Selling Around The Enterprise Gatekeeper


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All enterprises have gatekeepers – managers appointed to play buyer when the sales people come calling. It’s all about hierarchies, and organisation charts, and demarcation – the unions word for “don’t do my job and I won’t do yours”.

The problem for sales guys is gatekeepers are rarely decision makers. There’s no point in selling to them, because they aren’t going to do the buying, regardless of what it says on their office door. So the professionals know they have to get around the barrier these executives present.

There’s a worse problem. The gatekeepers usually have their own agenda, which they most definitely aren’t going to disclose. Appointed by their bosses to be the conduit between the company and the vendors, gatekeepers have a lot of power. And, allowed the chance, they’ll most often abuse it.

What’s the sales rep supposed to do. She can’t steam roller over the guy. That might turn him into a real threat. She can’t sell to him, because he can’t buy without the say so of his bosses.

She has to sell around him.

My friend Tom tells an interesting story about handling precisely this situation.

He was selling for a software business, an Enterprise Resource Planning company, offering a well proven, although slightly unfashionable, product.

The prospect company called him in to talk about ERP, and how to make it work. His contact was the IT Manager, a young and inexperienced technology type who held the entire business hostage with his control over the systems. He had a personal agenda, of course. Top of the list was staying in control, hiding his incompetence, and building his own career.

Tom’s usual proposition was never going to work. His entire offer was about putting the users in control. His product wasn’t flavour of the month, and would do nothing to help the gatekeeper’s career. This was potentially a valuable deal, but just wasn’t going to happen, with the IT Manager as the gatekeeper.

Tom’s a chess player, working out moves beforehand and making plays to drive the opponent in that direction.

He proposed a user survey. He’d bring in the pre-sales team. They’d interview all the main users to find out their problems with the existing set up. Following that, they’d present their findings to the management team, in a single meeting so everybody would know everything that had been said.

The gatekeeper couldn’t refuse, no matter how much he wanted to.

That’s when Tom made his killer play – “And I want the CEO at the meeting”.

To cut a long story short, the CEO showed up and heard what his staff had told Tom’s team. Heated discussions demonstrated just how broken the existing systems were.

Tom approached the CEO suggesting they met off line. They could talk about how to fix the problems with Tom’s software, without getting in the way of business as usual.

In the process Tom got around the gatekeeper. At the same time he built a credibility with the users, and the CEO. He never met formally with the IT Manager again.

Later in the sale the IT Manager played his last card. He recommended the company should dismiss Tom and his team, and buy the fashionable alternative. It didn’t work though.

The CEO called in Tom, telling him what was going on.

Tom explained the attractions of the fashionable alternative to the gatekeeper, and what it would cost the CEO.

That’s the end of the story. The company bought a 3 site ERP license from Tom, and the IT Manager left the company.

This article is one of a series. You can find the others in this blog at Sales Stories and in our sister blog, Front Office Box, at Sales Stories from the Front Line.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Steven Reeves
Consultant, author, software entrepreneur, business development professional, aspiring saxophonist, busy publishing insight and ideas. Boomer turned Zoomer - thirty year sales professional with experience selling everything from debt collection to outsourcing and milking machines to mainframes. Blogger at Successful Sales Management. Head cook and bottle washer at Front Office Box.


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