By Nathan Teahon
Is your business-to-business telesales program performing below par? If so, what’s wrong? This could be a million-dollar question. Poor performance might be due to any number of things. Most smart telesales managers will look at the pitch, the offer, the close, or perhaps the call list. Those are great items to constantly evaluate, and many times a small adjustment will yield tremendous results. However, one of the most overlooked pieces of the equation can be successfully getting past the gatekeeper to reach a decision maker. In fact, I’ve found that getting to a decision maker is 75 percent of the battle.
So, if that is true, why is it one of the last things to be evaluated? A typical sales staff is made up of talented individuals who know how to talk and how to sell. One of the first things they learn is how to get past a gatekeeper. It is not the core of the sales process, and it is almost certainly not the aspect of a call that people would consider the most fun. Naturally, the most mundane part of a person’s job often leads to resting on one’s laurels. When the salesperson gets the decision maker on the phone, the job gets fun and the salesperson become fired up. Getting past a gatekeeper? Meh. No fun there. And because managers often view this as a basic skill versus a sales skill that separates the leaders from the pack, it’s easy to overlook.
Getting past the gatekeeper isn’t a new concept; it’s simply the most overlooked. It might be time for a reality check on how staff is handling gatekeepers. You can do this by conducting 100 percent non-contact monitoring sessions. Sure, you can listen to how they are doing in this regard during the course of normal monitoring, but inevitably, the bulk of your attention is going to be on the core goal of the sales call.
During a non-contact session, you can pull fifty random non-contact recordings and spend an hour, or even just thirty minutes, listening to nothing other than how your team is handling gatekeepers. This will tell you exactly what you need to focus on. The top four basic requirements are:
- Ask for a specific callback time if the decision maker is not available.
- Ask for an alternate decision maker if the person asked for is not available.
- Use the client name up front with the gatekeeper.
- Work quickly and intelligently through automated machines.
Using this list, keep score and mark a point off for each category missed. At the end of the session, you will have a non-contact accuracy score. Doing this evaluation is mundane and not much fun. You should probably load up on coffee or an energy drink prior to doing it. But, rarely is one of these sessions unproductive. No matter how experienced and diligent your team is, these habits are the easiest to forget.
The Importance of Alternate Decision Makers: Why is it important to ask for alternate decision makers? Most gatekeepers will tell you that at least half the calls they get are someone asking for “Bob Smith” when they really needed “Joe Nelson.”
Also, there are usually additional people with decision-making authority. Most companies don’t have a structure where only one person has the authority to buy. Seventy-five percent of the battle is getting a decision maker on the phone, but it’s naïve to think there is only one person in an organization with the authority to deal with a sales agent.
Try Setting a Phone Appointment: Are your agents’ calls typically ten to fifteen minutes or more in length? If they are, that is a significant amount of time for the decision maker to spend with a salesperson when the person is not expecting the call.
Most people keep rigid calendars, and salespeople can increase the odds of a decision-maker contact by getting the call on that person’s calendar. Have your team set up an appointment, and then send an outlook calendar invitation. Many people will end up canceling or not taking the sales agent’s call at the set appointment time, but if they have the placeholder for a time to talk with the agent, he or she is less likely to have to play phone tag. People appreciate having an appointment, and sending out a calendar invite is professional, giving the agent more credibility. This isn’t the right approach for every campaign, but depending on the objective of the call and how long it takes, it can be very effective.
Approaching the Gatekeeper: I’m not going to cover getting past a gatekeeper from a sales agent’s perspective; that article has been written many times, and it’s funny how a process seemingly so simple has so many varying opinions on which strategy is best. Should the agent say, “I am calling for John Smith,” or should he ask, “Is John Smith available?” Is it better for agents to treat gatekeepers like gold, or is it better to be as nondescript as possible and pretend the decision maker has been sitting by the phone anxiously awaiting the agent’s call all day? Should the salesperson be polite and ask them how they are, or is it a waste of time that will annoy them? I’ve seen articles written on both sides of these considerations, each giving a very convincing argument.
First, each one of these approaches will work in specific circumstances. Next, not all sales programs are the same. What works best for getting to the president of a hospital is not necessarily what works best in connecting with an owner of a fitness facility. Also, sales agents aren’t created equal. It’s certainly worthy to create standard practices for your team, but don’t take away their flexibility to do what works best for them.
Final Thoughts: One last rule of thumb: Instruct your agents to not treat gatekeepers like gatekeepers. I’ve never seen an employee with the title “Gatekeeper.” They are human beings doing a job, just like everyone else. When they are screening calls for their boss, they aren’t being mean to your salespeople – they are doing their job. Contrary to popular belief, there is not a National Gatekeeper Convention where they all gather and snicker about the time they wouldn’t let that salesperson through despite his or her strongest efforts. If I am wrong, someone let me know.
As my mother said, “Treat people the way you would like to be treated. If you do that, odds are you’ll have some success. “
Nathan Teahon is the director of operations for Quality Contact Solutions, www.qualitycontactsolutions.com.
[From Connection Magazine – May/Jun 2014]