Is your business to business telesales program performing below par? What’s wrong? This could literally be a million dollar question. It could be any number of things. Most smart telesales managers will tend to look at the pitch, the offer, the close, or perhaps the call list. It could be any of those things. Those are great variables to constantly evaluate and many times a small adjustment will yield tremendous results. However, one of the most overlooked pieces of the equation can be successfully getting past the gatekeeper to a decision maker. In fact, I’ve found that most often getting to a decision maker is 75% of the battle.
So, if that is true, why is it one of the last things to be evaluated? Typically a sales staff is made up of very talented individuals that know how to talk and how to sell. One of the first things that they learn is how to get past a gatekeeper. It is not the “meat” of the sales process, and it is almost certainly part of a person’s job that can lead to resting on one’s laurels. Once the sales person gets that whale on the phone, that is when the job gets fun and they start getting fired up. Getting past a gatekeeper? Meh. No fun there. And, because it is more often than not viewed as a basic skill versus a sales skill that separates the leaders from the pack, it is also this sales skill that can get overlooked most by managers.
Getting past the gatekeepers isn’t a new concept. I’m simply saying that it can be the most overlooked. One thing that our organization has found helpful is to do a sanity check on how our staff is handling gatekeepers. We do this by conducting 100% non-contact monitoring sessions. Sure, you can listen to how they are doing in this regard during the course of normal monitoring, but inevitably the bulk of the focus is going to end up on the proverbial “meat” of the sales call. During a non-contact session you can pull 50 random non-contact recordings and spend an hour, or even 30 minutes, listening to nothing other than how your team is handling gatekeepers and come away with knowing exactly what you need to focus on. We’ll typically list out the top four basic requirements, which include:
1) Asking for a specific call back time if the decision maker is not available
2) Asking for an alternate decision maker if the person you are asking for is not available
3) Using the client name up front with the gatekeeper
4) Working quickly/intelligently through automated machines
From there, we’ll keep score, and mark a point off for each category missed, and at the end of the session we have a non-contact accuracy score. Doing this type of session is pretty mundane and isn’t a lot of fun. You should probably load up on coffee or your choice of energy drink prior to doing it. But, we’ve rarely had one of these sessions that wasn’t productive. No matter how experienced and diligent your team is, these are the habits that are easiest to get away from.
Why is it important to ask for alternate decision makers? Most gatekeepers will tell you that at least 50% of the calls that they get where someone is asking for “Bob Smith”, they really need to be speaking to “Joe Nelson”. Or there are additional people with decision making authority. Most companies don’t have a structure where there is only one person that has the authority to buy. 75% of the battle is getting a decision maker on the phone, but don’t be naive in thinking that there is only one person in an organization that has the authority to deal with a sales agent.
Are your calls typically 10 to 15 minutes in length? If they are, that is a signnificant amount of time for the decision maker to spend on a sales call when you call them up and they are not expecting your call. I’ve found that most people keep rigid calendars and you can increase your odds of a decision-maker contact by getting your call on their calendar. Have your team take the approach of setting up an appointment, and have them send and outlook calendar invitation. A lot of people will end up canceling or not taking your call at the set appointment time, but if they have the placeholder for their time to talk with you, then you are less likely to have to play the atrocious game of phone tag to have a conversation. People appreciate having an appointment and sending out a calendar invite is professional, giving the agent more credibility. This isn’t the right approach for every campaign, but depending on the objective of the call and how long it takes, it can be much more effective.
Now as far as getting through a gatekeeper from a sales agent’s perspective, I am not going to outline all of the best practices for getting past a gatekeeper in this article. That article has been written many times, and its funny how with a process that is seemingly so simple that there are so many varying opinions on which strategy is best. Should I say, “I am calling for John Smith” or should I ask “Is John Smith available?” Is it better to treat the gatekeeper like gold and get them to love you, or is it better to be as nondescript as possible and pretend that the decision maker of course has been sitting by the phone anxiously awaiting your call all day? Should I do what I think is being polite and ask them how they are today, or is it a waste of time and they will just be annoyed with me for asking?
I’ve seen articles written on both sides of each of those coins, each giving a very convincing argument. In my experience, each one of these approaches will work in specific circumstances. Not all sales programs are created equal. What works best getting to the president of a hospital is not necessarily what works best in getting to an owner of a fitness facility. Also, sales agents aren’t created equal. It’s certainly worthy to create standard practices for your team, but also don’t take away their flexibility to do what works best for them.
One last rule of thumb: Do not treat gatekeepers like gatekeepers. I’ve never seen an individual with the title Gatekeeper. They are human beings doing a job, just like everyone else. When they are screening calls for their boss, they aren’t being mean to you. They are doing their job. Contrary to popular belief, there is not a National Gatekeeper Convention where they all gather and snicker about the time they wouldn’t let that sales person through despite his strongest efforts. If I am wrong, someone let me know. That is where the party is at.
I will default to simply advice my mother gave me. Treat people the way you would like to be treated. If you do that, odds are you’ll have some success.
Nathan Teahon is the Director of Operations for Quality Contact Solutions.