Gatekeepers are employees who regulate access to a company’s decision-maker. They intercept and screen communications intended for the executive to manage their time and energy effectively so they can focus on more productive activities.

Throughout their career, salespeople inevitably come into contact with these gatekeepers. In B2B sales, they’re receptionists, executive assistants, and other employees responsible for connecting individuals to the person in charge. 

Understanding the Gatekeeper’s Role

Gatekeepers hold a unique position of power that can significantly impact the success of your outreach efforts. To navigate their influence, it’s essential to understand the nuances of their role, the pressures they encounter, and the best strategies to engage them successfully.

Samuel Fletcher, Co-founder of SupplyGems, emphasizes the importance of learning the ins and outs of the gatekeeper, noting:

“By demonstrating a genuine interest in their role and acknowledging the challenges they face, gatekeepers are more likely to become allies rather than obstacles.”

If you can clearly communicate your intent, you stand a better chance of earning their cooperation. This engagement requires diplomacy, respect, and a composed, professional demeanor.

While gatekeepers bear the responsibility of regulating access to decision-makers, they must also be vigilant not to overlook quality propositions that could benefit the organization; they aim to weed out non-viable prospects and potential time-wasters. With this knowledge, tactfully prepare your approach using the following strategies to prevent raising red flags when engaging with the gatekeeper. Your goal is to convince them of your value to the executive they’re guarding.

Tips For Engaging Cold Call Gatekeepers

Be respectful

Whatever their title, gatekeepers hold the power to connect you with the decision-maker or turn you away. As such, it’s crucial to treat them with respect and avoid degrading their position or displaying unnecessary rudeness. A cordial approach sets a polite foundation for the interaction and makes it easier to get past them.

Avoid sales pitches

Resist the temptation to pitch your product or service to the gatekeeper. Detailed explanations of product features, benefits, or company fit may not resonate with them and instead cause them to dismiss your offering as unimportant to the decision-maker.

Instead of pitching, Joe Kevens, Director of Demand Generation at PartnerStack, recommends having a genuine conversation about how you want to collaborate with their business to achieve success: 

“By showing a deep understanding of their business needs and presenting a solution that aligns with their goals, you can build trust and establish yourself as a valuable partner rather than just another salesperson. Use words like ’partner’ and ’collaborate’ to avoid setting any salesperson alarm bells.”

Do your research

In-depth knowledge accompanying a compelling product or service exudes confidence and helps persuade gatekeepers to put you in touch with the decision-maker. Research both the prospect and your offering and prepare thoroughly before your call. 

Be honest

The gatekeeper can quickly transition from an obstacle into an ally, aiding in the successful closure of a deal, so always provide accurate and truthful information to gain their trust. Misleading a gatekeeper could jeopardize your relationship with them and taint both your personal reputation and that of your company.

Natalia Brzezinska, Marketing and Outreach Manager at ePassportPhoto, emphasizes the importance of honesty and transparency while navigating gatekeepers:

“Instead of trying to trick or manipulate gatekeepers into letting me through, I would simply explain who I am and who I want to speak with. By being honest, I built trust with gatekeepers, and they were more likely to help me navigate the organization to get to the right person.”

Minimize small talk

Like you, gatekeepers have a busy schedule. While it’s beneficial to build rapport with them, resist the urge to prolong the chitchat since it may come across as unprofessional and frivolous. Minimize idle chatter and promptly address the purpose of your call and the individual you wish to speak with.

How to Get Past Cold Call Gatekeepers

Leverage referrals

Familiarity can significantly influence the gatekeeper’s decision to grant you access. A recommendation from a trusted source often convinces them your proposal merits the decision-maker’s attention. To employ this tactic effectively though, you need genuine referrals. Ask existing customers, business partners, or industry acquaintances to vouch for you; this will smooth your way past the gatekeeper.

SalesRoads CEO, David Kreiger speaks about leveraging referrals to build credibility in this video

Top-down and bottom-up approaches

These strategies are effective when gatekeepers persistently block your access to the decision-maker. 

The top-down approach entails reaching out to someone within the organization who outranks the decision-maker. If successful, this person will likely refer you to your desired contact. While it doesn’t guarantee you’ll reach them, it does provide an initial entry point. 

The bottom-up approach, on the other hand, involves reaching out to someone lower in the hierarchy who can refer you upwards. While not as persuasive as the top-down approach, it can still yield valuable connections. 

Note: Although these tactics can circumvent gatekeepers, they don’t eliminate the need for proper cold call preparation.

Establish a connection 

Talk about shared interests or industry knowledge to foster a connection with the gatekeeper and highlight your expertise.

Luciano Colos, CEO of PitchGrade, shared his experience with this strategy after receiving an initial rejection:

“I mentioned our shared interests in our next conversation, which helped me create a better relationship with her. This approach opened up some doors that were previously closed and led to a successful business relationship. By taking the time to connect with gatekeepers on a personal level, you can increase your chances of building a valuable network and making new connections.” 

Building a strong relationship with gatekeepers not only facilitates access to decision-makers but also uncovers insight into the company’s operations. That information is instrumental in tailoring your sales outreach strategy.

Experiment with social media

Social media platforms, especially Twitter and LinkedIn, are rich avenues to connect with gatekeepers during the prospecting phase. These connections can warm up your cold call and shorten your path to the decision-maker.

Irina Poddubnaia, CEO and Founder of TrackMage, offers advice on adopting this approach:

“By following them and engaging in meaningful conversations, you can establish familiarity and build a positive online presence. Commenting on their posts, sharing valuable insights, or even sending a personalized message can help create a connection to bypass traditional gatekeeping barriers and reach decision-makers more directly.”

Call outside business hours

Calling outside business hours bypasses gatekeepers who oversee decision-makers’ calls during the work day. Reaching out at these times increases the chance of direct contact with the desired contact, because assistants may not be on duty. Avoid calling too early or late though, as this could be intrusive and damage your relationship with the prospect. 

Marc Wayshak from Sales Insights Lab shares his expertise on this strategy in the following video:

Employ urgent messaging

Gatekeepers prioritize messages based on urgency. If your message implies time-sensitive benefits or imminent market changes that require immediate attention, it may expedite your access to the decision-maker. However, it’s imperative not to exaggerate the urgency, which could cause the gatekeeper to perceive you as a potential time-waster and block your passage instead.

Gerrid Smith, CMO of Joy Organics, suggests this actionable tip for fast-tracking access to the gatekeeper:

“Highlight time-sensitive benefits or emerging market changes that require decision-makers to investigate your solution as soon as possible. You can build a sense of urgency that compels gatekeepers to prioritize your request by emphasizing the potential hazards or missed opportunities for delay.”

Bottom Line

With a confident but respectful approach, sales professionals can cultivate productive relationships with gatekeepers and transform them into allies in the sales process. When making cold calls, let the strategies mentioned above guide you through the unique position these individuals occupy to secure stronger results. Understanding and respecting the gatekeeper’s role while strategically navigating their influence will enhance your sales outreach efforts.