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Don’t Rip the Gatekeeper’s Arms Off

By Diane Knoepke Nov 12, 2009

If you have ever been nervous about giving a speech or presentation, you’ve probably heard that you should picture the audience members in their underwear. If you’ve ever tried it, chances are you know how bad that advice is.

In that spirit, play this 12-second video for some bad advice on how to get past the gatekeeper in your next sales effort.

Now that you’re in touch with that familiar desire to rip a gatekeeper’s arms off, commit to yourself that, forevermore, you will not take “no” from somebody who can’t give you a “yes.”

Got that? Yes, it’s a sales cliché, but it’s a really good one. Don’t let the gatekeeper tell you no, because they are not qualified to tell you yes. If they were, they wouldn’t be a gatekeeper, they’d be a decision-maker.

Here are some of the types of gatekeepers you will encounter in sponsorship sales and some more productive (and considerably less violent) ways to get past them.

The Deflector (aka “The Wizard”): typically the Deflector is in an administrative or executive assistant role. He or she is highly trained at keeping you from accessing the decision-maker’s calendar or phone line. They bob, they weave, they distract you, and they lie. It’s their job to do so. And oftentimes, they’re smarter than you (picture Joan from Mad Men), so check yourself if there is even the hint of condescension in your voice.

How to get past the Deflector:

  • Ask questions the Deflector isn’t expecting or will not be able to answer. Instead of saying, “yes, I’ll leave a voicemail” if it’s the second or third time you’ve called, ask if they can help you with your opportunity. Tell the Deflector why you’re calling and that you need to get in touch with the decision-maker about an important opportunity. Ask for their suggestions about how to get in touch.
  • Interrupt the pattern. Call at odd hours—mornings, evenings, weekends, lunchtime (in their time zone, not yours). Chances are better the decision-maker will pick up her own phone at those hours, or will at least be less likely to [legitimately] be on the way to a meeting.
  • Use your online resources and networks. Use Web, e-mail, LinkedIn and Twitter (as a start) to try to connect to the decision-maker for an initial introduction—made yourself or by one of your other connections.
  • Use your offline resources and networks. Whether you’re going to trade shows, networking events, educational events, social events, or any of the prospect organization’s events, find ways to meet them when the Deflector was left at home.
  • Be persistent, but don’t stalk. Nobody likes creepy.

The Protector (aka “The Knight in Shining Armor”): the Protector is often protecting both his own interests and his boss’ interests, but will paint himself as having only the company’s best interests in mind. Again, they lie, and there are a lot of good reasons for them to do so. The thousands of bad, generic proposals the boss receives each month are reason enough for the Protector to get his guard up.

How to get past the Protector:

  • Address his or her needs first. Before trying to get to the decision-maker’s problem, first figure out what the Protector needs to put down the weapons and see why you should go through the gate.
  • Make it personal. I’m not talking about bringing their family life into the conversation—quite the contrary. Through your questions, take the Protector to a place where they realize a personal impact of not letting you through the gate—missed opportunity, unsolved problems, etc.
  • Discuss the company’s strategic plan and goals. Ask questions that will (psychologically) put the Protector in the boss’ office answering the boss’ tough questions about why the goals are unmet. Then gently bring the Protector to see that you could be sitting there in the office with them (at least figuratively) or how working with you could prevent such a conversation altogether.
  • Make them look good.

The Filter (aka “The Fire-Breathing Dragon”): the Filter is typically an electronic gatekeeper—a proposal submission tool or property registration web site.

How to get past the Filter:

  • Typically, you don’t actually get around the Filter unless the company approaches you. You need to suck it up and answer the questions. If you can’t answer them, the prospect is probably not a good fit for you anyway.
  • Answer their questions with your answers. Give the sponsor the information it wants, while working in the information it needs to hear to recognize your opportunity as a good one. Take a page out of the media training handbook and make sure you get across the important points about your solution for the sponsor, rather than only passively asking their questions.
  • Follow all the rules, and then follow up. After you’ve done everything right and by the sponsor’s book, follow up on the submission.
  • Tell the truth.

The Substitute (aka “The Moat”): the Substitute is typically another department or area of the company—could be advertising or sales, company foundation, community affairs or other places where you might find some dollars, but are not the right decision-maker for your opportunity. It also may be an advertising or media agency.

How to get past the Substitute:

  • Determine whether the Substitute is really just another version of the Filter put in place to weed out or deal with opportunities. If so, see the Filter tactics above.
  • If the Substitute is where you landed because you were pigeonholed into a certain type of opportunity or evaluation—for instance, non-profits often are sent to community affairs, sports and entertainment events are often sent straight to the agency for media valuation—you need to work on both branding yourself and educating the Substitute. Make sure your materials are as professional and buttoned-up as possible (I’m talking information, not graphics), use testimonials and case studies to demonstrate how you’re different from everyone else they see, and still point out where your opportunity could be a complement to their efforts if they brought in the decision-maker you seek.
  • Be transparent and work your angles.

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Diane Knoepke

About the Author

Diane is managing director, client leadership for IEG Consulting, where she supports the team’s growth and innovation. Throughout her career, she has advised more than 50 property and brand clients on marketing and social value creation, sales, measurement and strategy. She delights in helping people change organizations more effectively. Follow Diane on Twitter!

 

Comments

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Shelley Fasulko 11/12/2009 11:31 AM
Diane - what can I say this post is the bomb. :) I love it - so true.