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None Shall Pass? A Message from a Gatekeeper

by guest blogger Renee Calvert

Recently, my role within People First Productivity Solutions changed a little. We moved out of our home office and into a spacious office suite, which, for me, means that instead of working in the same room, back to back with my boss, I now have my own office down the hall from her.  This also means I have my own phone… and with that phone has come the responsibility of answering it. I am now the gatekeeper.

gatekeeperBecause we’ve moved, we’re now on the radars of endless telemarketers and companies looking to capitalize on needs we might have as a “new” business. Phone companies, merchant processing services, and the like have all called our business relentlessly. And while it’s a nuisance, it’s not necessarily the calling I mind. But every single  one of these sales people has made critical mistakes that guarantee I won’t give them the time of day, much less pass along the information about what they’re selling to my boss.

I am the gatekeeper. And if you want to get past me, here are some things you should never do.

Don’t treat me like an enemy.

I am not a troll that eats every billy goat that crosses my bridge. Despite being a barrier between you and the decision maker, it isn’t my job to make sure no business gets in.  We do have needs, and I consider it a good thing to facilitate getting those needs fulfilled. I would be glad to discuss and pass along useful info.  I’m here to help and to be a link between you and my employer. Why alienate me with blatant hostility?

Don’t blow your first impression

You only get one chance to make a good impression on me (and, consequently, on my company). So it’s a mystery to me why many sales people are short-tempered, snippy and demanding. It comes across as unprofessional and causes me to think you’ll be difficult to do business with. I don’t want to work with someone who is going to treat me like that… and really, would you?

Don’t be condescending

I may be answering the phone, but I am not “just an assistant.” Many salespeople never even bother to ask who I am or what my position is, assuming instead that my voice and canned greeting mean that I’m the admin, or someone unimportant. This is untrue – I actually do make a lot of the decisions about which vendors we’ll do business with. Furthermore, there’s no way you can tell what experience a gatekeeper has by their greeting alone. I have a Master’s degree and a respectable IQ, so talking down to me doesn’t fly. Whether or not someone is the decision maker or “just an assistant,” never, ever be condescending.

Don’t blow me off

I might not be the owner, but my opinion has clout at this company. When you demand to speak to the owner  and then refuse to leave a message after I’ve offered, insisting that you’ll just call back, it leaves a bad impression and tells me you’re not really interested in doing business with my company. I get that you may have a call metric you need to meet, and that “wasting your time” on a gatekeeper isn’t a priority, but therein lies the problem. Talking to the gatekeeper and leaving a good message is not a waste of time because you never know how much influence the gatekeeper has.

Don’t retaliate

If I sounded crabby or sharp, I apologize. But a lot of my work is sensitive and requires a great deal of concentration – I do not sit around all day, waiting for the phone to ring. When it’s 10 am and you’re the 8th person to call (and perhaps the first person who has actually spoken to me instead of hanging the phone up as soon as I say “hello”), my patience is pretty thin. You’d be cranky, too, especially if the person on the other end decided to huffily demand to speak to the owner and blew you off when you offered to take a message. But regardless of whether or not my tone is grumpy, it is not an excuse for you to be rude. If anything, it’s a signal to be even nicer and acknowledge me or thank me for sacrificing my time to get your info to someone else. Remember, a cranky gatekeeper is a stingy gatekeeper, and you’ll need to work extra hard to get past.

Don’t bully me

If I’m already being short with you, bullying me is going to get you nowhere. It doesn’t work on this playground. I have been specifically asked to flag messages where people were rude or pushy, and if you persist in such behavior, you are guaranteeing that you will never, ever, ever get a call back from anyone at my company.

Don’t take your frustration out on me

I get it. Cold calling is rough and being required to meet a call quota isn’t easy. You’re under a lot of pressure to sell and I completely understand that. But what I don’t understand is why you have to take it out on me. I may be the fiftieth gatekeeper you’ve spoken to in a given day, but that doesn’t justify treating me badly. Again, think of how you would feel if someone treated you this way.

It’s shocking how often callers exhibit these behaviors towards me, and the consistency leads me to believe that these practices are not uncommon. And, yes, even though we do train sales people and likely have a higher standard by which we judge a cold call, that doesn’t make what I’m asking for unreasonable.

So the next time you encounter a gatekeeper in your prospecting adventures, keep this advice in mind. Otherwise, you shall not pass.


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