How to elude Gatekeepers

I have started thinking about cold calling, again,  in my various new roles.

My very first job was cold calling professionals to try a build a new business competing against strong incumbents.

We had a great strategy, and great products– but I just didn’t have the ability to meet decision makers.  I find the team I work with now have the same problem now- they can’t get past the gatekeeper through to the decision maker, they fail to get past the personal assistant, or the secretary, the dreaded gatekeeper.


How do you start a cold conversation with a gatekeeper? “Sorry, he’s busy, maybe come back later; Sorry he’s not taking new appointments this month”, you know all the excuses.

This was my first  challenge and its a situation that haunts salespeople the world over. If you are failing at getting past the gatekeepers in your business life, you might find this technique helpful.

Here are the steps to prepare you for using the strategy:

1: Use your current customers

In order for this strategy to work, divide up your customers into segments (industries, subsets, groupings, and so). In other words, divide them into similar groups, however you may define it–demographic, size of company, industry, location, etc. The more commonalities these groups have that are related to your business, the better. They will serve two primary purposes: building call lists and creating customer one-sheets.

2: Collect customer names and testimonials

Ask your satisfied customers for a quote, a case study, a testimonial, or simply permission to use their names. Collect these and create a one page review for each of your segments- lets call this a validation page.  Remember, only one segment per page. If you sell into five different segments- pharmacy, doctors, medical centres, hospitals, dentists, then you should have five different pages–one sheet for each segment with the names and quotes from only those customers in that segment- a sheet about Pharmacies for pharmacies. This will be used as validation once you engage the gatekeeper. Be sure to make copies to bring with you when knocking on doors and have an electronic version to email when making phone calls.

3: Prepare your call lists and validation pages

When cold calling, divide your calling lists by the same segments as your validation pages. Start with one segment. For this example, let’s say it’s Doctors Surgeries. You have 12 customers who are Doctors practice managers and six agreed to either give you a quote or testimonial or have their names on your validation page. So you create a list of surgeries to call on, and so on for other segments.

4: Make your cold call

After introducing yourself to the gatekeeper (I’ll use the surgery example again), open with this line:

My purpose for calling is to let you know that we work with 6 other Surgeries in this area helping them to lower their medical supply costs and that’s why I wanted to connect with you.

Why does this work?

  • It states the most credible thing you can say to a gatekeeper–we have experience with people just like you.
  • It states you know about their business
  • It is specific (not vague) regarding the number of industry customers you have
  • It has a legitimate benefit (not a made up benefit) since you already work in their industry
  • It states a clear purpose–creating conditions for you both to connect


You can modify words to suit your segment:

  • 15 retail stores in this mall
  • 6 insurance companies in the area
  • 23 restaurants in the west

You can modify words to suit the benefits:

  • Reduce system downtime
  • Improve employee retention by 15 percent
  • Reach more potential customers in the region

Your conversation after this can go wherever the gatekeeper chooses. Regardless, be prepared to use your validation page to answer the gatekeepers when they say: Exactly which surgeries do you work with? Thank them for asking that question and pull out your Doctors surgery page and show them. Chances are they will know some of the others on your list–instant credibility. This is much better than giving them product brochures.

Final Tips

The most important thing you can do as a cold-calling salesperson is to be credible in the mind of a gatekeeper. They see and hear bad sales techniques every week.

Don’t attempt to sell to the gatekeeper Its not their job to buy–go for credibility. Nothing is more credible to a gatekeeper than a calm, confident, friendly salesperson whose company already has an established track record in the gatekeeper’s industry.

Be sure to practice the conversation all the way through to the end–asking to speak with the manager, decision-maker, etc.

So having dusted off my strategy from 25 years ago, I’m using it again and I’m finding it works.