From the July 2001 issue of Entrepreneur

There's something all entrepreneurs have in common: They spend an enormous amount of time attempting to get through people's doors. Even if they have years of sales knowledge and experience to back them up, none of that matters if they can't meet with the person who decides whether to buy their product or service.

Most businesses have oodles of people knocking on their doors. If you want to get in, persist like the Energizer Bunny-keep going and going. Eventually, someone will open up.

While there's no secret for getting past the initial "no" and into the prospect's office, there's one fundamental to keep in mind: Focus on how you can bring value to your prospects or their companies. Sure, it might not initially involve selling them your product or service, but if you first consider the ways you can serve them, you'll be rewarded in the end.

Make the Connection

Your first step in accomplishing this goal is to search for openings. That means doing some research before you even make a call. The easiest way is to hit the Internet. Most company Web sites are filled with information on product lines, plans for the future and key personnel. With a little more research, you might even track down recent newspaper or magazine articles.

Use the information you gather. For example, if you learn something interesting about the CEO, use it as a hook. If he or she is on the board of a charity in which you participate, pitch fundraising ideas. Find out your prospect's interests, then find an article, book, product or project that relates to that interest. Read the company's mission statement and then help your prospect reach its stated challenge.

There will be times when you won't be able to connect with the decision-maker. In those situations, try connecting with his or her assistant, or "gatekeeper," instead. And make that person your friend, because the gatekeeper usually has inside information, hidden power within the organization, and the ability to spread the word about you and your business.

Sometimes, even when you've tried every trick, you still can't get through. The next time you've phoned, e-mailed, voice-mailed and snail-mailed to no avail, try this last-ditch tool: Send a fax that says "Dear [prospect's name], I'm sure you have an excellent reason for not returning my calls. I don't want to be a nuisance, so could you please choose from the following options and fax this back to me?" Then, include this list for the prospect to choose from:

I'm on safari and haven't gotten my messages.

I've been drowning in work. Call me next week; I'll take your call then.

I'm not working here anymore; call in care of NASA.

I am sorry and will call you soon.

Please return my call on __/__/01 at ___a.m./___p.m.

I hate you and don't ever want to talk to you.

Other:

A sales rep I know uses it and says someone replies 90 percent of the time.

It takes a lot of time, effort and creativity to make a coveted connection. But when it happens, the rewards of finally forming an ongoing relationship far exceed the dollars it will bring in.