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Gatekeepers can be your best friend



After you attended a business event it is time to make that dreaded follow up call.

When you finally pluck up courage to make the call , you very often get the dreaded gatekeeper.

Do you ever feel prospects and decision maker reside in a gated communities and ‘the guards’ are very effective at their job?

It’s tough to get past the gatekeepers — those professionals who “guard” the decision makers and often run interference for them — to get in front of decision makers.

Gatekeepers those entrusted with guarding the Decision Makers you wish to reach, can be your adversaries or allies, depending on your approach. They serve as a filter or screen for their bosses. Your challenge? To be regarded as important enough to be allowed into their inner sanctum. Gatekeepers may be administrative assistants, secretaries, voice mail systems or main switchboard operators. They may also be temporary workers or human resource representatives. Let’s explore some on these scenarios.


Say your name slowly and clearly. You will be asked where you are from and / or why you are calling. Explain you met Pamela (a prospect) at an event, you promised to call and that she is expecting your call. You can only say that if you pre-arranged it at the event.

If Pamela is not available you now have 6 options. You can;

  1. leave a message asking her to call you.
  2. leave a message saying you’ll call back.
  3. ask for help by saying , ‘when do you think the best time would be for me to call back’.
  4. ask to leave a message on her voicemail.
  5. ask if she has a secretary or P.A.
  6. ask if you can call Pamela on her mobile.

My preferred choices are in reverse order. When you have got yourself in the right mental state to make this call best to do it now! When calling someone on a landline I generally don’t ask is now a good time to talk but I always do if I get through to someone on their mobile.

If you can start to build rapport with a person close to your prospect that surely must be best. Leaving a voicemail will mean they know you have at least kept your word.

If you are through to a busy switchboard there is the chance your message won’t get passed along. When you do speak to a receptionist or a secretary the order of the day is courtesy and politeness.


Receptionists, secretaries and PA’s

What are they there for? Peoples’ first reactions are, ‘to ward away unwelcome callers’ or ‘keep you out’ or ‘screen calls’.

Your mind is telling you lots of negatives. Change your approach to gatekeepers, because gatekeepers can do two things, yes, they can bar the way, but just as easily, they can open doors for you.

Let’s think of the powers PA’s and secretaries actually have;

  • They make preliminary judgements on behalf of their boss.
  • They decide on priorities.
  • They often decide what the boss sees and what ends up in the bin.
  • They decide where literature addressed to their boss goes to.
  • They often decide who gets to see their boss.
  • They know what their boss’s issues and concerns are.
  • They generally know what future plans and schedules are in place.
  • They know how the organisation works. Who deals with what, where the decision making powers lie and how things get done.
  • They just seem to know everything!

One of the key reasons we hesitate making the follow up call is because we worry about the reception we’re going to get from the gatekeeper. When I ask other people if their gatekeeper is pleasant and friendly or a bit of a witch, the overwhelming answer is “She’s great, a really lovely lady”.

So, cross this fear off your list when hesitating to follow up. Treat them right and you’ll find you get positive results more often than not.

The sad news here is, though, that you’ve got to start networking with the gatekeeper because she, or he, is the new, but now most important, person in the chain of events.

Here are some guidelines;

  • Always be polite.
  • Show them the same, if not more, respect and courtesy you are going to show their boss.
  • Prepare what you are going to say beforehand.
  • Be concise, clear and to the point. Without being patronising, make it easy for the listener to understand why you are calling
  • Be friendly but firm and strong. No rah-rah stuff, not yet anyway until you have built some rapport.
  • No schmoozing either unless it is welcomed
  • Don’t sell to the gatekeeper, she’s not going to be interested
  • If the person you wish to speak to isn’t available and you want to pass a message, which is more than “Can Pamela please call me back?”, ask if they have a moment for you.
  • Respect their time; they are invariably very busy people being pulled from pillar to post all day long. You’re probably as busy so treat them the way you’d like to be treated
  • If you feel they are in the middle of something suggest you call back
  • Ask their advice as to when is the best time to call back.
  • When you have built some sort of relationship there is no harm explaining what it is you want. They can often help you and lead you in the right direction (See above for the power and knowledge of these influential people).
  • Until you are given permission, be formal. If they answer Mrs. Smith use Mrs Smith. until the right moment. If they answer Helen Smith introduce yourself and ask if you can call her Helen. Refer to their boss as Miss, Mrs or Mr if they do.
  • You can often find out whether the boss is an easy or difficult person (whatever that means) by the way the gatekeeper talks about them.


Watch how our friend Roger tries to get past the gatekeeper and then forget it!


Help from the gatekeeper

You need to know;

  • When her boss is going to be available.
  • Whether she received your literature (if you sent some).
  • What she thought about it.
  • Whether she’d mentioned you to her.
  • What her advice would be to get a meeting or at least a time for a short phone call.
  • If she can find out if there is no interest. If so, can she call you and tell you. This is another option of offering a way out without the prospect not actually having to say the dreaded ‘no’ word.


Blog by Will…


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