Getting past the gate keeper

Gate keepers are just doing their job, and you will have more success if you work with them than just try to get around them.

Getting past the gate keeper

Sue Barrett

This time of the year many people are trying to get back into the swing of things after their Christmas break. It’s about this time that many sales people begin their prospecting efforts in earnest and many people are back from leave. It is as good a time as any to prospect.

So as it’s the new year, I thought we could take a fresh look at some old issues.

One of the most common complaints I hear from sales people time and time again is: “How do I get around the gate keeper?”

A gate keeper is the person who can prevent you from getting to the “key decision maker”, the person who is really in a position to make the sale happen for you. A gate keeper could be the receptionist or a personal assistant. Alternatively, it could be your primary contact who you are dealing with during the process and who is preventing you from having access to the people who are in the real circle of influence (that is, the key decision maker).

The biggest mistake sales people make is taking on the mindset of trying to get past the gate keeper rather than trying to work with them.

As a sales person, your task is to determine as quickly as possible how you can work with and around the gate keepers so that you can ensure your message is reaching those individuals who are in a position to move the sales process forward. Influencing this person can even be as simple as developing a rapport with the receptionist and fostering your relationship with them each time you come in contact with them.

Each time I encounter one of these people (especially if they are the PA to the key decision maker) I explain clearly and directly why I am wanting to speak to the key decision maker and then ask the PA for their guidance and opinion as to whether what I am calling about would be something the key decision maker has on their list of priorities. In my experience they are more than happy to help and often end up making an appointment for me to meet the key decision maker.

If you are having trouble getting to see the right people, here are some guidelines that might help you work with and not against the gate keepers. 

Key characteristics can include:

  • Uncooperative.
  • Protective of key decision makers.
  • Can be on a power trip.
  • Possess a lot of information about the company.
  • Can help you navigate through the organisation.
  • Can very quickly turn into coach if treated well.

How to deal with them:

  • Engage them as much as possible as early on as possible.
  • Ask them for their opinion.
  • Make them feel important.
  • Don’t put pressure on them.
  • Build meaningful relationships with them.
  • Don’t ignore them once you get to the key decision makers.

Remember, gate keepers are people too and are often very good at their job. Many of them are just doing what was asked of them. They deserve our respect too.

Sue Barrett is Managing Director of BARRETT Pty Ltd. Sue is an experienced consultant and trained coach and facilitator. Sue and her team are best known for their work in creating High Performing Sales Teams. Key to their success is working with the whole person and integrating emotional intelligence, skill, knowledge, behaviour, process and strategy via effective training and coaching programs. For more information please go to


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