on this playground. I have been specifically asked to flag messages where people were rude or pushy, and if you persist in such behavior, you are guaranteeing that you will never, ever, ever get a call back from anyone at my company.

Don’t take your frustration out on me

I get it. Cold calling is rough and being required to meet a call quota isn’t easy. You’re under a lot of pressure to sell and I completely understand that. But what I don’t understand is why you have to take it out on me. I may be the fiftieth gatekeeper you’ve spoken to in a given day, but that doesn’t justify treating me badly. Again, think of how you would feel if someone treated you this way.

It’s shocking how often callers exhibit these behaviors towards me, and the consistency leads me to believe that these practices are not uncommon. And, yes, even though we do train sales people and likely have a higher standard by which we judge a cold call, that doesn’t make what I’m asking for unreasonable.

So the next time you encounter a gatekeeper in your prospecting adventures, keep this advice in mind. Otherwise, you shall not pass.

Connect 2 Sell Graphic smallRenee Calvert is the Special Projects Coordinator at People First Productivity Solutions. She recently earned her MFA in 2D Animation from the Academy of Art University, and does most of the visual design for PFPS. When you’re ready to tackle your toughest selling challenges, tune in to CONNECT! Online Radio for Selling Professionalsor consider our CONNECT2Sell Training programs. Be sure to subscribe to the CONNECT2Sell Blog for weekly tips and techniques on increasing your sales by connecting with your buyers.





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  1. Point out a contradiction says:

    Your “Don’t retaliate” and “Don’t take your frustration out on me” sections are contradictory.

    Everyone has a tough job and has to work hard. Sometimes people are in bad moods. You expect patience when you are crabby with others, but refuse to offer any if they are crabby with you.

    We should all do our best to be polite and forgiving of each other. That person who cold calls you and is pushy was likely trained to be that way. There are two schools of thought on gatekeepers. One is to befriend them, the other is to act like their boss. In your scenario, a very small company where you are not just an assistant, befriending is the obvious choice.

    In a bit larger business, where someone is a dedicated admin or assistant and has little knowledge or input into the actual running of the business, the pushy approach works better for some people.

    I am the friendly type. I make calls all day. Very often the person answering the phone is crabby or rude. I try to be patient, but really, it’s not my problem that you are having a rough day so don’t retaliate against me either.

    All you have done is ensure that I will never, ever, do business with you. I really might have the solution to a major problem you have, and you just made me not want to work with you.

    • Yes, exactly. We all have to treat each other with dignity and respect. I work very hard to maintain professionalism and to be courteous to every one I encounter. You may have missed the word “if” when I described how I might come across as being stressed or annoyed. I try not to let that show, but I’ve heard salespeople use the gatekeeper’s tone as a reason not to extend a warm tone… So that’s why I went there. The way I see it is this: you called me at a time that was convenient for you, not necessarily for me. I don’t think it’s unreasonable for me to expect your courtesy and understanding.

  2. In sales gatekeepers are important — and instead of thinking of them as the enemy think of treating them just like the executive to whom you are trying to connect with. These gatekeepers have a role — and that’s to help others in their organization do what they need to do to meet there goals and objectives. Gatekeepers often know a lot about the business challenges that their colleagues face and the company’s initiatives. Gatekeeprs are influencers — and some have great influence into who gets in the door and whetere it goes beyond the first meeting. Gatekeepers influence the buyer process — because others rely upon them for their insight.

  3. they should be called ‘Hate’ Keepers because they are so mean and they are so full of venum and hatred ……they treat people with such disdain and have no empathy for a person trying to make a living in an a very, very difficult profession in a God awful economy selling to cheap a**h**** who we all know as buyers they are really liars.

    • In the interest of including all opinions, we did not exclude the above comment… Anyone care to respond to this one?

  4. Paul, I hear your passion but rise above it my friend. Treat Renee’s advice as a feedback from a “Focus Group” and move on. Remember, every “No” leads to a “Yes”.

  5. Renee’s insight is quite informative. While it is based on simple common courtesy as well as some good old professionalism. These types of articles are extremeley helpful to the sales professional no matter how seasoned.

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