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Topic: Customer Behavior

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This question has been answered, and points have been awarded.

How To Get Past The Gatekeeper To The C E O

Posted by Chris Blackman on 500 Points
In a recent mixed direct-media campaign I have been astonished at the resolution some PAs have to prevent anyone contacting their boss. Given we sell strategic consulting work which focuses on the execution part, that's a problem for us. We know we need to get the CEO or divisional head to approve our involvement, otherwise the project is doomed from the outset.

So we have been thinking about telephoning to get the PA's details, then writing a personalised letter to them and attaching the letter to their boss, asking them to pass it on.

● Has anybody tried this technique?

● Was it effective?

● What were the observations

● What recommendations would you give for a better result?



  • Posted by Chris Blackman on Author
    Should explain - by "mixed direct-media" I mean telephone plus e-mail plus letter sent via postal mail, in that order.

    All executed according to established DM best practise... But with poor rates of securing what we wanted - a 30 minute meeting with the CEO.

    We are reviewing the whole value-proposition used in case that is part of the problem - but suspect there may be a better executional technique through getting the gatekeeper on our side first. Problem is whether that works, and then how to get them onside.

    Turning up with chocolates and flowers is not an option!
  • Posted on Member
    A similar question had been asked before and It might help you to read that. Yo can search for it using the search question option.

    If I remember correctly people had actually said that they used choclates and that worked for them. It would be best if you found the question and read the whole response.

    Hope it helps.
  • Posted on Accepted
    Hi Chris

    No Chris we haven't used that approach.

    We tailor our lead generation in a different way.

    We identify and propose solutions for key pertinent issues which are custom specific to a particular company which we know we can deliver and can back it up with testimonials. We clearly document both the financial (in $ terms) and strategic long term aspects for the company brand.

    One approach we have used - and it invovles a good degree of homework - is to include in your sales letter the potential benefits that will be available will also be offered to the prospect's competitors. The competitors are clearly listed within the direct mailing (including names). You, of course, do need to send direct mailings to their competitors and we found this increased response (+15%) compared when we did not. The objective is to get a meeting with the right people and if the prospect is not interested then the next best thing are their competitors.

    We also sent tailored direct mailings to both the CFO, CMO within each prospects' organization and adapted the sales message respectively.

    This approach works when you have stiff competition between the top 2-5 leaders within the marketplace and has given us access to get infront of key decision makers. The idea being, if the proposition was relevant & strong enough then the prospect (and the key decision makers and influencers') should contact you and not let the competitors get a look in.

    Hope this helps some & let us know how you get on.

    Zahid Adil

  • Posted by telemoxie on Accepted
    Another technique is to treat the PA with respect, helping her to do the job she was hired to do. A favorite approach of mine is to call for the office of the CEO, hoping to reach the assistant. Then, have a conversation with the assistant. Explain that you would like to get info to the CEO, briefly describe what it is, and ask how she would prefer that you send it (e.g. snail mail or email, addressed to the CEO or to her). She will most likely either suggest a way to send info or refer you to an appropriate Vice President. Down the road, you will be coordinating follow-up through the PA (who most likely handles the President's calendar, by the way).

    I would not predict a high success rate, but I'm confident a personal conversation with the PA and sending the info (actually a series of info, since you will follow up the initial mailing with another phone call and more info 3-4 weeks later) will be more effective than a "personalized letter" asking her to forward info.

    Will these calls be made to CEOs in Australia? If so, I'd sure like to talk with you about a telemarketing project to Australia (time zones expand my work day by several hours). Good luck.
  • Posted by Carl Crawford on Accepted
  • Posted by michael on Accepted
    2 methods have worked for us well.

    1) Talking with the PA instead of TO the PA. We start our sales pitch as if that person is the one making the decision. Then we ask, "is that [corporate strategy] something that you're responsible for or should we talk to someone else?" Be extra careful not to sound sarcastic because you already know the answer

    2) Identify the CEO's charity affiliations and work to find an introduction. Slow process, but by far the most effective.

    If it was 100% flawless, I'd be selling books by the millions! But alas, we have to adapt each time too.

  • Posted by Chris Blackman on Author

    Some great ideas here. I had originally searched the question archives but came up with so many returns which were not at all useful I thought it worth re-asking.

    Gabriel, my problem is not getting face time with my own CEO (I can do that in the mirror!) but getting through my prospect company CEO's gatekeeper defences. But thanks for those ideas which may prove useful to someone struggling to gain influence within their employer's business.

    Gill at first I though some of your inks weren't right, then I realised the auto hyperlink generator here had included the final fullstop (=period mark) from your sentence into the URL - one quick backspace and everything worked fine. Read the articles, all very relevant, thanks.

    Dave - yes, the calls are being made in Australia, I'll be in touch offline...

    Zahid - Some great ideas, but the CEOs we are trying to reach are in a regulated industry where they really don't have any competitors. Perhaps that accounts to some extent for their degree of indifference to solutions that increase their strategic execution performance...

    I'm enjoying the input and will keep the question open a few more days.



  • Posted by KSA on Accepted
    Gidday Chris,

    Interesting that your prospects are in a regulated industry. Probably even more important, as you mentioned originally, to recheck the value proposition.

    It might be helpful to talk to someone in the regulatory organizations for this industry. If you can find out what gets the CEO in hot water, fixing that would be a great USP. Also, you might be able to get information on the CEOs' compensation. If it is tied to anything measurable (perhaps unlikely in a bureaucratic environment), you could hit that.

    My personal experience getting past the gatekeeper has been that being nice works better than being curt. I've had luck asking if they had a moment to help me out, then explaining the issue I am exploring and asking whether that is something the CEO would usually review themselves, or would someone else be involved first.

    That approach goes along with previous comments, but now you know you're reaching the right lower-level exec.

    If the gatekeeper is huffy, and not open to a discussion, then I try the "put the PA in the driver's seat" approach, saying something like "Well, I know you're very busy, if you could just tell me how your organization handles the theory of relativity. (or something equally as esoteric related to your solutions). Then, before they get really embarassed, ask if they don't have time to address it with me, who would be the best person to talk to... etc.

    Another thought is to see if you can find well-established vendors for the industry and establish strategic partnerships. For example, if you formed an alliance with their accountants, or.. its hard to come up with other examples not knowing the industry. Maybe you could do some revenue sharing initially to get them to get you in the door and establish your reputation in the industry.

    And, as you know, networking is a great intro if you can find out what country clubs, charities, organizations they belong to and join. Although that is time consuming and costly.

    You might also think about industry associations and advertising in any magazines, e-zines, newsletters, etc. etc.

    Good luck,

  • Posted by sammykarij on Accepted
    This will always be a problem. Some gatekeepers are able to see value of you offering while others will not. Success with them depends not just on your strategies to go past them but also their personality, the personality of the boss and the organizational policies and politics.

    I also sell to senior executives and this has always been a tough one. Sometimes I get the personal email addresses from their websites, other times I call the gatekeepers and ask for the email address. Many factors may allow her/him to give the address or not. But whenever I have gotten the address and I have ended having an appointment.

    Please be careful when you send mails to emails you collect on the web. Low value mails will always be treated as SPAM.

    Most CEOs will read their emails. Sounds simple but, it works for me.
  • Posted on Accepted
    Hi Chris

    Thanks for the feedback.

    Is there a way you can offer a 'teaser' or free introduction to your solution by piggy backing a series of breakfast business clubs these CEOs frequent around the issue that are most important to them?

    This is a longer lead generation method but it could help you remove one stone of the barrier at a time instead of breaking the wall in one shot. This way it will increase your brand awareness and build trust with your prospects. Even if the CEOs don't attend you may still get a reference for later use.

    I would look further into how you can create a 'pull' for your services in addition to your push appraoches.

    Have you also considered using a voice mail strategy too? You need to obviously have everything precall planned but if you have a compelling proposition (i.e. Why should the customer listen to my message? - better if you can get a reference) that aligns to their immediate needs then it maybe another method you could use to progress your prospect to take the next stage. Email me direct if you want basic guidelines and example.

    Let us know how you get on and I'd be interested with your level of response you get from using different approaches.

    If anything else comes up I'll let you know.

    Zahid Adil

  • Posted by mgoodman on Accepted
    My solution has always been to go to one of the vice presidents and let them become my inside champion. I prepare the presentation as if it's the vp whose approval I need/want. I make the initial presentation as specific and pointed as I can without looking like a know-it-all.

    When the vp asks about the next step, I suggest that perhaps a meeting with the ceo would be appropriate, but not until he/she coaches me on what the hot buttons are, how to use the time most productively, etc.

    I essentially get the vp to become my mentor and internal sponsor to the ceo.

    Worth a try?
  • Posted by Chris Blackman on Author
    Thanks everyone. We're going to adopt pretty much all the suggestions above (although we were already doing some of the ideas that have been suggested.

    We have been active in industry associations and have sponsored dinners, conferences over the past couple of years but to date this has been very much a one-way flow of cash and it's all been outward for us...

    We've put on lunch seminars (where we foot the whole bill and control the whole agenda) - if you visit and click on "seminars" you'll see the one we ran on 20 May with two client CEOs talking about the benefits their organisations obtained.

    We're going to take our sales focus away from CEOs as a starting point and try to build a bridgehead through the middle management ranks. Exactly how we do this is clear to us but it's very valuable IP I can't share here just yet.

    The fact some of our prospects are in regulated industries with no competitors, while others are in highly competitive industries, means we need to focus on what the VP needs to be per segment - something we always work through with clients, incidentally!

    So thanks again everyone for the inputs, very much appreciated.

  • Posted on Member
    Any gatekeeper worth her salary isn't going to fall for any of the suggestions listed above.

    First off, we don't have the time to get "cozy" with you while you try to smooth talk your way past us and we get ANNOYED when you KEEP trying. It's INSULTING when we hear you "kissing our ass" for information.

    And a warning for those of you that use guerrilla tactics to try to intimidate your way past me-I laugh, HARD! The louder and meaner you get, the more I smirk in amusement on my end of the phone, just before I hang up on your pathetic ass.

    On a lighter note, click here to have a hearty laugh about "Stories from the Front Lines of Corporate America"

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