Mike is a sales rep on a mission. He’s determined to speak with Paul Smith, the CEO at Major Prospect Inc.

But Mike’s just run into a buzzsaw: Mr. Smith’s executive assistant, Greta. Let’s listen in on the conversation:

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. Can you put me through?

Greta: I’m sorry, he’s in a meeting. Can I take a message?

The gate slams shut
Mike just got frozen out by a Gatekeeper. She decided that her boss, Mr. Smith, would gain nothing by talking to Mike — which means he’ll never get through. Frankly, he doesn’t deserve to.

Gatekeepers know that the first item on their unofficial job description reads something like this: “Keep time-wasting salespeople and other losers away from your boss.” Quality gatekeepers take great pride in their ability to distinguish who’s for real and who isn’t.

Truth is, gatekeepers are a lot smarter than you are. Not about everything, maybe. But certainly about their bosses. Good gatekeepers know exactly how to sell to the boss. They know the hot buttons. The needs. The pain. And you don’t.

So why are you trying to get past gatekeepers without first tapping into that knowledge?

Gatekeepers are also smart enough to know what you’re up to. They’re not going to usher you in to the CEO’s office just because you try to bully them. But they will help you out if they think you actually might be able to help their boss.

So ask the gatekeeper for their input on how you might be able to do that. Mike, for example, might have had better luck if he’d approached Greta this way:

Mike: So, Greta, I’m sure you have a pretty good idea of your boss’s priorities.

Greta: Well, I like to think so…

Mike: Well, I don’t want to waste his time, so let me tell you what we do and see if you can help me figure out if it’s something that would interest him. We help companies like yours do a better job of tracking costs for raw materials. Is the cost of materials something that’s on Mr. Smith’s radar screen?

Greta: Not really. Purchasing is in charge of that.

Mike: I see. Well maybe you can tell me what his number-one concern is these days.

Greta: Right now? Pricing. Our competitors are all cutting prices, and we’re trying to figure out how to stay competitive.

Mike: Ouch. So let me ask: If he could reduce costs by, say, 10 percent, would that help him solve the pricing problem?

Greta: Well, it might. Let me see if he can talk to you…

Mike didn’t change what he’s selling. But Greta told him exactly how to position it. He’s not selling technology to track materials costs. He’s selling a solution to the boss’s pricing problem — which is far more likely to get his attention.

So Mike doesn’t just get past Greta. By bringing her into the conversation, he can use her knowledge to sell smarter and win her support. Not a bad day’s work.


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