Avoid incarceration in voicemail jail

Recently, one of our customers told of his frustrations with being put into voicemail jail. He had prospective CEOs and business owners with whom he wanted to connect. He would call their office and ask the person responsible for screening calls, known in sales as the gatekeeper, to put him through. Typically, they would respond with something like, “Let me try them and see if they can take your call,” and then he would go straight to voicemail.

He left messages, but didn’t have much luck with getting call-backs. Sometimes, he would ask the gatekeeper for help, “I keep leaving voicemails for Sara but haven’t gotten a call back. Is there any way you can help me connect with her?” The gatekeeper might respond with something like “Oh, she said she’d call you back. Just leave a voicemail.” But it rarely worked.

Keep in mind that most people think it’s OK to mislead salespeople. I’ve even talked to salespeople who shared that it’s OK to mislead salespeople! It’s possible that CEOs and business owners may even mislead their gatekeepers to avoid talking to a salesperson! Let’s face it: For most people, it’s easier to say, “Tell him I’ll call him back,” than it is to say, “I never want him to call again.”

If you keep getting sent to voicemail jail, how can you break through? Here’s a suggestion. First, be nurturingly assertive with the gatekeeper. Let’s understand what a gatekeeper’s role is. It is to put the right people through and keep the wrong people out. (Hint: uninvited salespeople are the wrong people).

Rule No. 1 when speaking to the gatekeeper is to avoid sounding and acting like a salesperson. I know that many salespeople will have an argument here: “I make friends with the gatekeeper and get them to put me through.” While that technique may work occasionally, it has several flaws, the most challenging of which is the nature of the gatekeeper’s role listed above. After a few repetitions of a CEO or senior leader taking an unwanted call from a salesperson, often the gatekeeper will be reminded of their gatekeeping responsibility and potentially even reprimanded.

See if you can spot the errors in this sales person’s approach to getting past the gatekeeper. (In a radio DJ-tone voice) “Hi, this is Dave Johnson calling from Premaster, can I speak with Miss Velasquez please?” Unfortunately for Dave, he was dead in the water with the gatekeeper by the time he got his last name out of his mouth. His first mistake was sounding like a salesperson. A normal person doesn’t talk like a radio DJ. If you don’t believe me, go back and listen to normal voicemails left by family and friends. Most often, their tonality is conversational and laid back.

You’ll also notice that people who know you don’t supply their first and last names when they call you, just their first. And they typically won’t ask for you by your first and last name, either. These are surefire clues to the gatekeeper that you don’t know the prospect and should be kept out.

By using these slight edge gatekeeper techniques, a skilled salesperson can get by even the toughest gatekeepers. It might sound like this:

Gatekeeper: Hello, Beacher Corp.

You: Hi, is Sara around?

GK: Can I ask who’s calling?

You: Yeah — will you let her know it’s Dave.

If the gatekeeper asks for a last name:

You: Can you just tell Sara that Dave’s holding …

Using this technique will get a skilled salesperson with strong self-esteem past 90 percent of gatekeepers and through to the person they are calling.

Some salespeople might get “wrapped around the axle” due to the assertive nature of the technique. The deserving salesperson will rationalize use of the technique this way. “I have a good reason for calling this leader. My product or service can be of great benefit to their organization. It doesn’t make any sense for me to let a person at a lower level in the organization decide the fate of the organization or me. I will be respectful, but my will to speak to the CEO or owner is stronger than the gatekeeper’s will to keep me out.”

If you have a strong and determined salesperson on your team, pass this along to them to test and measure and see if they don’t increase their senior conversations.

Bob Bolak is president of Sandler Training. He can be reached at 303-928-9163 or bbolak@sandler.com.


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