Subscribe to Entrepreneur for $5

The 2 Questions Salespeople Dread From Gatekeepers

Who are you and what do you want? You won't get to talk to the decisionmaker if you don't have answers.

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Whether making cold calls or warm ones in search of new opportunities, it can be a humbling experience for salespeople. My definition of prospecting is trying to take prospects from latent to active need. Another way to phrase that is to say that: Prospecting is looking for people that aren’t looking.

Tom Merton | Getty Images

When you think about it, that also means there is no budget so sellers should call high enough so that existing funds can be re-allocated if the potential value is sufficient.

Related: The Science Behind the Sales Funnel

An alternative to actively prospecting is for sellers to wait for “qualified” inbound Internet leads. These activities amount to doing in-basket selling. If your offerings are $50K or higher, be prepared when following up to talk with people that:

  • Don’t have the authority to buy.
  • Have a good idea of what their requirements are.
  • Have already researched multiple vendors.
  • Will be product/offering focused.
  • Do not have budget approved.
  • Have not created business cases together to justify purchases.

Without wanting to sound too cynical, starting at low levels will mean challenges for salespeople in getting access to higher levels and long sales cycles. It will mean high probabilities of “no decisions” and low win rates.

Reaching higher than your target.

The daunting alternative is to call at very high levels. Executives are more likely to have admins (often referred to as gatekeepers) that invariably will ask a question that sends shivers down many sellers’ spines: Who is this, and what is it regarding?

Sellers that don’t have a concise answer often get stopped in their tracks.

Related: 3 Ways Salespeople Can Evade Dreaded Gatekeepers

Let’s take a step back and consider more closely the term gatekeeper. It doesn’t mean sellers won’t be allowed access. Instead it means sellers must have a compelling reason to talk with senior executives. Even then, there is the danger that administrative assistants will refer sellers to lower levels. It often makes sense to target one or more levels higher than where you want to get.

Answering the dreaded question.

A colleague of mine recently made a warm call (the phone call that follows up on a letter) to a CEO. He had read the company’s annual report, and there was a compelling business issue that he gleaned from it.

To reach top-line revenue, it seemed, the firm was going to have to migrate its salespeople from selling products to selling business outcomes possible with devices that were part of the Internet of Things (IoT). This challenge was worthy of a CEO’s attention, if not his or her time.

He called the company headquarters and asked for the CEO. His call was routed to an administrative assistant that asked: Who is this, and what is it regarding?

Naturally, his response was that he was calling about a letter dated May 12th regarding the challenges sellers faced in migrating from selling products to business outcomes that could be achieved by making devices part of the IoT.

The admin agreed to get back to him. In less than an hour he got a call from a senior vice president that had been asked to contact him.

Related: 25 Innovative IoT Companies and Products You Need to Know

Being proactive works in your favor.

There are several advantages of making proactive attempts to start buying cycles:

  • You can start at levels that have the authority to create budget.
  • By taking buyers from latent to active need, their requirements lists are clean sheets of paper.
  • If the call goes well you start off as “column A.”
  • If there’s little chance of a buying decision, buyers won’t waste their time or yours.
  • Higher win rates, shorter buying cycles and higher average transactions are more likely.

Ultimately, the issues should be outcomes that specific titles would like to be able to achieve through the use of your offerings. That’s the first step in creating new opportunities.

John Holland

Written By

John Holland is co-founder and chief content officer of CustomerCentric Systems in Sutton, Mass. His company provides sales process consulting and training.