Working With Gatekeepers

A gatekeeper is someone in the organization who has the responsibility of deciding who gets to talk to the boss, and who does not.  Typically this person has the title of Executive Assistant or Administrative Assistant and is an insider as to what’s going on in the company.  They are very skillful at sorting out who is given access to the boss and who is not.  Usually these people have a high level of trust with the boss and can make things happen if they wish.  Gatekeepers can also be lower level managers who have been given the responsibility of gathering information for the decision maker.

Traditionally “getting past the gatekeeper” has been seen as a game, and manipulative tactics have been used to win the battle.  Today this is a mistake.  Considering the gatekeeper’s importance and ability to influence outcomes, new approaches are recommended.  After all, the gatekeeper will decide whether or not you’ll be given access to the boss.

Dos and Don’ts

  • Do use their name; ask for it if it’s not offered.
  • Do respect them and their position; they may hold your future success in their hands.
  • Do ask for their help.  If they like you they can be very helpful.
  • Don’t use deception.  While deception may appear to offer positive short-term results, the overall impact will be negative in a relationship sale.
  • Don’t try to intimidate them into giving you access to the boss.
  • Don’t treat them as if they are stupid – they’re not.
  • Don’t try to get “past” them.  Work “with” them instead.

The Question – “What is this in regards to?”

You must be ready for this question.  It will be asked, and your answer will determine immediately just how successful you will be in getting an audience with the boss.  The gatekeeper will be trying to determine whether or not you will waste the boss’ time.  Instead of telling the gatekeeper you’re trying to get an appointment with the boss, mention something that you’ve done for others that the boss might want to find out more about, or mention a problem that you’ve been able to resolve for others in similar circumstances.  After all, the gatekeeper needs to have a good reason for putting your call through.  He or she doesn’t want to hear the boss say, “Why did you put that call through?”

You might say something like:  “We’ve developed a new program that’s helping distributors like yourself reduce transportation expenses by an average of 17%.  Is this something that he might be interested in talking to us about?”  (And you’d better be able to support whatever statement or claim you make.)

Self-Study Assignment:  How do you answer the “What do you do?” question now?  If your response is weak or if it changes every time you get that question, take a few minutes and come up with a better response.  Run it by your manager to see if it is acceptable.