How to Get Past Gatekeepers in 2024

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How to Get Past Gatekeepers in 2024

How many times have you missed a chance on potential leads because their gatekeeper wouldn’t let you through?

You probably remember how frustrating it can be to have a great pitch ready to go, and then you get a gatekeeper who won’t let you pitch to the decision-maker.

Cold-calling is all about getting to the decision-makers. But often, especially when calling big companies, you get their executive assistant, secretary, receptionist, and so on, instead of getting the decision-maker on the phone. Most C-suite executives have a gatekeeper and they hold the keys to the castle. Their job is to literally filter through all the calls the executive gets, and only pass through the calls that are expected.

This, obviously, makes an SDRs life way more difficult. Dealing with gatekeepers is like trying to fly under the radar. They are trained, either intentionally or by experience, to keep us salespeople away from the decision-makers.

This is very tough because decision-makers’ calendars are usually very regimented, and so if something’s not on their calendar, it’s very unlikely that they will take that call. Reps probably hear the objections “Oh they’re in a meeting”, “They are not in right now”, or “Can you send an email” all the time.  

As sales managers, we need our reps to have as small of a sales cycle as possible so that the company can expand as fast as possible, and since gatekeepers can significantly prolong the duration of a sales cycle, we want to make sure that they are optimizing every tactic to successfully get around them.

An SDR is feeling frustrated after getting rejected by gatekeepers

7 Do’s of Getting Past Gatekeepers

What is the best way to deal with gatekeepers?

Honestly, by not running into them. Reps should try to focus on calling mobile numbers instead of corporate numbers. If you call a company’s number, you will most probably get a gatekeeper. And it might not even be an actual human, it might be a dial tree, and you don’t want that.

But even when you make sure that your team is only calling mobile numbers, it does not guarantee that your reps won’t bump into some gatekeepers.

To avoid wasting a lot of time trying to navigate past gatekeepers, reps should mind how they prepare for those calls, how they treat them and how they come across to them, how they can optimize their chances of getting through to the decision-makers, how they can stand out from the rest of the sales calls, and how they can utilize referrals for their advantage.

1. Doing research

Before your SDRs call any numbers, they first need to do their research. They have to look at the company, what the company does, what are their main needs, goals, and challenges, and most importantly, who are the decision-makers. They have to make sure that they are calling the right person to begin with.

After being sure that they are calling the right number, they should look into the company’s values, beliefs, and accomplishments. This is super valuable information that can help reps customize their pitch and show commitment.

If they want to take it a step further, they can even do research on the gatekeeper and see what their job is about and what responsibilities and duties they have. Reps can communicate more effectively with the gatekeeper if they have this information.

An SDR showing up prepared for a cold call to get past the gatekeeper

2. Being polite

SDRs should absolutely not forget that gatekeepers are humans and that they should always be polite and courteous towards them. They should show them respect and kindness and they should make them feel valued and appreciated, instead of as an inconvenience.

Just like anyone else, gatekeepers will probably respond positively if they are treated nicely. And you never know what they are going through, if it’s a good or a bad day for them, and how they are feeling, so reps should always remember to have empathy towards them.

The first step in making sure that they will like you is by treating them properly and by being a positive interaction for them.

An SDR being polite and respectful toward the gatekeeper

3. Being confident

Most sales calls get blocked by gatekeepers because they only let through calls that are expected or wanted. SDRs need to go into those calls sounding confident. They should create an illusion that they belong there, that they already know the decision-maker, and that their call is wanted.

How to do this? By not overexplaining. Talking in circles and rambling for a long time shows nervousness, and it will immediately signal to the gatekeeper that this is a sales call. Instead, reps should focus on their language, tone, and inflection.

  1. Language: Reps should use language that shows as if they already know the decision-maker. This absolutely does not mean that they should lie, that would be unethical. But, they can choose their words carefully so that they come across as if they know the person.

    For example, when they ask for the prospect, they shouldn’t use the prospect’s last name. When someone you know calls you, they don’t greet you with your full name. They’ll probably use casual language and your first name, or even your nickname.
  2. Tone: The SDR's tone should message that this is normal as if they call the prospect all the time, and as if they are expected to call by the prospect.
  3. Inflection: Tone is usually controlled by your phonetics. If every sentence ends in an upward tone, it makes you sound more nervous and as if you’re not sure you’re in the right place.

    Using downward tones in a sales call makes reps sound way more confident and authoritative. And that’s what we want, we want reps to go into cold calls with authority and determination.

Reps should be careful, though, not to get over-confident and arrogant. They should always be humble and polite, no matter what.

An SDR cold-calling with confidence, as if their call is expected

4. Making them feel important

All humans like to feel important and like they are a part of something. And so do gatekeepers. SDRs can get on their good books by making the gatekeeper feel almost like they are a part of the decision-making for the company.

Reps should acknowledge their job’s importance and make them feel as if they are in control of what happens. If an SDR makes a gatekeeper feel seen, heard, and understood, they have probably upped their chances of getting through to the decision-maker by a lot.

They can do things like asking for the gatekeeper’s opinion on things, or acknowledging that their time is valuable, and show them the same interest they would show any stakeholder in a deal. Leaning a little bit into the gatekeeper’s ego can go a long way in building rapport.

An SDR making sure the gatekeeper feels important and seen

5. Using multi-channel outreach

We never want to rely on just one channel to get through to the decision-makers. Reps should use cold-calling, emailing, and social media platforms like LinkedIn to get their prospect’s attention.

LinkedIn, specifically, can be a great way to do outreach. When it comes to email outreach, reps need to consider deliverability. Will the prospect even see the email? LinkedIn outreach is not only a more personal and direct way to contact decision-makers, but it will help with getting past gatekeepers as well.

If reps manage to get acknowledged by a prospect on LinkedIn, they can reference that communication when talking to the gatekeeper. Their call will now be expected by the prospect and they won’t be strangers to the decision-maker anymore.

An SDR utilizing multiple outreach channels to get past the gatekeeper

6. Differentiating from other SDRs

Gatekeepers get probably tens of sales calls a day, so they are very used to identifying a sales rep immediately. It’s easy for them to forget that these reps are humans and just block them before they even have the time to say what they want.

Especially now, with the remote culture growing, the power of body language has been eliminated, making all salespeople seem very much like robots to gatekeepers. All that reps have as a weapon, is their speech.

If the previous steps haven't worked, reps should try to differentiate themselves from the average sales call. The way to do that is by, for example, acknowledging the elephant in the room. By mentioning that this is a sales call. By leaning into the fact that they need the gatekeeper’s help to do their job. Again, they can make them feel important as if they truly hold the keys to the castle.

Reps should find a way to break the ice and to pattern-interrupt. For example, they could maybe make a joke and make the gatekeeper laugh. They can pay them a compliment, find a way to connect with them and relate to them, and act very human with them.

An SDR using pattern-interruption techniques to stand out from other SDRs

7. Finding referrals

An amazing way to get around gatekeepers is by going into the call with a referral. They should drop a name on the call. Reps can contact other people from below the line of the hierarchy and try and have a good conversation with them. This will give them credibility and it’ll make them a more trustworthy caller.

If your reps are trying to get to the VP, they could first call managers and get their names. If their primary prospect is the manager, they could contact members of their team and get their names. Now the decision-maker will notice the rep because they have been interacting with their team.

Reps could even ask their existing customers to refer them to other companies they think could be interested in their solutions, or they could expand their network by using platforms like LinkedIn, or they could even start attending key events in the industry to meet possible prospects in person.

Having referrals will shorten the screening process when bumping into a gatekeeper, and it can reduce the sales cycle by a lot.

An SDR getting past the gatekeeper because of a referral

What if they still don’t let them through?

Your reps might tick all the above boxes, they might do excellent research, talk to the gatekeeper with lots of respect and confidence, use all the different outreach channels to get their prospect’s attention, stand out from all the rest of sales calls, and they might even be bringing in referrals with them, and still get blocked by gatekeepers. Most of the time, the first call SDRs make does not result in a sale anyway.

Frustrating, right?

But this doesn’t mean that they should give up. No sales rep should accept a simple “no” for an answer. Reps should still try to get something out of the call, and each “no” is an opportunity to get more information about the company. If a gatekeeper says that they are not interested, reps could mirror that question to get them to explain why they are not interested.

SDRs can find out about, firstly, if their prospect is actually the decision maker, or if they should be trying to reach out to someone else in the company. Also, reps can find out a lot about the company’s plans, what they are up to, which projects they’re thinking of overtaking, and which pain points they are dealing with. Gatekeepers can have information on whether they actually need the offered solutions, or if they have already signed a contract with a competitor, for example.

All this information is super valuable because it lets reps know if they are barking up the right tree, whether the company even qualifies as a prospect, and if it would be worth it to follow up with them in the future.

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5 Don’ts of Getting Past Gatekeepers

Do's and Don'ts of getting past gatekeepers

It’s easy for SDRs to lose hope and confidence if they get rejected by one gatekeeper after another. They might feel like their chances of reaching their monthly or quarterly targets are hindered, and that cold-calling is pointless. And who can blame them?

However, sales reps need to hold on to their patience and not give power to the whirlwind of negative emotions that come with being rejected. For example, showing your frustration to the gatekeeper on the phone or lying to them to get through might be tempting, but it’ll never lead to anything good.

Specifically, there are five behaviors that reps should steer clear of to avoid further damaging their relationship with gatekeepers.

1. Being rude

The number one mistake reps can make is to treat a gatekeeper as if they are not important. SDRs need to understand that being overly confident, arrogant, or rude on the phone can backfire pretty quickly. Gatekeepers might be seen as an inconvenience by many reps, but they should not show that to them or treat them badly.

2. Lying

Lying is a big no-no in sales. Lying your way around a gatekeeper can definitely be tempting. A quick and easy solution to get to the prospect. But, it will immediately discredit the rep, making them untrustworthy. No company wants to work with someone who has used unethical tactics to make a sale. Transparency is always the safer option and a hard-working sales representative will still be able to make enough sales.

3. Being nervous

Gatekeepers can probably smell a sales call from miles away, and they will not feel bad about blocking it. If reps start the call sounding all nervous, anxious, or too eager, they will probably have minimal chances of getting to the actual decision-maker. A lack of confidence can probably kill off a sales call in seconds.

4. Giving up

Reps should never just give up. They should never just say “ok, bye” when the gatekeeper says that the prospect is not available or that they are not interested. SDRs should always come out of a call with a little bit more information than what they went in with. Also, they should always remember to follow up if it makes sense and keep trying to contact the lead through different channels.

5. Not listening to the gatekeeper

Finally, reps often miss out on important information because they don’t actively listen to gatekeepers. Gatekeepers might offer valuable insight into what the company is doing and what their needs are, which could help speed up the sales cycle.

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