Dealing with Gatekeepers

Through the years, I’ve kept a list of “keepers”—phrases that sum up or hit the nail on the head for a situation. You know…those “ahas” that pass through your day and you tell yourself that you will remember it…but often don’t until you hear it again.

One of my personal favorites is “Don’t take no from someone who can’t tell you yes.” Don’t waste your time with the none-sayers, those none decision makers who can fill your day with a volume of run-arounds. Some of these people have the title of gatekeeper.

How do you get around these people without turning them against you so that you can get to the “yes” sayer? First understand that the gatekeeper is really a yes sayer, it just may not be the person you thought of as the decision maker of who gets through and who doesn’t.

Rick Frishman and Steven Schragis have just published 10 Clowns Don’t Make a Circus…and 249 Other Critical Management Success Strategies (Adams Media, 2006).

Each of their points can relate to either management or staff and each begins with a vignette, followed by what it means, an action plan and an even better action plan.

Take the gatekeeper. How do you sidestep or circumvent this person who is blocking you from your goal? When you do, you can get to the yes, or in some cases, a no. But, it’s a decision. And, that’s what you are after—not maybes or just being kept out of the loop of any decision.

It means you need to be resourceful, persistent and be willing to switch gears if need be with your tactics. What works with one may be a button pusher with another. So, it means that you have to do some homework.
According to Friedman and Schragis, there are several plans to help you achieve your goal in making the gatekeeper your ally.

Start with:

  • Use some common sense. When contacting or calling an office, treat the gatekeeper with the same respect that you would with any potential business contact. Friendliness works- “Hello, please put me through to Tom Smith. This is Ann Johnson.”

  • Referral/references always score well. If you know someone who is connected or knows the key person you are attempting to connect with, try “Doug’s friend Bruce Goldberg asked me to call.”

  • Befriend or adopt the gatekeeper. It’s not unusual for the person you are trying to talk with to be out of the office or talking with someone else when your first call. That’s why they have someone answering their phone. 
    So, make nice. How about a casual mention of a movie you enjoyed (make it safe—i.e., the new Disney/Pixar movie Cars is sure to be a winner this summer—you’d have to run into a real grouch who isn’t going to like it), even the weather. Stay away from politics and religion.

  • Send a snail mail letter telling him or her that you will call on a specific date, even time. Include a copy of an article that you found (or wrote) that you thought might be of interest. That way, you aren’t fudging when you say to the gatekeeper, “She’s expecting my call.” 

    You can also do a follow-up with an email asking if your letter was received and ask what would be a good time to call her. If the cards are really in your favor, the gatekeeper might be told that you will call.

  • One of the biggest complaints about gatekeepers is the non-human one. Will, there’s the voice and it’s usually of the person you are trying to connect with. Voice mail. Many believe that the “voice” purposefully hides behind it. 
    No matter, you can either send a snail letter, an email if you have it, or leave a message. But, and it’s a BIG but, be concise and get to the point. If you can include something that you thing would intrigue him or pique his interest, all the better.

    Give the listener the courtesy of why you are calling, and state your name in the beginning and at the end along with your phone number. 

    And, please, please say your name and number slowly. I can’t tell you how many messages I dump because I can’t understand who is calling, much less the phone number to call back.
    You get 15 seconds, max, to do all this. If you run on, you’ve lost him.

  • Most gatekeepers work regular hours, such at 8 to 4 or 9 to 5. They also take lunch. Call during non-gatekeeper hours—7.30 to 8.00; around 12.30 or 4.30 to 5.00.

    You can usually get through persistence, pleasantness and politeness. Being impatient or pissy won’t win you any points and definitely won’t get a return call. It’s your choice, you choose.