The Dreaded Gatekeeper in B2B Sales

If you’ve ever run a B2B telemarketing campaign, or made a B2B sales call of any sort, then you’ve certainly encountered the – (cue the scary music) – DREADED GATEKEEPER. All jokes aside, if you’re starting a B2B cold calling or appointment setting campaign, then planning for how to deal with the gatekeepers is a MUST.

Before launching into our top 10 tips and strategies, it helps to first understand and empathize with the gatekeepers. After all, they are just trying to do their jobs and not get fired. If a gatekeeper lets too many cold callers pass through to his/her boss, then said gatekeeper risks getting fired or, at the very least, angering the boss. Beyond that, gatekeepers usually have other responsibilities besides screening phone calls and can be up against their own busy day. Combine these two conditions and you get a gatekeeper with her guard up, sometimes even hostile. However, entering the cold call with understanding and empathy for the gatekeeper’s plight will go a long way towards increasing the success of your B2B appointment setting campaign.

10 Tips and Strategies for Getting Past the Gatekeeper

  1. Never lose your temper. Always be polite. These are the golden rules, never to be deviated from. Getting angry or being rude is the kiss of death when it comes to a gatekeeper.
  2. Be confident in your offering. People can tell if you lack confidence, even over the phone. If you don’t seem confident, you’ll never be put through. So, get your mindset clear before you call. There are certain poses and postures you can do before calling that will help you both feel and project confidence. Also, it’s good to give yourself a pep talk. Remind yourself that your product really CAN make a difference for the decision maker and that if he/she took a closer look at it, they would realize it too.
  3. Don’t pretend to know the boss. If you think you’re the first person who’s had the genius idea to pretend to be a friend or close colleague to the boss, asking for her by first name only and then not giving your full name or company when the gatekeeper asks who is calling, then you’re kidding yourself. It’s the oldest trick in the book and not one the gatekeeper is going to like or fall for. DO NOT ATTEMPT.
  4. Subtle Nuances in Language Make a Difference. For instance, it is often more effective to simply say, “Hello, this is John Smith from Boxes, Inc. calling for Judy Jones, please.” rather than saying, “Hello, my name is John Smith from Boxes, Inc. Is Judy Jones available?” While there is not much difference on the surface, the first version is much more confident and direct, while the second leaves an open question that is easy for the gatekeeper to answer with, “No, she is not.”
  5. NEVER sell to the gatekeeper. First, it will do no good since the gatekeeper is not the decision maker. Second, it will annoy the gatekeeper and make it much more likely that she will not pass you through.
  6. Don’t use a script. While I usually recommend using a script in B2B telemarketing campaigns, that is only for when you reach the decision maker. With the gatekeeper, it’s best to have a plan or strategy, as well as prepared responses to objections, but a script will only make you sound like a robot cold caller, and one that best not be put through to the boss.
  7. Don’t avoid the truth, but don’t spell it out. First things first, don’t ever lie to the gatekeeper and pretend you are not who you are. Yes, you’ll be put through to the boss, but he won’t be very receptive to someone who’s just lied to him. And, once the gatekeeper finds out, you’ll never be put through again. However, you don’t have to spell out every detail and confess your soul. For instance, if the gatekeeper asks if his boss is expecting your call, you can say something like, “Yes, I did tell him I would follow up in my email last week.” While the whole truth is that you’re not even sure he opened the email, much less read it to such detail that he knew you’d be calling, you don’t have to tell the gatekeeper all that. Less is more, if the less is still the truth.
  8. Leverage the gatekeeper. If, by chance, you manage to get the gatekeeper to converse with you for a few minutes, ask questions that might help you close the deal with the decision maker. Bring the gatekeeper into the loop, rather than seeing her as just a hurdle to jump over. After all, if she passes through a cold caller who turns out to be selling just what her boss is looking for, then that reflects well on her too. Rather than jumping right into the questions, warm the gatekeeper up with something like, “Maybe you could help me determine whether my offering might be a good fit for your boss by answering a few questions. This way I won’t waste any more of your time, or my time, or your boss’s if it’s not.”
  9. Extreme Candor & Truth Can Be a Last Resort. If you’ve repeatedly encountered a hostile gatekeeper who simply won’t respond to anything you do, then you might try an approach that goes something like this: “Ms. Gatekeeper, you are very very good at your job and I can see that you’ve been given this position for good reason. But here’s the thing: what I’m offering has the potential to largely increase your company’s profit margin. We’ve worked with (name drop here) and (more name dropping) and I know that they would be happy to call your boss on my behalf as a reference. But, first you need to take a chance and put me through. Please, I implore you. Give me a shot!”
  10. When all else fails, find another way in. “If at first you don’t succeed, try try again!” is a great motto, but sometimes you need to know when to call it quits. However, that doesn’t mean the game is over. Sometimes, you can find another way in. Try going a more circuitous route, through another department perhaps.

Gatekeepers can be a hassle, yes. But, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a business without them, even a small business. (Sometimes, in very small businesses, the decision maker pretends to be a gatekeeper in order to screen his/her calls.) As you approach the gatekeepers of your B2B cold calling campaign, remember that each one is different. And, they will be different on different days, and during different times of the day. Keep detailed notes of your encounters with gatekeepers to discover patterns of behavior and determine the best times and days to call. As always, persistence is the key to success. Eventually, you’ll get through to the decision maker. And then, it’s a whole different ball game.


About the Author:
After a successful corporate career in direct marketing and consulting, Valerie Schlitt created VSA from her family room in 2001. With a desire for connecting people and producing bottom line results, Schlitt launched the outsourced B2B Inside Sales firm that has helped close to 500 companies increase their sales. The VSA staff helps clients who don’t have the resources, capabilities or desire to perform their business development. Valerie has used her consulting and direct marketing background to create and optimize client programs. VSA becomes an extension of their clients’ sales and marketing teams. Valerie began her business career at American Express and also worked at Travelers, PricewaterhouseCoopers, CIGNA, and KPMG Consulting. She holds an MBA from The Wharton School. Learn more about VSA at http://www.vsaprospecting.com

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11 comments

  1. A lot of good information here. I especially like #4: nuances do make a big difference. I’ll have to remember that one!

  2. There is some good information here! I would add — I prefer to think of the gatekeeper as Your Best Friend!

    They are just doing their job — as are we. I’ve always found it is best to be yourself, be authentic, and be conversational.

    If they tell you a personal story about an upcoming event — baby shower, retirement party, new construction at their facility, or maybe the fire alarm went off during your call — write it in your notes as a talking point for your next conversation with them.

    If you say you will call them back on Groundhog Day, or Friday the 13th, do it … and you’ll be the person who keeps their word… with a sense of humor.

    There are some great gatekeepers out there that want to be helpful. If we treat them as we would our colleague, we can earn the same respect, and hopefully, an appointment.

  3. You really nailed it on tip #8. In my experience – treating the gatekeeper with respect and asking for their help is part of the relationship building that makes a cold call warm. I would add one additional tip: Manners matter -“please and thank you” are always appreciated.

  4. All very good information. It is important to remember that first impressions, whether on the phone or in person, are very important. Your first impression to them can be the difference to getting to speak with the decision maker or not. Also, in some instances, I’ve encountered businesses where the decision maker also answers the phone. You don’t want to make a bad impression from the start – you never know who your speaking with.

  5. The gatekeeper — a challenge that has stood the test of time! Many moons ago, my agency did a campaign especially FOR the gatekeeper…to get him/her on our side so to speak. We created a reward scenario if the behavior was favorable towards helping us get a meeting…he/she would be entered into a sweepstakes to win a big trip…bribery? Probably. But it worked. The point is that the gatekeeper is a force to be reckoned with sooner or later. So make sure you respect them and appreciate their purpose in the business ecosystem. Well written and thank you! Now let’s share this!

  6. Great article! There are best practices out there for many different prospecting activities, and the ones who really follow them closely are the ones who find the most success.

  7. Great article. For me, making nice with the GK seems especially important since so much business is handled through email now. There is no substitution for a live conversation and that first impression, whether it be with a GK or the Decision Maker can make or break the call.

  8. The Dreaded gatekeeper! What a great article, it gives strategies for dealing with gatekeepers, but also provides information that helps us to develop empathy for them. So by understanding where the gatekeeper is “coming from,” we can better formulate a plan to get through them and achieve our goal, which is to have a conversation with the person they are trying to protect, the Decision Maker! I plan to share this article with my entire calling team!

    • So glad you liked the article, Scott. Yes, if we reframe how we think of the gatekeeper and find ways to win him or her over, getting to the decision maker becomes much easier.

      • I love the suggestion in #4 … also the idea of keeping track of patterns. The boss is often in before the gatekeeper … or stays later. These may be the best times to get through.

        Great tips!

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