Have you ever thought, “If I could only get through the gatekeeper, I know I could sell the decision maker?”
Getting through to decision makers is the Holy Grail of marketing and sales. It’s critical, but it also happens to be difficult.
Let’s talk about some techniques to get through gatekeepers, particularly when you are selling high ticket items that aren’t an online click a button type of sale.
Hey, everyone. It's Robert Poole with the Growing Your B2B Small Business podcast. Let me ask you a question. What do you think is the single biggest challenge in marketing and sales, particularly in B2B? Well, from my experience, it's getting in front of the decision-maker, regardless of how you do it. And this is part two on this topic. So let's talk about some ideas on how to improve our success rate, particularly when it comes to offline methods.
Do you have a small business that sells to other businesses? If so, you probably know that there are plenty of resources for companies that market to consumers or companies that sell to large and Fortune 500 type of companies. But what about the small businesses in the middle who sell to other companies? Where do we go to get answers? How do we grow our company consistently while still keeping our sanity? That's the question, and this podcast is the answer.
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Okay, everyone, I hope you're having an awesome day today. In the last episode, we talked about some of the fundamentals of how we can improve our chances of getting through to the right decision-makers. We covered some of the online strategies, and this episode is geared more towards the offline tactics and strategy. If you haven't listened to the first episode, I'd stop this and listen to this first, as it'll make more sense.
So I'm going to jump right back into the topic of solutions to enhance our offline techniques of getting to the decision-makers. We talked about the two main tactics used in offline marketing, direct mail and cold-calling. So the question is, how do we get through to decision-makers most effectively, using these offline techniques?
Let's start with the traditional physical mailers. I mean, they've been around forever, but their effectiveness ranges from completely useless to a decent ROI. As with most techniques. B2B is a little different. If you're in a mass market scenario, where you have thousands and tens of thousands of prospects, it's a little trickier, and I think online strategies often work better. But as always, it depends on your industry and your solution.
In general, in B2B, something like a cheap postcard, it's unlikely to be very effective. Also, you can send something flashy and consumer-looking, and it'll likely get put in that file 13, i.e., the trash can. Most business owners are looking for vendors who are professional. Yes, a cute gecko works for GEICO's consumer customers, but that's generally not what attracts serious small business owners.
I think making your mailing pieces look professional is very important versus cute and pretty, if you want to stick out. And obviously, the more personalized the mailer is, the more likely it'll get to the decision-maker. If you only have a few hundred prospects, I mean, you can literally write handwritten letters or at least sign stuff and send out 25 a week or whatever. It's much better to do quality versus quantity.
And so, quality is important to stand out. But another way to enhance your chances of getting to the decision-maker is by something like odd-size packaging and not using standard envelopes or packaging material. Even throwing in some kind of trinket in an otherwise flat mailer will make it more interesting. And it's less likely to get opened by a gatekeeper, and it'll pique the interest of the decision-maker. It doesn't have to be fancy. I mean, it can be a 25-cent whoopee cushion or something stupid. But if you can tie it to your sales message, even better. The point is you want it to stand out from the rest of the junk mail that they're getting.
The last major thing that I think you can improve your chances works best when you can afford a little bit of money to acquire a customer. I mentioned earlier that I would respond to a FedEx. The reason a FedEx or an overnight letter or package works so well is that most gatekeepers have sort of a reverence for FedEx addressed to a specific person and feel like it's private and they won't open it, but give it directly to decision-maker.
I mean, it doesn't happen all the time, but in most cases. So this is not going to work, obviously, at the scale of thousands because it comes cost-prohibitive. But if you have a high-ticket product or service that can absorb that kind of cost and acquire the customer, it's almost always worth sending things that way. So mailers can work and be effective, but you got to do it right.
The other major way to get to B2B decision-makers is via cold-calling. Cold-calling is a bad word to many people because of the abusive telemarketing the last few decades when calling consumers, but I mean, that's why they have a DNC list for consumers. But B2B is a little different animal. There's currently no national B2B do-not-call list. There's a few states that have them, but they're fairly small. And the reason for this is that if businesses can't contact each other to do business, it's really going to hurt the flow of the economy.
Unfortunately, some business owners think, "Well, I don't want to become one of those telemarketers calling and knowing people at dinner." Well, you have to remember that these are calls from one professional to another, not some scammer selling credit card protection to a consumer. I mean, this is a professional-to-professional conversation.
Obviously, I'm a little biased, given that one of the main ways my company, SalesDouble, markets for our clients is through cold-calling. But I have enough hard data to prove that over 20-plus years, that it really is effective in getting in front of decision-makers if done right. I mean, if it didn't work, our company would not have scheduled and generated hundreds of thousands of leads in B2B. So if your product or service has enough margin, cold-calling by yourself, which I don't recommend, as it's a very specific skill, and not to mention, it's kind of nasty at times, or having a third-party company do it, it can make a lot of sense.
One thing that makes cold-calling unique from all other methods of getting to a decision-maker is that it forces a decision-maker to make a decision on the spot if they're going to listen to you. If you're trying to get them to click on an ad or call your office from a mailer, it's really up to them. But if you kind of confront them and ask them straight out for a commitment, you eliminate any kind of procrastination. So that's one of the big reasons I like cold-calling.
But if you're going to use this technique to get to your decision-makers, there are a few things that are going to make it more effective. And just like all methods, you have to very clearly define your prospects first, but then you have to have a source list to call on. And if you're calling a very specific niche, it is hard to get phone numbers for that, and that's a problem. However, if you're calling businesses based on things like geography or SIC codes, it's a little easier to generate that list.
List generation in itself is a science and an art. So if you don't put the time and effort into it first, you're very quickly going to kill your rate of getting through to the decision-makers. And I recommend you get some help with that before you do anything. A high-quality list is super important. Most of us are not list gurus. So, as I said, find a professional who is. I mean, that's obviously one of the services we provide for our clients as a specialty.
This is going to take multiple calls, and most of the time, you can expect to close a deal on your first contact with a decision-maker. So don't get discouraged if it takes you talking to the gatekeeper eight times before they let you through. I mean, some people give up after one trial, "Geez, they're not interested," and then think that cold-calling doesn't work. I mean, yes, you can get lucky on a one-call close, so to speak, but it's exactly that, luck. It's okay to call back frequently, but I mean, you obviously have to use good judgment.
A couple of years ago, we had a sales rep at our company call a prospect 27 times in one day. I mean, he finally beat the prospect in submission and got the sale, but I'm sure it was mostly to get the guy to go away, and I don't think the prospect was a client for very long. Needless to say, the sales rep was not with our company after that. But the point is you've got to have some perseverance and know how it works in B2B.
Another thing that will help you, and this, to me, it blows me away because it would seem so obvious and it should be natural for everybody, but be kind and courteous and professional and friendly with a gatekeeper. I mean, it amazes me how many people I've seen over the years talk down to a gatekeeper like they're some low-level person and treat them like they're a peon. I mean, geez, that's just stupid for so many reasons.
I mean, number one, they're a human being and no one should be treated like that. But I mean, life is hard enough, particularly when you're on an entry-level job like that. Two, it's just bad for business. I mean, if you think the gatekeeper is going to let you through when you're obnoxious, arrogant, or a rude person, you're in fantasyland. I mean, even if they did, do you think the decision-maker isn't going to hear about that from the gatekeeper? I mean, my loyalty is to my team, and that includes the lower-pay-scale employees. I won't ever work with a salesperson who doesn't sell our gatekeeper with the same kind of respect as they would me.
Speaking of which, did you hear that last part, sell the gatekeeper? You should, of course, be courteous and friendly, and that should be a given, but you also have a need to have part of your script designed to give the gatekeeper an incentive to pass you through to the decision-maker. I mean, what's in it for them? They're doing you a favor, not the other way around. This can be something as simple as complimenting their voice or their company, something you know about it, or even asking for, "Hey, can you do me a favor?" type of thing. People love to help out other people if they feel respected, and all that, and they like the person they're talking to.
I hinted at this a minute ago, but the next big thing is scripting. And that applies both with the gatekeeper as well as the decision-maker. I did an episode a while back about the importance of scripting. People get all wound up about scripting your call, but they aren't understanding what I mean by it and how to do it. I mean, if you have a script in front of you and you're reading it, you're doing it all wrong. The gatekeeper will totally pick up on that. And even if you get through to the decision-maker, they're going to pick up on that as well.
People always tell me, "Well, because of that, you can't script a call because the conversation goes all over the place." And hey, that's absolutely true, but it doesn't mean that you shouldn't script answers to specific objections, the points that you want to make sure you want to get across in the most succinct and powerful language possible. If you're winging it every time, you're not going to have consistently good conversations and close sales.
So you not only have to script responses and talking points, but you also have to memorize them like the back of your hand so that they roll off your tongue without even thinking about it. Salespeople who think they don't have to use a script are just kidding themselves. The reason I bring this up, because of course, it's critical when talking to the decision-maker, but it's also super important to script and to practice your gatekeeper technique.
Just like a script for the decision-maker, a gatekeeper script is the same four elements: tell them who you are, why they should listen to you, what's in it for them, and then make an offer, i.e., ask them to connect you to the decision-maker. I won't go into specific wording on gatekeeper scripting, as it depends on your specific solution, but I mean, there are whole books written on the subject that are available. So I would check that out.
So a list in scripting and obvious courtesy with the gatekeeper is critical. The number one thing that separates superstars that get through to tons of decision-makers over the phone is energy and how they sound energy. Energy, I mean, they used to say that over the phone, you lose like 80% of your energy due to lack of body language. Some recent studies have kind of refuted that number, but I think all of us recognize that energy often doesn't come through to the full force as it would in person.
You've been on the phone with someone who sounds close to dead, and then you've also been on with someone who's energetic and excited, and you want whatever they're on. We all want to talk to an energetic and excited person, but some of you will say, "Well, I'm just not an energetic person." Well, guess what? I'm not either. I'm an introvert also. But there are ways to compensate for our natural tendencies.
Number one, use a stand-up desk. I have a stand-up desk that can be moved down to a regular-height desk level when I'm sitting down, and then I can bring it up to the standing level. I mean, whenever I'm on a client call or a Zoom, I always stand. You immediately get more energy, and that comes across. If you're getting ready to do an important call or a presentation via Zoom, before you get on, jump up and down a few times. Do a few push-ups or whenever gets your blood running.
I mean, why is this important? Well, you have to overcompensate when you're on the phone or even in video. If you call a gatekeeper and talk to them in your normal voice, sitting down with normal energy, it's very likely you're not going to get much help from the gatekeeper. Why? Because they're hearing somebody boring and uninteresting on the phone and they're just looking for an excuse to hang up. They're not going to connect to you and have no real desire to help you or put you through to the decision-maker.
So another thing you didn't need to do with a gatekeeper is use the correct tone of voice and the correct language, again, scripting. When you call, if you know the name of the person you're calling for, you don't want to call and say, "Hey, This is Mary. I'm a salesperson, and I was wondering if Bob is available, by chance," or even worse, "Is Mr. or Mrs. Jones available?"
I mean, that screams salesperson who has no relationship with the decision-maker and clearly doesn't know anything about them. More on that in a minute, but you want to open and approach the call as if you're a colleague of the prospect and not put yourself below them in stature. You want the gatekeeper to know that you're a peer of the decision-maker and this is a professional call, not some yahoo used car salesman calling.
The best way to do this is to be authoritative and act as if you're the decision-maker's friend in the sense that you want to simply ask for them to be connected to them, something as short as, "Hi. Bob Jones, please." I mean, that's it. Let the gatekeeper ask for more information if they want it. The tone of this call says, "Hey, I know Bob and it's okay to put me through."
Notice that it's not a question, it's a command. There's a subtle difference, but psychologically, it works. For a good percentage of callers, that in itself, if you say it with confidence and authority, it'll get you through, whereas begging like, "Pretty please, can I please talk to your boss so that I can sell them something?" I mean, that's the equivalent of, "You wouldn't want to buy anything, would you?" type of close.
If that doesn't work, it kind of puts the onus on the gatekeeper to get the info that they want. Let them ask you what info they need to make a decision, whether to put you through or not. I mean, don't volunteer a bunch of info that they put other ideas in their head and give them more reasons not to let you through. So how you use your voice with an authoritative and confident tone will make a huge difference in your success rate in getting through to decision-makers.
Other than my personal experience, I remember I went to a telephone sales training thing, and this had to be 20 years ago, and the speaker, what he literally did, as he was doing the training, he demonstrated and proved what he was saying about how to use some of these techniques. So he literally called several different prospects right in front of us, put the phone on speaker, and did what he was talking about, which is the, "Hey, can I please talk to Bob," type of thing, more of the begging, "I'm a peon," type of tone and everything.
And of course, he got shut down several times. And then he changed and went back to what I was talking about, changing the tone to, "Hey. Hi. Bob Jones, please," and with an authoritative, "Hey, I'm a professional just like Bob, and this is a professional call, not a yahoo salesman." And he proved it right in front of us. I think he made probably a total of 10 calls, and it was literally almost every time he got through to the decision-maker doing the more authoritative close.
So tone of your voice really matters. And if you're new or starting out or don't have real confidence, scared on the phone, take it. Think about, like you're a Hollywood actor, and do it that way.
One last tip when cold-calling, and again, this depends on how many prospects you have on your list and how much each sale is worth to you, but if you're in a position where each potential prospect is very valuable, then the more you can find out about them, the better, and the better success you'll have when you actually talk to them as well as trying to get through them.
And your conversation with a gatekeeper, you can kind of slip that in, hey, you too are an Alabama football fan, just like the decision-maker. And even though the gatekeeper might not care about that or share that interest, they're more likely to go, "Oh, yeah. Hey, I bet my boss would like to talk to this lady because they're both Alabama fans." I mean, it sounds stupid, but it actually works. And any inside intel that you can get on the decision-maker, even the company for that matter, can help you getting past the gatekeeper. So that's cold-calling and direct-contact marketing.
Overall, takeaways from both of these episodes, I mean, let's face it, the hardest part of marketing and sales is getting through to the decision-maker. And while everything works sometimes, it really all goes back to knowing your ideal client. Online, you have to be very targeted, knowing your data points and knowing where to solicit. Mailers still work in a traditional sense, but they're most effective when personalized, unique, or FedExed. And then cold-calling forces that instant decision, allows you a personal touch that we're all missing these days. That's probably best for high-ticket items.
That's all I have for today. I hope this was helpful, and I'll talk to you soon.
Thanks for listening today. I know your time's valuable, and it's really an honor to serve you. If you found this content useful, I'd really appreciate it if you could rate the podcast on iTunes and leave a review with your honest feedback, whether it's good or bad. Also, if you're interested in growing your B2B business through direct-contact marketing like we do, please call my office at SalesDouble and speak to one of our sales representatives. We can chat for a few minutes about your business and what you need most to grow your business, even if it's not our services.
As a side note, if you listen to this podcast regularly, you probably know that I have a little pet peeve about using fancy words to talk in code, so to speak. So we're not going to do a "discovery" call or a "strategy" call, just a quick question-and-answer call. And yes, if we think you're a candidate for our service, we'll try to sell you.
But we're not going to hide behind fancy corporate mazes. We know you're smart enough to see through that. We believe in telling the truth, even if it's not what people want to hear. That said, give us a call at (480) 401-1926 if you're interested in talking about how to grow your business and have your best year ever.