The Top 7 Ways to Get Past Gatekeepers

Are receptionists, secretaries and personal assistants stifling your attempts to reach decision makers? You’re not alone. Everyday sales reps are routinely being frustrated when prospecting by these pesky professional screeners. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Here are 7 professional ways to get past gatekeepers and reach your prospect.

1. Try a Different Route

The best way to get past gatekeepers is to by pass them completely by taking a different route. If a receptionist is the culprit screening your calls, ask to be put through to the sales department, not the decision maker. Your call is never screened and you are virtually guaranteed to reach a live individual. When you reach the sales department, be candid about your call and who you’re trying to reach. Then ask if they can put you through. Many of them do so because they completely understand your plight.

2. Try Different Times

Sometimes the most obvious tactic is the least used. Try calling your prospects early or late in the day when the regular gatekeepers are not at their desk. This is particularly true when calling C-level and other top executives who have private secretaries or personal assistants. Start calling at 7:00 a.m. and see what happens. Call at noon. Try after 5:00 p.m.

3. The Collegial Technique

This approach is actually fun when you get the knack of it. As the name implies the collegial approach seeks to sound like a colleague or an equal of decision maker. For instance,

“Pat Smith calling long distance for Mike Crosby. Could you put me through?”

The collegial technique is all about style and delivery. Your tone has to be quick and brusque; busy-like; professional but edgy; like you don’t have time to quibble. It’s not rude or nasty but it is assertive. It’s the kind of approach Donald Trump would probably use. Practice this and your tone will convey a ‘don’t mess with me’ message.

4. The Tennis Technique

The tennis technique is sheer finesse and like the game itself requires a bit of practice. But once mastered it can be extremely effective. Gatekeepers have learned to serve up tough qualifying questions which typically ace the unprepared sales rep. They stammer and fumble about and in a split second, they’re screened.

The trick to this technique is to answer the question and then to quickly lobe a question back at the gatekeeper. Most screeners are familiar with this method and after couple of volleys you can often gain you the advantage. Here’s an example.

Rep: “Could I speak to Ms. Decesioni?”

Gatekeeper: “Who is calling?”

Rep: “Pat Anton. Is she available?”

Gatekeeper: ” Ah…where are you calling from?”

Rep: “The ATC Group. I’m calling long distance. Could you put me through please?”

Gatekeeper: “Er…ah…what’s this in regard to?”

Rep: “Profitability indicators. It’s important. Is she available?”

Notice the rep answers the question with the barest of information and then volleys a question back. The tone is polite but notice the sense of urgency conveyed with the reference to ‘long distance’ and ‘it’s important.’ These messages are subtle but can catch gatekeepers off guard because they are not used to being on the ‘defensive.’

5. Befriend them

Befriending the gatekeeper is a classic and it means being polite. Extra polite. Kind. Considerate. It means chatting it up a bit; learning their name and using it. A friendly and respectful tone and manner can sometimes provide you with an edge but it must be genuine. With a degree of persistence you can sometimes wear the gatekeeper down with niceness.

A variation on this theme is the ‘friendly bribe.” Be wise and be cautious. The gift should not be lavish. Usually it is something that can be shared by everyone in the office. A little box of truffles, a jar of candies or a bag of M&Ms can sweetened the moment and the gatekeeper might feel compelled to reciprocate and permit your call to go through. Time your call so that it arrives the same day (or the next) as your ‘offering.’

6. Beseech Them

Beseeching gatekeepers means acknowledging their expertise as screener and then ‘pleading your case.’ This tactic only comes after repeated attempts and you’re at your wits end. It’s like laying all your cards on the table and trusting that this gesture will appeal to their sense of fair play. For example,

“Okay Jenn, I give up! I think you are absolutely the best screener of calls that I have run into this year…maybe ever. And I respect what doing and why. But Jenn, we really do offer a profit builder than can do marvels for businesses like yours. We’ve worked with firms ABC and XYZ so we’re well known. I truly think this is something Mr. Bigguy would seriously consider. It’s very important to me and if you could see it in your heart to grant me five minutes, I would sincerely appreciate it.”

You can vary the words but what makes this tactic work is your tone. The first part requires your tone to convey a sense of humor and a sense of resignation. It must convey the ‘okay-you-win-and- this-is-my-last-gasp” quality to it. The second part must be absolutely sincere and convincing. When you say “we really do offer” they must hear that ring of authenticity and believability. Finally, there is an appeal Jenn’s sense of kindness and decency without lathering it on too heavily.

7. Sell to

The last tactic is to be used only with personal assistants and private secretaries who have been with the decision maker for years and years. These are gatekeepers who are extremely loyal to their bosses and extremely adept at all manner of tactics to get past them. In this circumstance, see these gatekeepers as the decision maker and ‘sell to them.’ For instance,

“Kelly, what if we do this: what if I send you the proposal that I have in mind for your company and what it could do for bottom line productivity and profits. You look it over. Review it in detail. Compile any questions you might have. Then I will call you back and get your take on it? How does that sound?”

Notice that the proposal will go to Kelly for review and comment. No one else. There is absolutely no mention of the boss. The rep will have Kelly assess it and will get Kelly’s thoughts. It’s all about Kelly.

Here’s the thing: by not referencing the boss or asking what the boss might think, the rep is acknowledging the power, prestige and business acumen of the personal assistance. Not only is it flattering, it is the wise and correct thing to do. Chances are Kelly knows precisely what the boss looks for and wants.

CRITICAL POINT: this tactic is very, very rare. Maybe only 1% of the time will you use it. The reason is that it gets very easy to kid yourself that all gatekeepers have this power. The vast majority don’t. The danger is wasting a lot of time and effort sending proposals that never have a chance to succeed.


Gatekeepers are paid to manage the flow of calls. Respect them and never bully them. But YOU are paid to sell. It’s your job to get to decision makers to achieve that goal. Use these tactics to make your job easier and more effective.

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