Ahh the dreaded gatekeeper. For most salespeople, gatekeepers just might be the most emotionally frustrating and professionally challenging of all sales encounters. They can say “no” but they can rarely say “yes” to a value-oriented relationship with you.

While getting to the decision maker sounds straightforward, in reality it can be tough!

I have talked to several salespeople in various industries, from medical devices to semiconductor components, about what has worked for them. I have read several books on the subject, including Beyond Selling Value by Mark Shonka and Dan Kosch, and I have distilled my findings down to a handful of core strategies to get past the gatekeeper in your sales world.

Historically the gatekeeper is the admin or receptionist who answers your call and blocks your path to the decision maker. These days, especially for B2B consultative salespeople, you cannot always tell a gatekeeper by their title. In many cases, the definition of gatekeeper now includes materials and purchasing folks.

For example, let’s say you work for an electronic components manufacturer and you’re told, “You need to see Rick; he buys components.” You can be pretty sure Rick is a gatekeeper.

So when you call on Rick you can expect to be evaluated just like every other rep selling components – on price, features, performance, availability, terms, and so on. And trying to sell the executive-level value of your company and product as a way of getting past the gatekeeper can be a waste of time and energy, because they typically don’t care about your executive-level value! They care about price, features, availability…you get the picture.

It is vital that you come up with creative ways to get past the gatekeeper. You will sell higher in the account and provide exceptional value for your company AND your customer.

Here are two critical steps to consider before creating your gatekeeper approach:

Step 1: Determine the ROI (return on investment) for getting past the gatekeeper. What is the potential value of this customer to your company? What are the consequences for continuing to remain blocked? What are the consequences if you end up alienating the gatekeeper? Consider all of the business pros and cons, and take 5 minutes to write them all down before you decide what to do next.

This is a critical step because you might find that spending time and energy on this particular gatekeeper is not justified by the business value of the account!

Step 2: Determine the gatekeeper’s motivation. There’s a reason why they’re blocking you, right? It could be that the more vendors their company adds, the less the gatekeeper is paid. It could be their identity around entitlement and control. It could be that the gatekeeper doesn’t understand your value. Or, the gatekeeper might be simply dating your competitor!

It’s important to understand the gatekeeper’s motivations so you can address them in your approach. In some cases, especially if you find that the gatekeeper is highly motivated to block you, you’ll have to focus more energy on getting directly to the decision maker. I’ll focus more on getting directly to the decision maker in Part 2 of this article.

Now that you’ve evaluated the business case and your gatekeeper’s motivations, here are the first three of six strategies to try out:

1. Assume you cannot be blocked. This works as a first step if you’re new to the account and haven’t yet been blocked. By being assertive and exuding confidence about yourself, your company and your product, it will be difficult for anyone to block you.

Gatekeepers are often insecure and will not try to block someone who shows confidence. To be authentic, this confidence should truly come from the passion you have for your company and the confidence you have in your product. Think, “This company NEEDS my stuff to be successful! They’re LUCKY that I’m here to give them this opportunity!” And, if it’s all true, your confidence will be authentic and will be that much more powerful.

2. Turn the gatekeeper into an advocate/coach. More often, mere confidence alone is not enough. In this case, perhaps the best strategy is to get the gatekeeper on your side. This is where understanding the gatekeeper’s “win” is important, so you can show them how a relationship with your company will get them their win. Then the gatekeeper will be on your side and can be a part of your account strategy going forward.

3. Go around the gatekeeper. This is often hard because of the fear of possibly alienating the gatekeeper. Yet think about it this way: gatekeepers want to control your strategy and may want you to lose. If that’s the case, don’t concern yourself with the gatekeeper’s feelings. You have a job to do. Now, you want to do this ethically and professionally, with good communication…but you still want to do it.

In Part 2, I will show you three more strategies for getting past the gatekeeper, including creative ways to get directly in front of the decision makers. You will hear a story of one account manager who had been blocked for years at 16 different accounts, and came up with a highly creative way of getting a meeting with their C-level executives that worked 11 out of 16 times!

Author's Bio: 

For over 15 years, Justin McSharry has worked with organizations in a variety of ways to make an impact. He founded EvoLeadership Academy from his passion for facilitating change in individuals and organizations who are ready to make a bigger impact in their business and with their stakeholders. Justin is a lifelong student of human potential and his multi-dimensional corporate background includes engineering, training and sales in the fast-paced and highly competitive Silicon Valley. He’s engineered multi-million dollar technology deals, facilitated and lead training, all while developing his peers through mentoring and coaching.

Justin brings a calming, realistic, and supportive presence to all of his engagements so that clients feel heard and inspired to take their next developmental leap. He’s happily married and enjoys practicing meditation, making music, and traveling.