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Essential sales skills – how to dodge the gatekeeper

James Crowder | 4 February 2022


Top-level decision-makers are hard to pin down. They’re constantly short on time, and almost always on the move. And, as if these factors didn’t make it hard enough for salespeople to secure a meeting with high-level executives, they also have gatekeepers – secretaries and personal assistants – whose job it is to ensure that only the most relevant calls are put through to their bosses. To reach your all-important decision-making prospects, you first have to get around these watchdogs – an essential sales skill you can develop with these 6 tips. 

Aim for the top

Influence flows downwards, and mid-level managers who don’t have the power to make a purchase decision by themselves are more likely to respond positively to a pitch when their boss has instructed them to hear you out. For this reason, don’t bother with subordinates. Invest your time and energy in connecting with the people who have the final say.

Be prepared

High-level decision-makers, of course, have very vigilant gatekeepers, and you’re not going to reach anyone of any importance unless your sales skills involve a good deal of tact. Because you only get one chance to make a good impression on their gatekeepers, it’s essential that you are as well prepared as possible with market research before any attempt to contact senior decision-makers.

Know the name of the decision-maker you are trying to reach, what it is their business does, and what their challenges are. And if possible know what their gatekeeper’s name is before you make the call. Then anticipate the different responses you could receive to your request and plan your own replies to these. Without being overbearing, you need to take control of the conversation by offering options that get you closer to your goal.


To understand gatekeepers and anticipate their responses, put yourself in their shoes. They are just trying to do their jobs – that is they have to limit the boss’ incoming calls to only the more important people. And by important I mean people who can help the business in some way. You need to be that person: the caller that the gatekeeper wants to arrange a meeting for.

Treat gatekeepers with respect

Of course, there are many other people worthy of a decision maker’s time who are vying for their attention, and you have to stand out as the most deserving. To gain the advantage, you need to get into their gatekeeper’s good books.

Treat these people with respect and be genuine in your intentions: explain why you are trying to get hold of their boss and how your message could be of benefit to them. It helps if you have already sent the decision-maker an email and you can say that you are following up on an email you sent previously. And if your prospect is not there, don’t simply hang up. Thank the gatekeeper for their time and leave the kind of impression that will make them more likely to remember you the next time you call.

Calm confidence

Gatekeepers are experts at weeding out unqualified callers, and nothing raises a red flag faster than a quavering nervousness in your voice. To convince a gatekeeper that you are just the kind of person their boss needs to speak with, you need to project authority and confidence without being overbearing. Prepare well and polish your soft sales skills.

Don’t sell to the gatekeeper

You shouldn’t try to sell to a gatekeeper for two reasons: one, they are not qualified to make purchase decisions, and, two, they resent having to deal with salespeople who so desperately need to meet with an executive so that they can make a sale.

Gatekeepers are not interested in your needs, and they are immune to your sales skills. To reach them, you need to make it obvious straight away how you can help them solve their challenges, but without pushing your product or service. Explain that you know that they have a problem and that you can help, mentioning only briefly what that might entail.

It should be obvious now that by-passing a gatekeeper requires a good deal of skill and tact, much of which is only acquired with time and experience. However, if you do not have the time needed to finetune your appointment setting techniques, you might want to enlist the help of an expert. With over 30 years of B2B telemarketing experience, GCL knows just how to get past the gatekeeper to secure those all-important first meetings. We share some of these insights in our free eBook Telemarketing in the digital age.

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