How To Get Past Gatekeepers

Written by Sean McPheat |

20 May, 2008

How To Get Past Gatekeepers

The Gatekeeper: the secretary, receptionist or personal assistant, whose job it is to “screen” your call and stop you from talking to the decision maker. If you are in B2B sales then you have come face to face with gatekeepers and a “screen” and learning to get past these guardians of the gold, is a mission-critical objective in your sales career.

Understand that gatekeepers are important and powerful and play a pivotal role in business. Also, realise that while some gatekeeper screens may frustrate and anger you, the best screens are invisible. A high-level gatekeeper’s screen is so sophisticated that most sales people never realise it is there, usually attributing their failure to reach the decision maker to bad timing or misfortune. Also, you will find that at the high corporate level, many gatekeepers have gatekeepers of their own. You may have to go through one or two screens just to get to the main gatekeeper!

A vital clue in recognising a Gatekeeper (GK) screen

Watch the timing of the GK’s questions: If you listen carefully, often you can tell if the GK is screening you or not by the way he or she asks questions.

Example #1

Sales Person:
“Is Mr. Decision Maker available?”

“No, he is not in at the moment. Who’s calling?

Sales Person:
“This is Jo Salesperson”

“I’m sorry, Jo, Mr. Decision Maker is out, can I take a message?”

Example #2

Sales Person:
“Is Mr. Decision Maker available?”

“Who’s calling please?”

Sales Person:
“This is Jo Salesperson”

“I’m sorry Jo, Mr. Decision Maker is out, can I take a message?”

Note that in the first example the GK answers the question as to the whereabouts of the DM before asking who was calling. In the second example however, the GK first asks the sales person to identify herself, before telling her anything. It is very likely that number two is a screen.

Determining the TYPE of Screen

Once you know that you are facing a GK screen, you must immediately identify the type of screen. The reason it is so important to be able to recognise a screen, then the type of screen, is that getting past them requires the exact opposite technique.

There are two types of screens:

A. The Investigative Screen
The investigative screen is the screen in which the GK investigates and asks you a lot of questions.

B. The Blind Screen.
With a blind screen, the GK wants to stop anyone from getting through without asking any questions. If he or she does not recognise your name, that’s it, you’re done.

The Investigative Screen

With the investigative screen, the GK’s primary asset is time and he or she will usually ask you lots of questions. This GK will usually have a pleasant personality and will often seem to be a very nice, innocent person who will often engage you in small talk.

The key to getting through is that you need to force the GK to make a decision quickly without having time to think or ask the usual questions. You need to come across as a VIP who does not have a lot of time. Who are you? You sound like a very important person. Could you be the BIG BOSS? Could you be a very important customer? This GK has to either connect you to the DM or risk offending someone who might be a VIP.

The Blind Screen
The Blind screen GK is just the opposite. This GK has no time and does not want to ask you any questions. This GK just wants to get you off the telephone because you are not on a preferred list of callers.

With the blind screen you want to be someone who talks extremely slow; someone who has to think for a few seconds before each sentence. The blind screen GK is expecting the high-level sales person who is smooth, polished and perfect. So you do not want to be smooth, polished and perfect. This GK has no time, so you want to take up his or her time. Once again, you force the GK to make a quick decision. You don’t sound like a sales person, in fact you sound harmless. So the GK has to let you take up his or her time or put you through. And since they feel that you are harmless—they will put you through.

To get past the gatekeeper and screens you need to do the opposite of what the gatekeeper expects and is trained for. If the GK is looking to stop the fast talking smooth sales person, then you want to be a slow talking, confused person. On the other hand, if the GK wants to talk and ask questions, be a fast talking person who has no time to talk and answer questions. Force the gatekeeper to make a quick decision and they will connect you rather than risk making a big mistake.

Before I sign off, here are some more tips on becoming a great sales person:

Happy Selling!


Sean McPheat
Managing Director
MTD Sales Training

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