Strictly Sales Episode 1: Getting Past Gatekeepers

The hardest part of making a sale is often simply getting on the phone with the right person. Tune in to the first episode of our new podcast series “Strictly Sales with Jeff Hoffman” to discover the secrets to getting past the gatekeepers holding you back.

As any salesperson knows, having a good product or solution is only one piece of the puzzle when it comes completing a sale. Being a sales superstar requires a rock-solid dedication to prospecting, unwavering patience and persistence, and of course the ability to be a killer closer. Over the course of the next few weeks, we’re proud to be partnering with sales training, management, and strategy expert Jeff Hoffman on a new podcast series we’re calling “Strictly Sales”.
Get ready for a weekly dose of the latest sales tips, insights, and real-world advice all geared toward helping you become the top sales rep at your company and boosting your entire team’s performance with real impact and results.
In this first episode, Jeff is taking on one of the toughest potential roadblocks in any sales process: getting past gatekeepers. You’ll learn the secrets not just bypassing these crucial contacts, but how to actually engage them to convert them from potential obstacle to an integral part of your success.
Looking for more insights from Jeff? Don’t miss Episode 2: Breaking Up with Bad Sales Leads.

Listen Here

Or Listen and Subscribe on iTunes

Key Takeaways

  • One common mistake that sales reps make is acting as if they are familiar with the person they are trying to reach. It is better to admit you don’t know anyone at the beginning of the call. [4:00]
  • Don’t just tell them that you can help, talk about how prospects are similar to your current customers. [5:50]
  • Close by asking a specific question about helping you determine the best person to contact within the organization. [7:00]
  • The “Call Back”: As soon as you hang up the phone you can try the “Call Back” technique to disarm them. [9:00]

“Virtually every salesperson deals with assistants, gatekeepers, and receptionists all day. But my guess is none of them have ever had one of these people working for them. So, everyone’s guessing how they think, how they behave, and how we’re supposed to work with them — and we’re probably wrong.”

Jeff Hoffman, M. J. Hoffman and Associates


Announcer: This is Strictly Sales with Jeff Hoffman and CeCe Bazar. For more information go to OpenView Labs or
CeCe: Hi there everyone, and thank you so much for joining us on our first podcast of Strictly Sales with Jeff Hoffman. Jeff, thanks so much for being here today.
Jeff: You’re welcome, CeCe. It’s great to be here.
CeCe: We’re so excited to have you here. Everyone from the prospectors to the closers want more tactics. They are asking us whether it’s through our newsletter or through Twitter. We hear you people. We’re here to give you those golden nuggets of information that are going to help you win more deals. One of the questions, Jeff, that I’m getting all the time whether it’s in the portfolio or I’m seeing it on Twitter is I’m getting stopped at the gatekeeper.
Jeff: Right.
CeCe: It doesn’t matter how many calls I’m making, how many people I’m talking to. Every time I dial in and I get that gatekeeper live on the phone I feel like I’m hitting a wall. Let’s talk a little bit about how we cannot just navigate those gatekeepers but actually leverage them.
Jeff: That’s true. I hear it all the time as well. I see it all the time certainly with the clients I work with and just being in sales for so long. I think a lot of the things that we do as salespeople are intuitively wrong. I think when it comes to gatekeepers it’s a great example of that. If you think about it I would guess that virtually everyone listening to this podcast right now deals with E.A.s, and assistants, and gatekeepers, and receptionists all day. But, my guess is none of the people listening to this call actually has ever had one work for them. So, everyone’s kind of guessing how they think they behave and how we’re supposed to work with them, and we’re probably wrong.
I mean, most people think that oh what’s the job of, let’s say, an executive assistant to a C.T.O. The goal of their job is to schedule or their job is to keep people out or to kind of screen callers. Well, that’s true, but it’s actually a very small part of what that person is chartered with doing.  Most of what they do is actually keeping those important things close to them. So, yeah, I think it’s a great topic for us to talk about and hear. When you’re listening in, CeCe, and you hear these phone calls, what are the typical ways that you hear reps get stuck at that level?
CeCe: Well, I hear it one of two ways. The first one is they’re going in like gangbusters. They’re like hi is Mike available. As if they’ve known Mike their whole life. They’ve never met Mike a day before.
The other thing that I’m often seeing people get stuck with there is they’re giving up way too much information right out of the gate. It’s like word vomit. Hi, this is CeCe calling from OpenView Labs. I’m calling today because of this, this, this, and this, and this. Before they can even ask for the right person or know who they’re calling they have, you know, word vomited all over themselves and they’re already feeling stuck.
Jeff: I think that’s right. It is like word vomit. And, it’s filled with things, not only all the great things that they want to talk and show and promote but also with all the objectives. I’d like a meeting. I’d like to have counsel. I’d like to get more information. It’s overwhelming to a listener and, frankly, not very interesting.
Let’s talk about both those things. Actually, take half a step back. I think there are two kinds of gatekeepers, and I think it’s first important to understand which you’re working with.
The first type of gatekeeper is a gatekeeper that would be basically hired as part of their job to “gatekeep.” That would be your executive assistant. That could be assistants of overall coordinator or administrator. Those folks we want to work with. They are your friends. They can absolutely help us in sales. That’s good.
The other kind of gatekeeper, thats’ the one who was not hired for the job but they volunteered for it anyway. That’s the kind of low level individual contributor who says all calls go through me or send everything to me first. We know inherently how bad those people can be to choke off our access.
CeCe: Oh boy.
Jeff: We don’t want to engage with them. Let’s take that first group. I think you nailed it, CeCe. The first error many people make is they jump into that call you said like gangbusters with this air of familiarity. Like, oh hi Beth, is Bob available – with this very light, airy, like I know Bob really, really well.
The truth is you don’t know Bob, and Beth knows that. If she doesn’t know it she’s going to know it in about 30 seconds, and now all you done is come off as a liar.
So, let’s first start off with what we should probably kick off as an intro. My favorite intro when I talk to strangers for the first time has always been the same. It’s usually like hi, we’ve never met. Or, hi, I actually don’t know Bob personally. Or, I actually don’t know anyone at your company, but…
Have that as the beginning. Because what that does is it disarms the listener. You’re not being gangbusters trying to steamroll over them. You’re being vulnerable and you’re being honest. They know you don’t know anyone over there. Why not lead there? It’s a good way to start.
CeCe: Yeah. I completely agree. I think we often try and coach people – oh, build rapport with someone. But, rapport, we talked about this before. It is an outcome. It’s not a goal.
It’s something that just by being honest and saying hey, I’ve never met you, kind of gives you a little bit of that advantage. It starts to build rapport a little bit subconsciously. You’re just being honest and you’re being yourself and you’re being vulnerable.
Jeff: That’s it, that’s it. Once you kind of get that out of your way hopefully you’ll have a little friendlier ear on the other side of the phone.
Then, you want to craft what you want to say in a very simple way. I would not launch into my elevator pitch at this point. We’ll talk I think later, CeCe, in other podcasts about the use and the building of an elevator pitch. But, here I don’t think it’s really worth it.
These conversations are going to be, what, 30 to 60 to 90 seconds long. I would limit what I wanted to say to probably one or two sentences. But, instead of saying why you think you can help this organization I’d rather the rep says hi, Beth, I actually don’t know Bob personally, but I was on your website and…
Then, say something that you think this prospect has in common with your customers. Instead of saying I can help you, you basically want to say I don’t know anything about you but there’s something on your website or something I read that makes me think you’re similar to other people I work with. That’s a great kind of next step to take so they understand some context.
CeCe: No, I think that’s a really good point. What happens, though, I think you say that sometimes and you think okay this is it. I’m going to get through. Then, they say okay that sounds good, let me take your information and pass it along. What do you do then, Jeff?
Jeff: Yeah. One of the big things I want to do is first of all I want to make sure I get some kind of close out of my mouth before I have a pause long enough where they can say that. Because we all know when they say I’ll take your information we’re done.
So, I want to have a nice, tight close, and generally the close I’ll say is something like this. I’ll usually want to get longer amounts of runway than the 30 seconds I thought I was going to get. So, that first element is that nice, soft introduction that says I actually don’t know you and I don’t care I’m calling you anyway. Then, the next bit which is something about how this customer might remind you of customers you’ve worked with in the past.
Then, close for something like more runway. Like, do you have three minutes right now to help me? You’ll find an incredible response to those kind of closes.
It might sound like this. Hi, Beth. I actually don’t know Bob personally. But, I was on your website, and it looks like your company does X, Y, Z, which is very similar to the companies that I work with here in Boston. Do you have two minutes right now to help me figure out who I should be talking to at your company?
Here I like to use closed ended questions. Other times when I cold call I like to use open ended. Here I  like to use closed ended questions because it establishes a tremendous amount of authority when you use them. Even though I’m being very kind, and admitting I don’t know anyone, and vulnerable, I’m also driving.
And, I’m saying can you help me with this. I don’t want to offer up any more information until she or he agrees to give me two or three minutes. Because without two or three minutes I’m not just going to say things that lets her outbox me.
CeCe: Right. I mean I think that is such a strong line even though people say oh, ‘help me’ sounds kind of weak.
You’re saying hey, listen, not only do I not know someone, I actually need help. And I think it keeps… Especially the younger reps who look at these people like oh I can just steamroll right over them, they mean nothing. You’re giving them a little bit of power while still driving yourself which I think is huge.
Jeff: It is huge. And, they have the power anyway, so it’s like they do control access so why try to steamroll over them. They have it. I’d rather engage them directly. My thinking is I’d rather work with a live person on the phone than a senior executive’s voicemail. I’ll take this call over whoever I was going to call.
CeCe: And these are the people that know the organization the best. They know the ins and outs. So, if you’re calling… I mean typically when we’re working with a portfolio company this is a B2B offering. You might have a service or a solution that might even affect the gatekeeper herself or himself. It’s important to kind of get them involved right on the onset. I think this is a great way to do it.
Jeff: Absolutely. You have that quick question. Hopefully, they engage. Maybe they don’t. Maybe they ask for a little more information. Maybe they kind of brush you off.
But, to answer the other question, too, which is what do you do when they say just send this information or they kind of stop the conversation quickly, one of my favorite techniques in sales is the call back. When you hang up the phone it’s to wait about 15 seconds and then call back saying you screwed up and you forgot to ask a very important question.
The reason why the call back is so effective is it’s entirely disarming. With gatekeepers, particularly those like E.A.s, receptionists, and those roles, statistically they have two kinds of conversations. They have conversations with people they have once, and then they have conversations they have with people dozens of times.
There’s no, like, I talked to them twice, I talked to them three times. There’s none of that. I have an assistant. I’ve had an assistant for ten years. Most of the people that she talks to all day are people she talks to every day – clients, prospects, vendors, partners. Then, there’s a small group of people that talk to her one and that’s the end of it. That’s usually where sales reps fall.
So, if you can break that paradigm, boy is that powerful. Imagine if you were to say hi, Beth, I actually don’t know Bob personally, but I was on your site and it looks like you guys have this in common. Do you have two minutes to help me figure out who to talk to next?
If she says yes you say great, I understand that you do Y. Which part of your organization is concerned with promoting your P.R. into international channels and international marketplaces?
Well, that depends. It could be a variety of people. I would probably start with Joan. That’s great. I appreciate that. What’s her contact info? She gives it to you. Thank you. You hang up. Now wait 15 seconds. Call back.
Hello, this is Beth, can I help you? Hi, Beth. You were kind enough to help me about 15 seconds ago. You’ll hear this recognition in her voice.
Yes, yes, what can I do for you? You know, I totally spaced when I hung up the phone. I never asked you what Joan’s responsible for in addition to that part of her role. You are going to get a ton of stuff. Because she was ready for you on call one. She’s not so ready for you on call two. And you going back to the well so quickly shows such confidence that hey, I screwed up. Notice I said that in the role play – I screwed up. But, you’re going to get far more. And, now you have gone into a very small group of people that have talked to Beth twice as opposed to once. I think if you really want to build rapport, and it is – I agree with you CeCe – a result not a goal, well this is how you do it.
CeCe: This is great. I think for people, Jeff, that fall in the second camp of the word vomit situation this is like a recipe. Write this down. I mean this is something you can do. You go in. You say we’ve never met. Right?
Jeff: Yeah, yeah.
CeCe: Then, you go into something about their corporation, something that you found on their website, how it relates to you. Then, you have a very specific close. Once you get that information and you’re asking I need help, you call back.
Reps, write this down. Have this on a sticky right next to you so every time you get a gatekeeper it’s not like you’re fumbling for words or you’re looking for the right thing to say. You can go right to your Post-It and say okay this is what I’m going to do first.
Jeff: That’s great. The last thing I’ll leave you guys with on this is that our instincts are often wrong. What many of us do when we get someone live on the phone is we tend to speak very quickly. We do that because we want to cram everything in this short window. But, actually, do the opposite. The easiest person to interrupt is the person who’s talking really quickly. But, it’s virtually impossible to interrupt me if I’m speaking really, really, really slowly. I would argue that’s a great tactic to take with gatekeepers. If you’ve got three things you want to say, say one, take your time, hang up the phone, call them back, and ask the second question. It’s those stops and starts that’ll give the appearance of a longer, deeper relationship than you probably already have. It’s going to set you apart from the other 50 phone calls she’s got to field today.
CeCe: I think that’s great. Thank you so much, Jeff for talking gatekeepers with us.
Jeff: My pleasure. Yeah, good stuff.
CeCe: We will see you next time on our next podcast of Strictly Sales with Jeff Hoffman.
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