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.

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. Paul Fisher says:

    Hello Ms Calvert,
    I enjoyed what I just read regarding your experience with my ilk in the phone sales industry. As it is the way I pay my bills I read and listen to every point of view for 15-30 seconds minimum. If the opinion is laced with a foundation in reality, understanding of the business world, professional acumen and personal honesty, then I continue to be interested. I have spent over twenty years in the phone sales industry. I am currently starting from the bottom and my “gast is flabbered” when simple etiquette and manners are dismissed as irrelevant by the people that are being paid to guide and instruct the new talent. I am usually successful because, as you noted a few times, I remember that I am speaking to a person who deals and lives with the many complications and frustrations that comes with being human. When people are still trying to teach me “tricks” I get annoyed and wonder if this company will be in my past very soon. I have assimilated many seminars, books, webinars, videos, and past experiences into my approach. I cannot understand why so many of my peers will become adversarial with the first person they talk to at a suspect’s or prospect’s company. My honesty, announcing my FULL name and the name of the company I represent actually has caused derision at every company I have worked for (at least, at first). There are so many that prefer to go right into a pitch without bothering to acknowledge that the voice is a person. I rarely ask what your role in the company is. My opinion is that I gave 15 seconds to gain your attention and do not want to risk that on a question that can appear to be intrusive and arrogant (are you worthy of my time or should you hurry and get me to someone more important). Asking how you are doing has caused many to freeze after hearing objections in way of an answer I use that when I am feeling feisty in a professional way. If you let me know that it is not a good day or time, your brain is waiting for me to end the communication. That scenario is salvageable but why make life harder? So, I listen when you answer and respond with your name (if given) who and what I am and then with a bit of a question i my voice, I ask for the contact person on the lead. This sometimes helps if it is an old record and your irritation at being asked for an employee who has been gone for 5 years ends any chance I might have had. Regardless, I find a way of using the phrase ” well Renee, then maybe you can help me ( my request for your assistance introduces respect and trust as I am putting myself in your capable hands) out. I am calling for Henry as this record indicates that he was the IT Director and the company I work for is Cloud Co and I am tasked with trying to introduce or company and services. Do you know who I should try and contact now that Henry is no longer there. That approach. I generally gets me to the next rung of a companies chain of command. It perplexes me that common sense is becoming rare. I find resistance from my peers to be outdated while causing me concern about the company I am in. Your article should be read by anyone who is making a B2B call tomorrow. Thank you for your time and honesty. Have a great daym Renee. -Paul

    • Hi Paul! I’m glad to have some insight from someone in the Telephone Sales world… thanks for your input and your comment!

  2. Hi Renee,

    Thank you for sharing this. Really helpful article. Gatekeepers are sometimes considered enemies of telemarketers. We do not really understand how you feel on the other side of the line. What you shared here is truly mind opening. I will share these with our telemarketers so that they would know how to treat you.

    Thanks again.

  3. Not an accurate description of a gatekeeper says:

    You don’t really fit the description of a “gatekeeper.”

    You are active in the management of the business. You have a role in choosing vendors. This makes you a decision maker, not a gatekeeper.

    A gatekeeper is someone whom you only need to get past to reach a decision maker. Selling to a gatekeeper is counter-productive. There are just too many numbers to dial.

    I agree that gatekeepers should be treated with respect. You however, are not a gatekeeper at all.

    • Lots of people answering phones influence which vendors a company will do business with, so I think I’m a pretty good example of a gatekeeper (but it would be splitting hairs to debate about that). The intent of these posts is to share how I (and others like me) feel about salespeople who talk down to people who aren’t the decision makers… whether that be on the phone or in a comment to a blog post.

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