ICS Magazine

Getting Past the Gatekeeper

October 1, 2012
Men Selling carpet cleaning services
“Don’t waste yourself in rejection, nor bark against the bad, but chant the beauty of the good.”  
Ralph Waldo Emerson
I feel your pain. After all, you hit negative comments like the following on every sales call:
• “We’re not interested.”
• “We’re happy with our present service.”
• “We do our cleaning in-house.”
• “The person you need to see is a) busy, b) out of town, c) unavailable, d) not seeing salespeople, etc.” 
And then of course the old reliable: “Leave your card and we’ll call you if we need you.”
Ouch! One rejection after another!
Your challenge? The “decision maker” (DM) has set up a “gatekeeper” for insulation from pushy salespeople (can you blame him or her?) and you are getting caught in the shuffle! The result? After a few rounds of excuses, put-downs and outright rejection, a long-suffering and beat-up-on carpet cleaner gives up with the excuse, “No one is spending money now.”
Remember that most gatekeepers are not evil, malicious people. Think about it - when you are out shopping and a friendly salesperson asks, “May I help you?” you instinctively reply, “No, I’m just looking.” That’s right - you are “gatekeeping” yourself even though very likely you really could benefit from the salesperson’s help! So let’s look at what you can do about this knee-jerk negative response to being sold something. Above all else you must…
Change your attitude: Some people call making sales calls “farming.” I prefer the “fishing” analogy. Now, when every fish in the pond ignores my baited hook I don’t feel personally rejected - I just change my lure or fish somewhere else. And I most certainly don’t get discouraged and impulsively throw my fishing pole in the water! So when you get turned down again and again you must either change your bait and/or move to a different, more productive market sector. But don’t quit making your sales calls! (NOTE:  What are some more productive sectors where you can market your carpet cleaning services? Download a free checklist of potential commercial cleaning “hub markets” at  http://tiny.cc/SFShub.)
Seek first to understand: (Thank you, Mr. Covey!) Remember, your gatekeeper is just doing his or her job. So your first assignment is to truly understand what the gatekeeper’s job really is! Remember they haven’t been told to keep everyone away from their boss. Instead, their function is to screen out who in their judgment will either (a) not be of value to their boss/company, and/or (b) will take too much of their boss’ precious time. So your first assignment is to…
Change your viewpoint: Instead of viewing the Gatekeeper as the enemy or an obstacle to be conquered, you must work to create an ally. In fact, a surprising number of DM’s may initially pose as a gatekeeper to more easily brush you off. Remember too that even if your initial contact doesn’t have final approval, many times they can heavily influence the buying process. So start viewing these folks as just another person to win over. In fact, let’s begin this process by banning the word “gatekeeper” with all of its negative connotations. Instead, from here on out we’ll use the phrase, “initial contact” or “IC.” 
Change your bait: In my trout fishing days, I would watch the fish swim past my fly and instinctively strike (or ignore it) immediately. In the same way, your initial contact will sub-consciously decide on you and your future with his or her company in the first 30 seconds after meeting you! Some thoughts:
  1. Dress up: I get more flack on this suggestion than all my other new ideas combined in our SFS seminar. And yet numerous studies show that people respect and respond much more favorably toward an individual dressed in professional business attire. (And as a “lowly carpet cleaner” you need all the respect you can get!) So I challenge you - try dressing up (at a minimum pressed Dockers, long sleeved dress shirt and a tie - gasp!) for one week. See if you don’t get a warmer initial reception, and even more importantly, feel better and have more confidence in yourself.
  2. Lighten up and have some (restrained) fun: People instinctively respond to a self-deprecating sense of humor. So recognize ahead of time that your future does not depend on signing up this particular client - so relax! Remember that you are just fishing and fishing is supposed to be fun whether you catch anything or not!
  3. Smile and look them in the eye: This is why the above No. 2 is so important. If you are nervous and tense, you can’t hide it and people will react negatively. So practice that relaxed smile and confidently look your IC in the eye.
  4. Display “bemused confusion:” When making in-person sales calls your IC will invariably greet you with, “How can I help you?” Here are the three little words that helped me sell millions in commercial contracts over the years: “I’m not sure.” This slightly confused reply will totally disarm your IC’s defenses. He or she will have their guard up expecting you to overwhelm them with how great you are. Now that your IC is intrigued with your off-beat reply, just…
  5. Identify yourself and ask for their help: “My name is (blank) with (blank company) (hand them your business card and keep the case in your hand) and we specialize in floor maintenance programs that save companies at least 30% over what they are spending now.  If I can’t save a client at least 30% it isn’t worth my time or their time either! (Self-deprecating smile here!) Maybe you could help me learn whether I should leave or not …” (NOTE: This article focuses on face-to-face selling. However, most of the principles and techniques work equally well over the phone.)
  6. Interview your IC: Remember that during your conversation, your IC may also be answering the phone, scheduling or fending off sales people less prepared than you! So don’t intimidate them by hauling out a long interview sheet. Instead, half of your card case should be a small note pad - just jot down their answers here. (It is highly flattering having someone write down your replies.) Now spoon feed your IC simple beginning questions that they can easily and quickly answer. (Nothing is more of a downer than having to confess “I don’t know.”) Here’s some sample initial questions:
    a. “Are more of your floor coverings carpet or hard surfaces? Is the rest of the carpet like this one? And is your hard surface flooring colored tile or concrete?”
    b. “About how many people work here? And is this the main employee entrance or do you have multiple entrances? Is there an employee kitchen or break area? Do you remember what the flooring is in there?”
    c. “Now do you have an inside staff maintain your flooring or use an outside service? Have you noticed any floor maintenance challenges yourself? So do you look after all these headaches… err, I mean property maintenance issues yourself or is there another person in the company that takes care of this?” (Don’t say “in charge.”) NOTE: Your initial contact’s urgent workload and the chemistry between the two of you will determine how many of these questions you ask. However, the longer you can keep the IC actively involved with these valid business questions, the better.
  7. Tactfully move to the next step: Look at your notes and just say, “This has been very helpful, Ms. (pause). I’m sorry, my name is Steve. What is your name? (Or look at their name plate and verify.) So Sally, would this be a good time to ask Mr. Jones a few more questions so I can come up with some recommendations for him? I’ll be brief, and based on what you’ve told me, my suggestions will make his life (and your job) less stressful.”  (NOTE: At this initial stage the words “recommendations” and “suggestions” are much better than “proposal” or, even worse, “presentation,” which easily come across as high pressure.) The usual answer will be, “No, he isn’t available now” so just reply, “I understand. Now do you arrange Mr. Jones’ schedule or should I call him direct? Do you have his card? What is the best number to contact him on? Is there a better time of day to call? May I tell him we talked? Great! Would you mind mentioning our conversation and I’ll call tomorrow at 9:0 a.m.” If you get a “yes” on these last two questions, you now have your ice-breaker introduction with the DM as in: “Mr. Jones, this is Steve Toburen with Jon-Don Cleaning. Your receptionist Sally suggested I contact you with some recommendations for your floor maintenance…”
So how do you get past the gatekeeper? My answer is you don’t even try! Instead, view a gatekeeper as an initial contact to work with as part of the decision team and include him or her in the buying process!