Freddie Marryat, Marketing Manager, EngageIQ

Experienced SDRs know the score. Ring a company number, sometimes even a direct dial, and you’re unlikely to get through to the decision-maker straight away. More often than not, you’ll hit a gatekeeper — someone whose job description includes not letting people like you through. 

But these people aren’t machines, writes Jake Harry, director of sales at North State Consulting. These are real people with important jobs, and you need to learn how to handle them appropriately. “If you can’t navigate these waters you will never speak to your decision maker so the way you interact with them is critical,” he says.

But here’s the rub: Everyone — especially gatekeepers — know all of the most common tricks and tactics salespeople use to sidestep them. Using the prospect’s first name, being direct, none of these work anymore, says Ray Makela, CEO of Sales Readiness Group.

SDRs need a different approach. One that’s not built around tricking gatekeepers but built instead on honesty, openness and respect. Here’s how our experienced SDRs approach gatekeepers and how they consistently get through to decision-makers.

Be Friendly and Treat Them With Respect

Salespeople are typically great at talking to people. But it seems to be a different story with gatekeepers. Maybe it’s because they are in between them and their sales target. Perhaps it’s because they’re fed up with being rejected. Regardless, neither attitude is going to help.

Get angry or upset with gatekeepers doesn’t do any good. If they don’t want to let you through, there’s nothing you can do about it. What you can do is be friendly, positive, and treat them with respect. You’re not going to become mates, but if you can build up a rapport, then they’re much more likely to let you through in the future. 

It pays to be nice. Author and speaker EksAyn Anderson knows the value of treating gatekeepers with the respect they deserve. He’s even had decision-makers explain that they’ve only set up a meeting because of the way he treated their assistant.

Help them Help You

Gatekeepers shouldn’t be seen as obstacles you need to get around. Every gatekeeper is a valuable source of company information with the ability to put you in touch with key decision-makers. They don’t just know what your prospect’s schedule looks like and when they’re due to be at their desk. They know who is in charge of which departments and who’s most likely to answer their phone. 

A great way to get put through to a decision-maker or learn a bit more about a company’s organisation structure is to empower gatekeepers to help you. Ask whether you’re calling the right person, when the best time is to catch your prospect at their desk and who else might be able to help.

Everyone likes the opportunity to prove their knowledge and authority. You might get the information you need by encouraging them to demonstrate theirs. If you don’t ask, you’ll never get.

“If you can’t navigate these waters you will never speak to your decision maker so the way you interact with them is critical”

Ask to be Put Through to Their Voicemail

If it feels like you’re repeatedly running headfirst into a brick wall-sized gatekeeper who won’t let you through under any circumstances, ask to put through to the prospect’s voicemail.

There are two benefits of this tactic. It will stop you from bothering a gatekeeper who clearly won’t let you through, says business etiquette expert Jacqueline Whitmore. It will also ensure that your prospect hears your pitch.

It’s not the greatest sales channel in the world, says Greg Freeman, VP of sales at Minoro Data. But voicemail is a decent additional touchpoint. When Greg eventually does end up connecting with prospects over the phone, they often reference the fact that he’s left them a voicemail in the past. In other words, don’t think you’ve failed if it doesn’t end in a callback and keep trying to reach prospects in other ways.

Prepare Responses to Common Objections

The fact that you’re reading this article shows you expect gatekeepers to be resistant. It’s their job to tell you why you can’t speak to the decision-maker, right? Well, it’s your job to have a response to gatekeeper objections. A well-planned response might end with you getting put through. At the very least, you’ll improve your objection handling skills.

Every time you hear a new objection from a gatekeeper, write it down and prepare a response after the call. It won’t take you long to have a dozen or so excuses and responses. Keep rehearsing them between calls until you get familiar with how to respond and have them to hand when making calls.

Call Outside of Office Hours

So much advice about getting past gatekeepers centres around how to speak to them. But what if you didn’t speak to them at all? There’s no need to worry about getting past the gatekeeper if you’re clever with when you call prospects.

The trick is to call early in the morning, late at night or around lunchtime. Decision-makers often work long hours, but PAs and switchboard operators don’t. You’re not just more likely to get through when you call prospects outside of standard working hours. You’re also more likely to catch them with time to talk and make an impression as a hardworking professional. 

Just be careful of taking this tactic to extremes. Calling before 8 am or after 8 pm is a great way to drive prospects out of your sales funnel entirely. 

Ring Mobiles and Direct Numbers

Another way to avoid gatekeepers entirely is to ring direct dials and mobile numbers. This gatekeeper-avoidance tactic is a little harder than calling out of hours because it relies on you having a source of mobile numbers. But once you do, these are almost always the best numbers to call. 

We highly recommend investing in a tool like Lusha, which has a comprehensive database of B2B contact information and connects neatly with LinkedIn and all major CRMs. The platform’s Chrome app automatically scans the LinkedIn profiles you look at and provides the most up-to-date contact information available — frequently including both mobile numbers and direct dials.

Another solution is to work with a purchase intent data platform like EngageIQ. Every lead we generate comes complete with up-to-date verified personal contact information, as well as the best times to call.

What Ever you do Don’t Lie

Everyone in sales has heard stories of unscrupulous salespeople doing whatever it takes to get through to their prospects. Whether it’s pretending you’re late for a meeting or impersonating a relative, these tactics may work occasionally, but they are never worth it in the long run. 

Here’s the problem: these stories have become so widespread that more and more salespeople are trying them. That’s leading gatekeepers to become even more suspicious of salespeople attempting to trick their way through. In other words, your lies probably won’t work.

Worse still, it will reflect terribly on you and your company when you’re found out. Forget about ever connecting with a prospect again if they catch you lying. You’ll be lucky if they don’t warn everyone else in the businesses.

Gatekeepers can be strict. Getting past them can be frustrating. But remember they are just doing their job. Follow the advice above, and you’ll have an easier time doing your job: getting prospects to listen to your pitch.


Images by: Icons8 Team, Jim Reardan, Danielle MacInnes