How many sales hours are wasted selling to the wrong person? You call, you ask for the person responsible for buying X, and the gatekeeper cheerily transfers you to Ms. Z. Only after many attempts and several conversations do you discover that Ms. Z isn’t the real buyer after all.

Don’t blame the gatekeeper. Blame the question, says sales guru Wendy Weiss. Here are some better ways to quickly zero in on the real buyer:

1. Ask for a title, not an activity. Don’t ask for “the person who makes the decision to purchase….” That may get you a name, but it will most likely be someone who doesn’t make the final decision. A better approach is to figure out what department the decision is likely made in and then find out who is the head of that department.

Dial the main number and ask the front line person who answers for the name of the person who has the appropriate title. Be prepared to throw out variations of that title as different companies may use different titles for the same type of position. Keep suggesting titles until one sounds familiar to that receptionist.

Example: If you know the decision to buy what you are selling is made in the marketing department, ask for the head of the marketing department. This could be a senior vice president, vice president or director. If you are calling small companies the person you want to reach is often the owner.

2. Get the name before you call. A name is even better than a title. If you’ve identified the appropriate title or titles, check the prospect company’s web site. This is the easiest way to find your prospect’s name. Many companies list executive and/or senior management by name on their web sites.

3. Talk to the CEO’s assistant. Executive assistants know everything. Call the CEO’s office and say, “I’m wondering if you can help me.” The executive assistant will know better than a front-line gatekeeper who you should talk to.

4. Ask a salesperson. Call the sales department and speak with a salesperson. Say, “I’m wondering if you can help me.” Salespeople will understand and they’re inclined to be helpful. Tell the salesperson exactly who you are trying to reach. If they do not know the correct name, ask, “Do you have a directory handy? Could you look that up for me?”

5. Ask Customer Service for help. It’s what they do. Call and say, “I’m wondering if you can help me.” If the Customer Service representative does not know the correct name, ask, “Do you have a directory handy? Could you look that up for me?”

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