An Unconventional (Yet Ridiculously Logical) Approach For Getting Past The Gatekeeper

Photo Credit: mpujals via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: mpujals via Compfight cc

It’s one of the oldest games of cat and mouse.

Before walking through the door you get your game face on. Maybe you even give yourself a quick pep talk.

You get as mentally prepared as possible for the pending face off.

On the other side of the door, she sits. Patient, calm, and clear about her mission. She has her orders. No one gets past. No one.

One last deep breath and through the door you go.

“Hi Susan, how are you this week? It’s really getting chilly out there now. Winter will be here soon.”

She politely nods, but doesn’t offer much more than a half-hearted, “I guess. Can I help you?”

This is the part where what you really want to say is, “Can you help me? Is that a serious question? I’ve been coming in here every 2 weeks for 6 months. I’ve made the same request Every. Single. Time.”

But you muster up a courteous smile and simply say, “Yes, I was wondering if I could speak with the doctor or assistant (or some other decision maker)?”

“Unfortunately no. They’re with patients right now.”

Sound familiar?

It did for a client I was working with earlier this week. He asked a question I get a lot.

How do I get past stubborn gatekeepers?

I offered him a two-word answer.

Be Honest.

That’s it.

We pretend like there is some secret answer, some secret trick that will get you past the gatekeeper. There isn’t. Everyone else has tried those tricks. That’s why they don’t work.

That’s why I suggest honesty.

“Susan, you know what I’ve realized? If you think about it, you and I have jobs that couldn’t be more conflicting. I’m supposed to keep coming in here in an attempt to meet the doctor and your job is to keep me from accomplishing that so I don’t waste any of his time. It’s actually kind of funny when you think about it.

I have an idea that might help us both accomplish our respective goals. I’m guessing most of the salespeople that come in here don’t have much to offer that’s unique, interesting, or different. In fact, I’m willing to bet most of them want to talk about merchandise and no matter how many times the doctor says he’s not interested they keep coming back an interrupting your day. Here’s what I’d like to propose. I realize it may be a little unconventional, but hear me out.

I’d like you to find a 15-minute window where I can introduce myself to the doctor. If you can arrange that, I’ll make you two promises:

  1. I will not bring up merchandise, supplies, or some promotion we have going on at all. Period. That’s not the purpose of my visit. I’m simply looking to make an introduction.
  2. If after this 15 minute meeting, the doctor is not interested in having me come back, I’ll respect that. I won’t come back and you won’t have to deal with me interrupting your day ever again.

Whaddya say?”

For those of you still with me, hear me out.

I realize this is an approach not built for the faint of heart. But consider just for a minute why it has the potential to work, assuming you’ve been polite and respectful up to this point:

  • It’s honest and people appreciate that.
  • It’s empathetic. You’re acknowledging that you understand her responsibilities and at the same time asking her understand yours.
  • You’re admitting that salespeople have probably wasted their time in the past.
  • The one thing they are not interested in talking about is merchandise and you’ve assured them that won’t happen.
  • You’ve promised to go away if they don’t like what you have to say.
  • You’ve only asked for 15 minutes or so, not a chance to present at their next staff meeting.
  • It’s different. It stands out. It’s the kind of thing that makes people say, “You know what, I like this guy’s guts. I’m going to give him a shot.”

This is not some half-baked idea I just thought up for a blog post. I’ve used this successfully, several times. People I’ve managed have used an approach like this successfully.

But there are some criteria that must be met before using this approach:

  • This is not something you use on a first or second call. You use this after several months of rejection with a receptionist who knows who you are and can see how persistent you’ve been (and intend to be).
  • You are confident that after 15 minutes with you, the doctor will say, “I’d like you to keep coming around here.” (I cannot emphasize this enough. You are putting your money where your mouth is with this approach. You better be sure. And if you aren’t confident you can create a compelling reason for them to keep you around, don’t try this. Instead, focus on doing the work it takes to be confident because at some point you will get the chance.)
  • You are very strategic about where and when you use this. You must be respectful, professional, and courteous. Period.

My guess is many of you won’t try this. Either because you think it’s too risky, too “out there” or whatever. I’m ok with that. But, I’d love to know…..what are you going to do? Please leave your thoughts in the comments. I’d love to start a discussion on this.

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4 Responses to “An Unconventional (Yet Ridiculously Logical) Approach For Getting Past The Gatekeeper”

  1. Scott L November 2, 2013 at 7:54 am #

    Great article Joe. I know just which reps to share this with. Let you know how it works out.

  2. Kenny Schwing November 7, 2013 at 1:53 pm #

    Nice article Joe! I have been sharing this exact story with reps for over 40 years. It is imperative for reps to have something special, different and show how this product or service will improve the dentist’s production, otherwise, the gatekeeper will do her job. You are correct that they have one chance to impress this busy dentist. If the rep is not confident, they lost their chance. If they are confident and prepared, they may cultivate a loyal client. Honesty, Trust and Integrity is what builds relationships.

    Thank you for taking the time to write this article!!

  3. Karen November 19, 2013 at 1:00 am #

    Fantastic article which really hits home, Joe! I’m gonna write a short list and definitely try it out with a few customers. Of course, have to have a solid game plan for those 15 minutes – which of course is a different topic. Thanks for showing me another side of the spectrum to think about – super helpful!

    • Joe McGonigal November 20, 2013 at 3:14 pm #

      Let me know how it works out for you. I’ll be curious to hear. And yes, you are right…having a plan for the 15 minutes is really important. Hopefully, you’ve had a chance to get to know a bit about the practice from the front desk and have identified a few challenges they’re having that you can help solve.
      Good Luck!

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