Since ancient times, a gatekeeper was a person who controlled access to the city gate. In the late 20 century, the term came to be used metaphorically. It refers to an individual who decides whether a message will be distributed to the masses—such as how the media does. It can also refer to an executive assistant or manager who monitors who or what is getting an audience with a top level executive.
Cheryl Conner is a communication expert who founded Snapp Conner PR. In a recent Forbes.com article, she described her experience with a resourceful salesman who managed to get past her gatekeeper and gain an audience with her. She explained that the amount of people who have approached her gatekeeper each week with article pitches is too numerous to count, but she knows the number is vast. As an entrepreneur, I found her article helpful, because it showcased how another entrepreneur remained tenacious and found a way past the gatekeeper. This article will share the example Ms. Conner described as well as strategies that this entrepreneurial salesman utilised to make his entrance.
An Example of Getting Past Gatekeepers
The salesman who was able to get past the gatekeeper is EksAyn Anderson. He is an expert on sales and negotiation strategies. His book, The Key to the Gate is a wonderful resource for how you can approach any type of organisation, business or entrepreneur with your pitch. According to Mr. Anderson, “the first step in B2B sales is getting in the door.” Even if you have the greatest product, that does not necessarily mean you will get an audience with the decision maker. Mr. Anderson’s book shares how to get that audience.
Mr. Anderson lives near Ms. Conner’s business; however, their paths had never crossed. He’d made all the proper moves to get an audience with her. He called her gatekeeper who is one of her agency partners. Mr. Anderson then followed up with professional emails, calls and eventually received an audience with Ms. Conner to share his pitch with her.
Strategies for Getting Past Gatekeepers
1. Aim for the Sky
When Mr. Anderson began his days of selling, he sought contact with anyone from the company, regardless of the person’s ranking. He figured, “a pitch is a pitch, right?” Wrong. That strategy continually brought him an audience with mid-level managers who generally rebuffed his efforts. He then realized an important factor—influence flows downward. He then began to seek out only audiences with key decision makers. In regard to the example with Ms. Conner, he made a proactive decision and arrived at her office without an appointment (after he’d already made the first call and follow up email). Ms. Conner advised that such an action is “generally the kiss of death for people who are trying to pitch” her. Mr. Anderson waited in her lobby while she finished up an hour long meeting and he advised the gatekeeper that he simply wanted to say hello. He maintained a positive and professional attitude the entire time. His persistent efforts paid off and he received an audience with Ms. Conner.
2. Think of Gatekeepers Like a Treasure
Mr. Anderson shared an example of a time when he was prospecting another gatekeeper. The main reason he was invited in for an audience with the high-level decision maker was that he was nice to the gatekeeper. His professional, courteous attitude made an impression on the secretary and she basically “promoted” him to the manager. That experience changed Mr. Anderson’s perspective as he began to think of gatekeepers as treasures. He advises that you need to let the gatekeepers know how much you appreciate their time and consideration. Treat them with respect and they will respond in kind. According to Mr. Anderson, “being rude or dismissive to intermediaries is the death sentence.”
3. Be Genuine and Personal
If you are only “using” a gatekeeper to get to the high-level manager without any regard for this person, you are not going to be successful. Mr. Anderson advises that it is important to “write down and remember the personal interests and details of the individuals you work with.” Get personal. Send handwritten notes. Mr. Anderson shared the example of his experience coaching a young entrepreneur. This person received training from Mr. Anderson. Even though the entrepreneur knew that Mr. Anderson wouldn’t be able to reciprocate by serving on the new start-up’s advisory board, he still offered to assist Mr. Anderson in some way. That surprised Mr. Anderson and reminded him that the Law of Reciprocity is the way to succeed in the sales field.
4. Become Competent in “Email Jujitsu”
Jujitsu is the practice of “out-maneuvering or out-smarting opponents as opposed to taking them on by brute force.” An example is that a 150 lb. person can defeat a 330 lb. person by being faster and tripping the bigger guy or stepping out of the way when he lunges. If you are the smaller person, you would need to use the bigger person’s weight against him rather than against yourself. According to Mr. Anderson, “email Jujitsu” is an art. The first step is to utilise a message that doesn’t sell. Instead, it needs to point out an issue or challenge that the company is facing. The second step is to make a call. During the follow up email, it is important to get permission to copy the gatekeeper on all further email conversations. The gatekeeper is then involved in the rising momentum of the email exchange and will be more prone to assist in scheduling a meeting with the high-level officer.
5. Learn How to Get your Way
According to Mr. Anderson, the best method to get your way when trying to pitch something is to “learn to listen more than you speak.” It is important to allow the other party to take the opening position and you remain professional as you politely listen to their thoughts and concerns. Mr. Anderson advises that a great negotiator knows how to politely flip the discussion around. He provides an example of negotiating with a car salesman who might ask “What do you need?” Mr. Anderson would then respond with “Great question,” (he’d insert a compliment) and immediately follow up with, “How low can you go?” A back and forth conversation ensues. You can read more about it here under Step 6 in Ms. Conner’s article. The essence of the conversation is that Mr. Anderson has then learned the bottom line and can proceed with negotiating. In his book, he shows readers strategies for controlling conversations to get what they need.
Learning how to get past gatekeepers is a simple task if you can follow the steps outlined by Mr. Anderson’s sales experience in this article. Aim for the sky and seek the opportunity to speak to the high-level officer. Remain genuine, personal and professional at all times. Learn how to master the art of “email Jujitsu” and become a master negotiator.
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