Ad Agency New Business: Getting Past the Gatekeeper


We’ve all been there. You place a call to a senior executive at a highly qualified prospect organization and encounter the Brigadier General of assistants – one who expertly and deftly blocks your access to the prize. This is not your average receptionist. It’s a professional gatekeeper who has been hired to protect and defend the decision-maker. This individual cannot be charmed with friendly overtures or small talk.  Professional gatekeepers are smart, experienced and, most importantly, skilled at handling sales inquiries. So, how do you break through?

It’s all about control.

Watch your tone. Be authoritative. Identify yourself immediately. Don’t wait to be asked for your name.  Remember, the person who asks the questions is always the one who leads the conversation. Example…

Ring, ring…

Gatekeeper: “Bill Smith’s office”

You: “Hello, this is (your full name) from ABC Agency. Is Bill in?”

Gatekeeper: “What is this in reference to?”

You: “I’m following up with Bill on our earlier correspondence. Who is this?” (Follow this “answer then ask” strategy. )

Get personal and ask for help. Learn the gatekeeper’s name immediately and use it in the conversation. If you are in the early qualification stage of the process, ask for the gatekeeper's “help” in discerning the true decision-maker from the rest of the team. By asking for advice you demonstrate that you respect and value this person's knowledge and suggestions. The gatekeeper becomes an ally rather than an adversary.

Connect with content. Always reference content previously sent or intel gleaned from your marketing automation system to support a valid reason for your call. A promotional mailer or email will suffice, as long as it is personalized and contains information specific to your USP.

Be certain to emphasize that this is not a cold call, but a focused follow-up on valuable (even proprietary) material, perhaps known to have been viewed by the prospect. Support your message by establishing a thought leadership position via various social channels.

To clarify, while cold calls are dead - content doesn't close, people do.  Establish recognition before picking up the phone via a blend of strong content and direct outreach. The call then serves to begin the relationship development aspect of the process.

Never pitch the gatekeeper. Be forthright while avoiding in-depth explanations of your intent. Selling the gatekeeper never works and relinquishes control of the conversation.

Never lie. Engage don’t evade. Don’t try to fool or sneak past the gatekeeper. Be professional and forthright. Treat the gatekeeper as a valuable member of the team whose input is important. Lying as a means to get your call through is a mistake that can never be corrected.

Finally, when all else fails, always ask to be put through to voice mail. A succinct, benefits-driven message (followed by an email and personal note) is another highly effective mechanism for getting the decision-maker acquainted with you and your firm. It also creates a pathway for follow up calls.

Bottom-line, avoid being a barbarian at the gate. Increase the likelihood of encountering a welcoming committee by being focused and authentic with your prospect’s gatekeeper.