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After the Referral: Getting Past the Gatekeeper


When making sales calls, chances are you’ll get stopped by a gatekeeper at some point, even when you have a referral. Last week, we went over how referrals can help you generate more leads, but you won’t get those leads if you have trouble getting past the gatekeeper. So that’s this week’s topic!

Below you’ll find several tips and tricks for doing just that, so you can actually reach your referral and start the process of converting them to a lead.

Plan for the call
Savvy sales reps avoid calling cold, even when calling a referral. So prime the pump, if you will, by doing a little advance planning—and homework. Research the company and the person you’re trying to reach, and learn as much about them ahead of time. You might even go back to the person who gave you the referral in the first place and pick their brain for information, if they’re willing. Delve into why they passed this name along to you in the first place, so you’ll have a better idea of the situation.

After you’ve done your homework, start with an initial correspondence that you can refer to on your call. Send an email or a letter so your call has a purpose: to follow up. That can make the call that much easier, especially when you’re using the name of the person who gave you the referral. It also gives you a reason to give the gatekeeper about why you’re calling.

Then there’s the timing of your call. If you’d like to avoid the gatekeeper, call before 8 a.m. or after 5 p.m., or at lunch. You’re less likely to talk to a gatekeeper and more likely to reach your decision maker. Another idea is to call during holiday weeks. According to The Sales Hunter, if you call during a holiday week, odds are you’ll catch the gatekeeper when they’re in a totally different mood and they will be more likely to connect you with the person you want to talk to.

Know your names and titles
If you’re pursuing a referral, you should have at least a name and possibly a job title. Sometimes, however a referral is more like a suggestion, meaning a client with good intentions suggested you call a certain company without actually giving you a name or introduction. When that happens and your call is more like a cold call, try to find out the name and job title of the person you’re trying to reach. If you don’t have a name, asking the gatekeeper for that information might get the gatekeeper on your side. (On the other hand, it can backfire, so be careful.) Also remember to do some research first, using sources such as LinkedIn, so that even a cold call can be an informed one. And the more informed you seem, the more likely you are to get past the gatekeeper.

Also remember to use the name of the person who gave you the referral. There’s a chance the gatekeeper will know this person too, and a little name dropping can be a big help in getting past the gatekeeper!

Be confident and personable
Sure, you’re “only” talking to the gatekeeper, but this person is literally your access to the decision maker. If you want to guarantee you won’t get past the gatekeeper, just have an attitude.

If, on the other hand, getting past the gatekeeper is your goal, be nice and be professional. Remember that you are calling because you have a solution this company needs! Treat the call like a personal phone call, and act like a real person with a genuine interest. Don’t use your company name at first, because you’ll come across as a sales person and you’re much more likely to be denied.

Also feel comfortable asking questions of the gatekeeper. If they’re denying you access, ask if there is someone else you should be trying to reach instead. You can even ask questions that will help you decide if this is a referral worth pursuing or not—and the gatekeeper might enjoy being the one with the knowledge when this table gets turned!

When there’s no getting past the gatekeeper
Let’s face it: Some gatekeepers are better at their jobs than others. So there will be times you won’t get through—on the first try. Stick with it, especially when you have a referral that indicates your product or service is needed. How? Be politely persistent. If you’re told the decision maker isn’t available, ask for a good time to call back—and then call back.

A referral is only a first step. You’ve got the name, sure, but that doesn’t guarantee a conversation let alone a bona fide lead! How you follow through on a referral is critical, and that follow through could very well pit you against a gatekeeper. So use these tips for getting past the gatekeeper and you’re more likely to generate a lead. Besides, your competition is probably reaching the same gatekeeper, so if you can get through, you’ll likely hit the jackpot and win the sale!

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