Start With the Top Dog: A Sales Primer

Getting Past the Gatekeeper

Getting Past the Gatekeeper

Entrepreneur.com: Can you describe what a gatekeeper is and explain the two types of gatekeepers discussed in your book?

Parinello: One word: God. The gatekeeper is God. There's a huge difference between a receptionist gatekeeper and VITO's private assistant. Ninety-seven percent of receptionist gatekeepers are not professional receptionist gatekeepers. They took the job because the degree they have in marketing, the position wasn't open yet in the company, so they're cooling their jets as a receptionist gatekeeper. Their job is to take the call and direct it to the person the caller sounds the most like. If you find yourself constantly getting shunted to a place I call linoleumville--when you're constantly shunted down to the IT department, janitorial staff or factory floor--you are being shunted to the person you sound the most like. So don't say, "Can . . . can you connect me to your president, Ms. Importanta?" And the gatekeeper responds, "Well what's the call about?" "Well, it's about our new widget 2300 Alpha that can contain more containments and absorb more liquids than any other absorbent in the industry." "Hold it, you don't need to speak to our president at all, go talk to the head janitor." That's the receptionist gatekeeper's job.

Tommie's job, VITO's private assistant, is to make sure you get through to VITO if you deserve it. The way you deserve it is, first of all, when Tommie picks up the phone, forget VITO exists and focus on Tommie, because Tommie is VITO. Don't ask if VITO's in, don't ask if this is a good time, don't ask if Tommie would take a message to VITO, don't do any of that lame stuff that we've been taught how to do.

Entrepreneur.com: So you want to stroke the ego of the private assistant to get to VITO?

Parinello: It's a little bit different than stroking ego. When VITO retires, their private assistant retires; when VITO moves from company A to company B, their private assistant moves--they're a matched set. So the private assistant knows almost more than VITO knows about what's going on in the company. So here's the deal: If any private assistant picks up the phone, all you need to do is bounce your idea off of them and treat them like VITO.

Entrepreneur.com: What are some key things to say to the personal assistant?

Mattson: They should engage them, say, "Hey we're working with these CEOs, here's what's going on, I'd like to have 10 minutes of their time." Tell them what you've done, how you've helped others and ask for their help to get in front of VITO. Because when you ask people for help just basic buying psychology says that if you struggle a little bit, but you're upfront, "I'd like your help to get to VITO," they will help. When you push and try to be slick, they feel good about themselves for trying to get rid of you.

Also, voicemails are the worst enemy of salespeople; talk to the personal assistant, because they will talk to VITO for you.

Entrepreneur.com: Which should you do: Ask to call back later, or leave a message?

Mattson: Do a little of both, say, "Based on what you've heard, does it make any sense for me to get on the calendar?" Give them artificial decision-making power. I like to do that, if they say, "Can I take a message?" that's great, but I do ask, "Hey, when can I call back?"

You've got to have an action step with them as well. They're [VITO] never going to call you back, because they've got 10,000 people calling them.

Entrepreneur.com: What about rehearsing what you want to say? Is there a tip you can share for entrepreneurs to learn how to be prepared but not sound like they've done it 100 times?

Parinello: The worst thing you can do is rehearse anything. [Instead] you internalize your thought. It never comes out the same way twice. Be authentic, make a mistake--who cares? Get over yourself, it's not a big deal. The best thing that can happen is that I show up or the entrepreneur shows up the best person they can be. Speak with easy-to-understand language, be yourself, use filler words like "uh," "jeez," "OK," "What do you think about this?" "Does this make sense?" "Oh my God, just the other day." Be real, damn it, and forget about this stupid rehearsing stuff.

One of the biggest problems I think we have in sales training is that people think that they need to get it right, but guess what? In golf there's mulligans; you can never do anything that's so bad that you can't say, "Can I just do that again? That really didn't come out right. Maybe I didn't get enough sleep last night." For crying out loud, be real; and being real is not rehearsing stuff. That's not real."

Entrepreneur.com: But a little rehearsing can't hurt, can it?

Mattson: I think what we do as business owners and salespeople is we tend to wing it, we tend to say, "Hey, I know my product inside and out, so therefore I can just show up and it will happen naturally," and I don't think that's true. It shouldn't happen as a business owner just like I don't want my surgeon to show up and practice, it wouldn't be good for me, so I think you really do need to rehearse.

Entrepreneur.com: What would you say is the most common next step that the gatekeeper offers to an entrepreneur or salesperson who's trying to connect with VITO?

Parinello: This is a key to selling to VITO. The gatekeeper is most likely going to shunt you somewhere, and most likely that shunt is going to be to someone who's much higher than who you normally would have entered the account in to begin with. So here's a major, major secret. Let's say Tommie [the gatekeeper] just shunts me to the VP of sales. You're going to go do that. But that day, that very day that Tommie told you to go talk to somebody, you're going to write a handwritten thank-you note to Tommie. "Tommie, thank you so much for seeing the value in what we have to offer, and thank you for referring me to your VP of sales, I'll stay in touch!" Now take a sticky note and write on it, "Dear Ms. Importanta, thanks for having Tommie on your team. I'm on my way to your VP of sales, I'll keep you posted." Now that sticky goes inside the thank-you note that you just wrote to Tommie.

Now watch this: Take the thank-you note, put it in an envelope and address it to VITO. The next day, into VITO's inbox comes this handwritten card that looks like an invitation to a wedding or a graduation. Tommie takes it and puts it on VITO's desk. When VITO comes in and opens it, they see the thank-you note is for Tommie, but they see the sticky note inside it. They take the thank-you note, they walk over to Tommie, and they say, "Tommie, good job. Well done." You know, the last time Tommie heard the words "well done" is when VITO ordered a hamburger . . . Now here's what just happened: The salesperson or entrepreneur just established a wonderful, sincere kind of rapport-building step with Tommie, and the next time the entrepreneur or salesperson calls Tommie, it's going to be like a red carpet being rolled out.

Entrepreneur.com: Are there any tips you'd like to add?

Parinello: I think the most important thing an entrepreneur needs to do is show up in a different place, talking a different talk; because when they do that and the different place is VITO's office and the different talk is the opening statement that we've been yapping about here--[if] you present yourself a little bit differently than you've ever done before--it's going to drive a different result. And that's what we all need right now. We need to turn this economy around one VITO at a time. The only way to do that is to pick up the phone and make the calls; stop staring at the phone, stop looking at your prospect list and pick up the phone and call the right person. And I'm here to help them do that, whatever way I can.

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