Here’s a little test for you. In the conversation below, which line caused Greta the Gatekeeper to freeze out Mike, the salesperson:

Greta: Mr. Smith’s office. This is Greta. How can I help you?
Mike: Hi Greta, I’m Mike Jones from DigiTarget. How are you today?
Greta: I’m fine, how are you?
Mike: Great. Listen, Greta, DigiTarget is a top software firm and we’ve just developed some breakthrough technology that Mr. Smith would find extremely valuable.
Greta: That’s interesting. What’s so breakthrough about your technology?
Mike: Great question, but the answer is pretty complicated. I’d appreciate having a chance to explain it to Mr. Smith. He’ll instantly see the bottom-line implications for your company. Can you put me through?
Greta: I’m sorry, he’s in a meeting. Can I take a message?

Did you figure it out? It was the words “the answer is pretty complicated.” What’s the subtext of that message? Mike might as well have screamed into the phone,“GRETA, I THINK YOU’RE STUPID!”

Mike went into the call with a common assumption that salespeople have about gatekeepers: They’re the enemy and they’re trying to prevent me from getting to the real decision maker. Embedded in that attitude is the belief that the gatekeeper is a know-nothing.
But is that really true? In some cases, maybe. But in most cases executive assistants are pretty smart. And when it comes to knowing the needs of their bosses, you could argue they’re the world’s leading expert. So why would you assume they’re merely an obstacle?

photo credit: dmuth

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