Embrace the Gatekeeper

Many salespeople and marketers think in terms of getting past the gatekeeper. In the good old days, if you called before nine or after five, you had a good chance a senior executive would pick up his own phone. Salespeople now try to think of clever ways to slide past the gatekeeper to reach the “real” decision-maker.

Not us. Rather than diminishing the role of the gatekeeper, we glorify it. Embrace the gatekeepers! Acknowledge they are intelligent, hard-working folks with their bosses’ best interests at heart. They’re trusted associates and valued colleagues with extraordinary power. After all, they control the flow of information to top executives. Their mission is to filter out everything that won’t make their bosses more successful.

When targeting the most senior executives, create a two-prong campaign. The goal of the first campaign is to capture the attention of administrative assistants. Convince them your offer will benefit their bosses. The second prong is for the senior executives themselves.

Here are a couple of integrated programs we’ve seen work. Email played a critical role in creating a dialogue and providing on-the-spot fulfillment of information requests.

Getting a Face-to-Face Appointment

The advertising department of a large trade publisher targeted 100 of its hottest prospects. Goal: a face-to-face appointment. Each senior executive’s office was called to request the name of the administrative assistant. The assistants received flowers, including cards saying the publisher valued their opinions and thanking them in advance for spending time determining whether advertising in the trade publication would meet the needs of their firms.

The sales teams followed up with phone calls. Naturally, most people were delighted with the flowers and accepted the calls. Once on the phone with the administrative assistants, the salespeople were typically told, “I’ll do what I can, send me something.” At this point, the salespeople asked permission to send an email outlining their offer and inquired when they could follow up. Most assistants agreed to accept the email and provided a specific time to call back. The salespeople prepared a summary of key benefits, customized to the prospective firm, just for the administrative assistant.

The best part? In the cases where permission was given to correspond via email, the salespeople were able to begin an ongoing dialogue with the administrative assistant. As you can imagine, this was an expensive and time-consuming project. It ultimately yielded over 50 appointments with top executives, about twice the normal success rate.

Enrolling CIOs in a Conference

Another client’s goal was to enroll at least 50 top CIOs in a midsummer conference. No easy task. Identifying prospects was easy enough, so we hired a telemarketing firm to call 2,000 CIOs offices. Of course, telemarketers typically reached the administrative assistant — or even the assistant’s assistant. Rather than pushing to get past the gatekeeper, the telemarketer explained the benefits of attending the conference for the executive and enlisted the help of the administrative assistant. Questions included, “Could you look at her calendar for X date and see if there’s a conflict?”; “What type of industry conferences does he typically attend?”; and “Perhaps you could review the materials to see if it would be a good fit?”

At first, the administrative assistant tried to get the telemarketer off the phone with the traditional brush off, “Send me something.” The telemarketer replied, “Wow, that’s great. I have a PDF of the brochure. May I email that to you right now?” As with the earlier example, if the assistant agreed, it was just the beginning of a dialogue.

A note: Not all assistants gave us permission to send email. In those cases, we offered a choice of snail mail or fax. The vendor we used could send email and faxes with a keystroke or two while on the phone with a prospect. The immediacy was so much more compelling than sending in batches at day’s end. The project was part of a 22-effort campaign that exceeded our goals and resulted in over 50 Fortune 500 CIOs attending the conference.

Success of both campaigns was based on treating assistants with respect and asking for their help; preparing all materials in advance; offering a choice of how to receive materials; and most important, using the easy familiarity of email as a way to build a relationship and gain the trust of the gatekeeper over time. Once the executives themselves got involved, they were already prepped and ready to listen.

Please join us at ClickZ Email Strategies in San Francisco, November 18-19.

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