If you’ve ever tried to get a meeting with a potential client only to be turned away at the door, then you’ve probably encountered a gatekeeper. Gatekeepers can range from a personal assistant or receptionist, up to a high-level manager, but they all have one thing in common: they are keeping you from reaching the one person who can make or break your deal. For most gatekeepers, it’s not personal, they’re simply doing their jobs. So how do you get the gatekeepers on your side? Here are a few ways to leverage their power to work for you instead of against you:
Kill ‘em with kindness
It seems so simple, yet there are many people in the business world (and the regular world for that matter) who are condescending or dismissive to those they feel are low on the food chain. A little respect will go a long way, and true kindness will take you even further. Gatekeepers are people who work hard and deserve to be treated with consideration. Don’t just “pretend” to be respectful. Take a moment to shift from selling mode to human being mode, and try to engage with the person. Be polite, say “please” and “thank you,” and express appreciation for their time even if you initially get nowhere.
Make it personal
Learn the gatekeeper’s name and make notes about what you discussed, so follow-up phone calls and emails can feel more personal. Take a few minutes to have a genuine conversation, and maybe even give the person your pitch and ask for their feedback. This will not only make them feel valued, but they might have some great insight to offer. Also, never forget that the relationship you’re building goes two ways. Although your initial contact might be about what the gatekeeper can do for you, don’t forget to consider what you can do for the gatekeeper. Their daughter is looking for work? Offer to forward her resume to some contacts. They’re planning a trip to New York? Send them some information about a great restaurant you recommend, or a nice place you stayed.
Demonstrate the benefit
One way to get the gatekeeper on your side is to clearly illustrate the benefits of whatever product or service you offer. A gatekeeper’s job is to shield the boss from unwanted solicitations, but if you can present your service as something that addresses a need, then you’re giving the gatekeeper a chance to be the hero and bring a solution to the table. Be clear and specific about how you can improve their business, and you could very well land an appointment.
Be persistent, but not pesky. Maintain that politeness and respect you’ve established as you check in with the gatekeeper periodically. Send them a nice email thanking them for all their help and complimenting their professionalism. Tell them to feel free to forward the email to their boss to let him know what a valuable asset he has. Send a LinkedIn request to add the gatekeeper to your network. This will not only indicate that you view them as a valuable connection, but also establish a relationship that may pay dividends in the future. After all, most decision makers started off at a low level, too.
Jump the fence
Sometimes there comes a point when you’ve done everything possible to get past the gatekeeper, but they are so good that they’ve created an impenetrable fortress. If this is the case, you may need to try to work around the gate altogether, and sneak over the fence. This is when you have to employ some creative tactics, such as trying to call the decision-maker during off hours so that maybe he or she will pick up directly, or someone else will put you through. If the gatekeeper won’t give you the boss’s email address, you might be able to figure it out based on the company standard. For example, if the gatekeeper’s name is John Smith and his email is j.smith@ABC company, then his boss, Dave Jones, has a likely email address of d.jones@ABC company. It won’t hurt to send the email, even if it ends up going nowhere. Another option is to try to reach the contact through a service such as LinkedIn, or even go old school and send a handwritten note. Office mail that looks personal is less likely to be screened by a gatekeeper, and might actually land on the decision-maker’s desk.
It’s not always easy, but with some persistence and thoughtfulness you can turn a gatekeeper from an obstacle into an asset. Pushing your way through the gate creates opposition and resistance, so focus more on building relationships and establishing trust, and you just may see that gate swing open and welcome you inside.