Is your business-to-business telesales program performing below par? Most smart telesales managers will tend to look at the pitch, the offer, the close, or perhaps the call list to diagnose the issue. But, by chance, do your salespeople struggle with their gatekeeper skills?
Truthfully performance can be a single issue or a combination of anything I’ve listed. However, all are significant variables to evaluate constantly, and often a slight 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. I’ve found that most often, getting to a decision-maker is 75% of the battle.
Why are Gatekeeper Skills One of the Last Things to be Evaluated?
Typically, a sales staff comprises very talented individuals who know how to talk and how to sell. One of the first things that a salesperson should learn is how to get past a gatekeeper. However, it is not the “meat” of the sales process, and often overlooked. It can lead to frustrations and confusions, but, once the salesperson gets past the gatekeeper, the job gets fun, and they start getting fired up.
Trying to get past a gatekeeper? Meh. No fun there. And, because it is more often than not viewed as a fundamental 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.
Effective gatekeeper skills aren’t a new concept. I’m simply saying that it can be the most overlooked. Our organization has found it helpful to do a sanity check on how our staff handles gatekeepers and where their gatekeeper skills may lack. We do this by conducting 100% non-contact monitoring sessions.
Evaluating Gatekeeper Skills with Non-Contact Monitoring Sessions
Sure, you can listen to how they are doing in this regard during routine monitoring, but inevitably, the bulk of the focus will 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.
The Top Four Basic Gatekeeper Skills Include:
- Asking for a specific call-back time if the decision-maker is not available.
- Asking for an alternate decision-maker if the person you are asking for is not available.
- Using the client’s name upfront with the gatekeeper.
- 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 before 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.
Alternate Decision Makers
Why is it important to ask for alternate decision-makers? Most gatekeepers will tell you that at least 50% of the calls they get when someone asks for “Bob Smith,” they need to speak to “Joe Nelson.” Or there are additional people with decision-making authority.
Most companies don’t have a structure where only one person 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 only one person in an organization has the authority to deal with a sales agent.
Ask to Schedule Time
Are your calls typically 10 to 15 minutes in length? If they are, that is a significant 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 follow up with a calendar invitation.
Many 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, you are less likely to play the atrocious game of phone tag and have a conversation.
People appreciate having an appointment, and sending out a calendar invite is professional, giving the agent more credibility. Of course, 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.
Gatekeeper Skills, What’s Best?
Now, as far as getting through a gatekeeper from a sales agent’s perspective, I will not outline all of the best practices in this article.
However, that article has been written many times, and it’s funny how with a seemingly simple process, there are so many varying opinions on which strategy is best.
For example, 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 those coins, each giving a compelling 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 undoubtedly worthy of creating standard practices for your team, but don’t take away their flexibility to do what works best for them.
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 mean to you. They are doing their job.
Contrary to popular belief, there is no National Gatekeeper Convention where they all gather and snicker about the time they wouldn’t let that salesperson through despite his strongest efforts.
If I am wrong though, please let me know. That is where the party is.
I will default to the simple advice my mother gave me. Treat people the way you want to be treated. If you do that, odds are you’ll have some success.
Nathan Teahon is a Strategic Account Manager for Quality Contact Solutions. Nathan is responsible for ensuring client success for one of QCS’ largest clients and overseeing the QCS At Home management team. Before Quality Contact Solutions, Nathan worked for a Top 50 Call Center company based in the Midwest. Nathan’s experience has run the gamut with stints as Supervisor, Quality Assurance, Program Management, Account Management, and a Call Center Manager. His diversity of call center experience lends itself well to support various clients and their unique requirements. In addition, Nathan co-authored an online course for The Direct Marketing Association (DMA) called Teleservices. Nathan can be reached at Nathan.email@example.com or 516-656-5133.