More than likely you've tried to call someone important and you've been diverted to his or her secretary or assistant. This person is also known as the “gatekeeper,” and it is their job to protect the executive or VIP from unwanted salespersons or phone calls.
For some, the gatekeeper can be intimidating, but if you know how to treat this person, he or she can be your greatest ally. Here are a few ways to make a good impression with the gatekeeper.
1. Treat the gatekeeper with respect.
Most gatekeepers are highly respected within the firm. Never dismiss their efforts or treat them as anything less than the angel who is going to open the gates to your fortune. Be sure to express your appreciation for any assistance they provide, both with them and their boss.
2. Keep your cool.
The gatekeeper is just doing their job, so frustration or anger will not get you in the door. Conversely, a negative attitude may put you on the “black list.”
3. Speak with confidence.
The gatekeeper is an expert at winnowing out unwanted callers. Be aware of the tone of your voice. Speak with a relaxed and steady voice, talk courteously, and smile while you’re conversing. Act with confidence, not nervousness.
4. Be friendly.
Be friendly, but don’t get too personal or waste the gatekeeper's time with idle chatter. Maintain the professional boundaries. It’s okay to engage in a little small talk. For example, ask how their day is going or if you’ve met them before, mention something you talked about during your last conversation. You never know, sometimes the gatekeeper has the authority to hire you or your services so it’s important to be polite.
5. Use the executive’s first name.
The sweetest sound to anyone’s ear is his or her own name. Use the executive’s first name whenever possible. For example: “Hello Joan, this is John Doe. May I speak to Richard, please?”
Related: Mastering the Face-to-Face Meeting
6. Be honest.
One method to opening the door is to introduce yourself to the executive or VIP via email. Then when you make your follow up call, you can honestly tell the gatekeeper you are following up on information you previously sent.
7. Don’t sell to the gatekeeper.
Many gatekeepers ask, “What is this regarding?” Prepare an answer that does not sound like a sales pitch. Say something that mentions some previous correspondence you’ve had with the executive like “I’m with Class Act Catering and I’m following up on an email I sent last week regarding your company’s upcoming marketing retreat.”
8. Ask to leave a voicemail.
If the executive is busy or is out of the office, ask to be directed to his or her voicemail, especially if you have tried to call several times. This will prevent you from bothering the gatekeeper time and time again.
9. Call before or after hours.
One effective way to circumvent the gatekeeper is to call the executive before or following normal work hours. Executives often arrive early or stay late, and you may catch them at this time answering their own phones.
Keep in mind that the gatekeeper is the person closest to the executive you are trying to reach, so treat them with genuine respect in each and every contact. This includes your exit, whether on the phone or in person. Thank the gatekeeper for their assistance, and leave them with a smile on their face.