Dear Business-to-Business Salesperson:
May I share a tip for getting a receptionist to connect you to that hard-to-reach business decision-maker? Don’t be an ass to the receptionist.
It’s not unusual for callers to try to intimidate their way in. The typical approach is to act as if you’re in tight with Jane Boss, in hopes the receptionist won’t dare try to screen you. “Yeah,” you say, trying to sound busy and important when the receptionist picks up, “Jane Boss please.” Not fooled, the receptionist asks who is calling. “Ted.” Er, Ted who? “Ted Smith.” Er, Ted Smith with…? “Acme.” And it’s regarding…? And so it goes, until, one terse concession at a time, the receptionist has dragged from you who you are and what you want, at the same time confirming what he or she suspected from the start: that you are an ass who thought you could bluff your way past a “lowly” receptionist.
There are at least four problems with this approach: 1) Receptionists aren’t lowly. 2) The receptionist has all of the power, and knows it. You have none. The receptionist knows that, too. 3) No one deserves to be treated with curtness and deception. Not even “lowly” people, were there such a thing. 4) You’re not the first ass to call. The receptionist was onto you from the moment you coldly opened with, “Yeah…”
Hey, here’s a radical idea. Why not try openness and courtesy?
Doing my best to connect with the CEO of a huge organization, I got through to his administrative assistant. Rather than say, “Yeah, Mr. So-and-So please,” I took this tack: “Hello. My name is Steve Cuno. I sure hope you can help me.” I paused, and the most remarkable thing happened. The administrative assistant’s words and tone were encouraging! “Well,” she said, “I’ll do what I can.” I went on: “I work in direct response marketing. I realize that part of your job is to keep salespeople like me away from Mr. So-and-So. The trouble is, I have done my homework on your company and I truly believe that Mr. So-and-So would be intrigued at what we do. All I need 10 minutes, and if he’s not intrigued I promise to go away. Is there any way you can help me?” Help me she did. That company became one of the biggest clients of my career.
I have continued using that approach in my sales calls, both warm and cold. I have found that instead of trying to bluff my way past receptionists and other gatekeepers, I can enlist their aid by being courteous, leveling as to what I’m up to, why it matters, and asking for help. Apparently according them such respect is unusual. How sad overall, but how good for me. And for you, assuming you henceforth adopt that approach. Gatekeepers tend to reward forthrightness and courtesy with their cooperation and, sometimes, even their support.
Moral: People with the power to sabotage you have the power to help you. Treat them with courtesy and openness, and they might just become an ally instead of a foe.