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Rethinking Gatekeepers and How to Work with Them

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From ancient cities to cutting-edge companies, gatekeepers have controlled access, permissions and message flow for centuries.

If you’re developing sales for your company, working successfully with gatekeepers isn’t just good to know – it’s a competitive necessity.  Here are three tips for shifting your attitude about gatekeepers and how to approach them. 


Bypassing the Gatekeeper

Should you bypass a gatekeeper? A more important question is, are you cold-calling?

The best way to approach any prospect, whether directly or through a gatekeeper, is through a referral or personal introduction. Here are a few ways to identify mutual contacts.

  • Review your LinkedIn connections for contacts that are past or current coworkers of your prospect.
  • View your prospect’s profile on LinkedIn for shared connections. If you can’t find connections, look for common organizations, such as the same university, civic groups or professional associations, and explore them for mutual connections.


Respecting the Gatekeeper’s Roles

Gatekeeping is only one of the many daily responsibilities of receptionists, office managers and administrative assistants. In addition to other functions, they are charged with valuing and protecting their boss’s time.

Gatekeepers are expected make judgment calls, on behalf of their bosses, about whom to block and whom to connect.  Three guidelines for speaking with a gatekeeper are:

  • Acknowledge that the gatekeeper is busy and has many responsibilities.
  • Sincerely ask for the gatekeeper’s advice on the best way to connect with your prospect.
  • Thank the gatekeeper for their help.

I booked an appointment with the following request: “Our mutual friend, John Thompson, suggested that Pat and I would benefit from meeting each other. You know your company and Pat’s schedule much better than John or I do – what would you suggest is the most convenient way for Pat and me to get together?”


When Technology is the Gatekeeper

Having a prospect’s email address or direct phone number is a start. If you’ve followed up on an introduction and still aren’t getting a response, it’s time to make a human connection. Seek out the gatekeeper and ask for help. The conversation might sound like this:

“I’ve reached out to Sandy, and unfortunately our schedules haven’t allowed us to connect. I’ve sent a few emails and left a few voicemails, and want to make effective use of our time. What do you see as the best way to reach him? Does he prefer email, or take calls at a specific time of day?”

I approached a gatekeeper with a similar question, and she offered to forward my email to her boss with a note. I had a meeting with my prospect within a week.

Gatekeepers don’t just block access to their boss. They can also open doors for you — if you work with them and not around them.