Your first problem is thinking that the gatekeeper is, well, a gatekeeper. That implies that they’re an obstacle, an enemy, a guardian of the primary buyer you’re trying to engage and influence.
That assumption, and the very term “gatekeeper”, is largely short-sighted. Treat that person right and they can help you differentiate, better understand the selling environment, and close the deal faster. Here are five ways how.
1. Treat them with respect
So many sellers treat the gatekeeper like a lowly admin. If you fail to give that individual the time of day, then you’re just a commodity. A cold caller. Someone who doesn’t get in. Build no value and get none in return. Besides, this is table stakes. No matter the level or role or influence, you never know where people are going to show up next.
2. Help them with their objectives
Have you taken the time to understand the gatekeeper’s goals? What makes them successful? What resources they might need to get ahead, do their job better, or achieve the next level of success in their own careers? Simply asking those questions will alone differentiate you. Following up with advice, a referral, or other information that helps with their objective will put you in a class of your own. Getting you through to the buyer is an easy way of returning the favor.
3. Learn more about the buyer’s interests and “hot points”
Yes, you have serious business to attend to with the buyer. But what else do they care about? What else is on their plate that’s a high priority? What beyond business might you have in common with the buyer? A good gatekeeper knows the answers to these questions. In the same way that you can help the gatekeeper with his or her own objectives, there are many ways you can help the buyer with information, advice, referrals and more well beyond the situation into which you’re directly selling. Work or assist with a different angle, and you’ve broken the ice to talk about what you really want to talk about.
4. Find out how things really get done around here
The gatekeepers know everything. They know where the bodies are buried, who’s sleeping with who, who has a big title but no real influence, and so on. The gatekeeper may be the single most important person to helping you navigate the actual purchase path for your product or service – who needs to sign off, who has extra budget right now, which entry-level but brilliant (and accessible) staffer has the ear of the CEO (and/or your buyer). Learn the playing field, directly from someone who navigates it already every day.
5. Sell to them, not through them
There aren’t very many oblivious secretaries in the world anymore. Most gatekeepers today are sharp, know their boss’s business very well, and understand clearly the objectives for their department and the business overall. If they know what you’re selling and the impact it can have on your organization, they’re no longer a gatekeeper. They’re, at minimum, a key influencer to the direct buyer. And in some cases, the gatekeeper may very well become your buyer.