Speak, Friend and Enter: The Key to Getting Past the Gatekeeper

by guest blogger Renee Calvert

In last week’s blog post, I shared what it’s like to be the gatekeeper – the person answering the phone… who probably isn’t in charge but is a valuable step toward talking to a decision maker – and some of the things that sellers do to guarantee they’ll never get a call back. But just as there are many factors that would cause a gatekeeper to bar the gate, there are also things that sellers can do to win the gatekeeper’s favor and move beyond the initial “no.”

So if you’re feeling bummed out because the person on the other end of the phone denied you access to the person you’re trying to reach, examine how you’re coming across, and try some of these things…

Say Hello

I’m used to having my greeting cut off. I’m also used to being hung up on the second I finish my greeting. It’s kind of weird and off-putting when people do that and don’t even bother saying hello. So when someone DOES say “hi,” I automatically feel as though I am being acknowledged as a customer instead of just another number to dial. And asking me how I am gets you even more points because now you’re acknowledging me as a person, too. And believe me, when I’ve spent all morning answering nothing but hang-ups, being treated like a human being really warms me up to the caller.

Find Out Who I am

Most of us, when we answer the phone, introduce ourselves by name – for me, this is essential, since I have many times been mistaken for my boss due to our similar-sounding voices. So after I’ve stated “Thanks for calling People First Productivity Solutions, this is Renee…” and the person on the other end demands to speak to the owner, it’s a little demeaning. But when a caller asks me what my title is before they start demanding to speak to the owner or a decision maker, I feel validated, like the person on the other end cares about my business and its needs.

Introduce Yourself

The caller ID doesn’t do a very good job of telling me who is calling or from what company. So when I answer the phone and the person on the other end launches into a spiel right away, it’s confusing and a little overwhelming. Who am I supposed to be telling my boss has called? How can we even make a decision about whether or not we want to talk to you if I don’t even know your name? And yes, while “Hi my name is ____” works in your favor, telling me a little bit about yourself and why you’re calling is even better.

Be Authentic

I can tell when you’re reading off of a script or are speaking on auto-pilot. It’s a huge turn-off to hear a bored tone in someone’s voice or, worse, when someone is putting on fakey exuberance. But when callers speak naturally, as though speaking to an acquaintance, it’s nice. I feel like I’m having a conversation instead of being lobbed a canned speech. If I wanted to listen to a recording, I’d pull up iTunes. But you’re a person, so speak like one. Not like a robot.

Find out what *I* want

A few weeks ago, we wrote about what needs-based selling really is and how it’s crucial to find out what your buyers needs actually are. This could never be truer than when speaking to a gatekeeper. If you DO manage to get to your sales pitch, starting off by asking me if I need your product is going to get an automatic “no” every time. I have no awareness, interest or desire to purchase it. So you have to start where I’m at. Instead of asking me if I have telephone service (um… duh, I’m talking to you on a phone, aren’t I?), start by asking me how well I like my phone service so far. If you haven’t already shut me down before this point, I might tell you that we’ve been less than satisfied with what we have.

And now the gate is open just a crack. You’ve got a way in to sell me YOUR telephone services.

So by finding out what my needs are – which is accomplished by asking me open-ended questions – you get yourself a way in.

Know Your Material

You’re finally talking to me, and I haven’t hung up on you (yet). Then I ask you a question, or throw out an objection. The WORST possible thing you could do at this point is freeze!

I’ll give you an example. Last week, a gentleman called about merchant processing services (for processing credit cards and the like). He initially did a lot right – he said “Hi Renee, my name is…” after I finished my greeting. He asked me what my role at our company was, and when he realized I wasn’t the owner, he persisted anyway and asked me if I could pass some information along (as opposed to outright refusing to tell me anything, as many callers do.) He asked me questions about our business. I was totally on board.

Then he asked me if we had the service he was offering in place. Well, we do – and have been using it for some time – but when I told him so, he shut down so completely, I wondered if he’d hung up on me. After a moment of silence, he asked me the same question again. I, of course, repeated my answer, feeling a little irritated. Dead silence again. It was really awkward, especially with me going “Hello? Hello…?” even though I could hear him breathing on the other end. After about 15 seconds of no response, I told him we weren’t interested and moved on to other things.

Now, it could have been that he choked, or he may have just been checking a database to see what he was supposed to do in that situation. But he could have saved himself a lot of trouble (and, eventually, gotten to speak to my boss!) if he’d known his material a little better and been able to respond without freezing.

It boils down to this: we gatekeepers are not difficult to please. When you treat us like the human beings we are, we tend not to feel so hostile. When you treat us with respect – the same respect you’d show us if we WERE the owner or decision maker – it makes us feel good about doing business with you and about passing your information along to our bosses.

So be friendly with the gatekeeper – and perhaps you’ll get to enter.

Renee Calvert is a professional animator based in Atlanta, GA. She works with PFPS as a consultant doing graphic design and site maintenance. When this blog was originally published on March 13, 2013, she was the in-house artist and special projects coordinator at PFPS.

Connect 2 Sell blogThis blog post has now been selected for the CONNECT! Communitys series on Connecting by Caring. As a seller, it’s absolutely essential for you to show your buyers that you care. We’ll help you do that when you tune in to CONNECT! Online Radio for Selling Professionals, read DISCOVER Questions Get You Connected or participate in CONNECT2Sell Training programs. Be sure to subscribe to the CONNECT2Sell Blog for weekly tips and techniques that will help you become the one seller buyers actually want to talk to.

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