Getting Past Gatekeepers to Make Appointments

getting past gatekeepers to make appointmentsIt is becoming increasingly challenging for the salesperson to get through to the decision maker. Many customers have a PA or secretary, who will answer calls on the decision maker’s behalf. The PA fields numerous sales calls in a day and is therefore experienced in acting as a gatekeeper.

Be prepared for dealing with the gatekeeper – have your answers ready for them as they are likely to ask questions or make statements in response to your call as follows:

“What is the call regarding?”
The answer should be given straight away, hesitation creates suspicion. Provide a plausible, clear and truthful reason which can include:
• A benefit
• Knowledge of the prospect
• Something topical
“It’s regarding cost savings on your XXX budget”
“It’s to discuss whether they are interested in reducing their costs on XXX”
“It’s regarding ways to improve XXX”
“It’s regarding the rising fuel costs and potential savings”
“It’s in regard to that latest changes in legislation”

“I can help you with that”
Thank them for their help and then ask a question that you know that they cannot answer e.g. “can you tell me the strategy for meeting the latest changes in regulation?” Have a backup question in case they do answer the first one. When they cannot answer it, ask to speak to person who can answer these which is the contact you were aiming to speak to in the first place.

“Can I take a message?”
In this answer, the aim is not to appear dismissive with the PA’s offer for help and to keep control of the process so that you can call back another time.
For example “You can, however it is quite a long and detailed message and it would be easier if I call back later, when is the best time to reach him?”

Of course if you cannot reach the customer after a number of attempts, you may decide to leave a message.

“Leave your number and I will get him to call you”
It is similar to the previous response such as “I can leave my number, however I am shortly going into a meeting and I don’t want to annoy them by not being available, when is the best time to call back?”

“He does not take sales calls”
The initial response should always be that it is not a sales call, but a call for another, truthful reason that is plausible such as:
“To discuss possible cost saving on their XXX purchases.”
“To identify whether they are interested in/ need to save money on their XXX.”

The reason should be very strong, sound important and authoritative. It also helps if it is a hot topic in the industry.

If this fails revert to the tactic used in the last example below.

“Is this a sales call?”
This is a very similar version to the previous answer and will be dealt with in similar way. You may answer by saying “no,” because at this stage you are merely trying to ascertain some information. There you may state something like ”it is a call to identify whether they the rising costs of supplies are an issue and whether they are looking at ways to reduce costs.” Of course if you can make it very current especially if there are industry developments such as “It is in relation to the latest regulation that has just come into force and how that affects the compliance of the organisation.”

“Can you send the information via post/email?”
In this instance it is advisable to be slightly demeaning about the information that you can send such as “I am happy to send the information however it is does cover everything, and does not address the specific issues that I think that the business has.” Then revert to asking for an appointment. The alternative option in this instance is to state that you need to speak to the decision maker to ascertain which information to send as you do not want to overload their inbox with a lot of irrelevant attachments. Once speaking to the decision maker, your aim reverts back to trying to make the appointment,

“Is he expecting your call?”
In this instance, you should answer “no.” Your best option is state that to accept that you understand that he does not take calls from someone he is not expecting call from. Then ask if you can send him some information/email because you strongly believe it will be interest and relevance to that person. In your email state that you will be calling him to discuss. When you make follow-up the call (which needs to be at least a few days afterwards), before the PA asks the same question again, state (in a matter of fact style) that he is expecting your call (because you stated so in your email) straight after your introduction.

You can be cheeky and set a read or received request on your email, then if you get a response, you can say that the reason for calling is regarding an email that he sent you.

Some salespeople will answer the initial question from the PA of “Is he expecting your call?” with “yes” and their justification for this is that if they are a leading supplier in the market and they are contacting a leading customer, then surely the customer would be expecting a call from the salesperson. This option, of course, has the risk of annoying the customer and if used you must be able to handle the decision maker’s response.


• Ask for the contact by name.

• Use the PA’s name if you have it.

• Sound confident – Talk as if you should be put through.

• Be sure your statement has something that will be of interest to the contact i.e. what you have to offer is relevant. The greater the relevance to the contact the more likely you will be to speak to them. Therefore be sure that your prospecting is thorough so that there is a direct relationship between what you have to offer and the person you want to whom you want to speak.

• Remember that the PA is a person too – ask for their help (most people try to help when asked.)

• If you do not have the decision maker’s name, ask for the person who is responsible for the product or service that you are offering. Make sure that you note the full name, job title & department for your records.

• If you are having difficulties getting through, it may be advisable to send an email or letter so that they know something about you. At least they will be expecting your call. You will also be able to say that you are calling regarding information that you have sent.

• If all else fails, is there anyone else in the customer’s organisation that may be worthwhile speaking to.

• You can also try the “smoke and mirrors” technique, whereby you would say something like “it’s regarding the ongoing supply of XXX.” In this technique you are implying that you are an existing supplier but not actually saying so.


Many decision makers largely screen their calls using their voice-mail. Few, if any, ever return calls from salespeople. There is little that you can do to get round voice-mail, however here are a few ideas:

• Try at various different times – There may be times when they do answer calls such as before 9.00 and after 17.00.

• Can you get through to a colleague who may be able to put you through.

• Does the switchboard have an alternative number such as a mobile phone number?

To hone your sales skills attend a sales training course and learn more about making appointments.