Today's salespeople — especially B2B and account-based salespeople — need to know more about their prospects before conducting outreach. And, chances are, they'll need to know someone other than the decision maker pretty well.
In days of old, salespeople could call the C-suite, marketing could email them, and it was much easier to gain access to the decision maker. Now, C-suites can isolate themselves with caller ID, email filters, and assistants. Salespeople can't ignore the influencer or "call above" them. But how do you spot an influencer from a stop-gap or a champion from a blocker? And how do you engage these individuals once you have identified them?
Here are a few ways to determine which type of prospect you're speaking with. Will they help you make the sale or unknowingly stop you from talking to the right person? Time — and these tips — will help you discover the answer.
Identifying Sales Leads
The gatekeeper is usually an executive assistant or associate to the decision maker. If the gatekeeper is an executive assistant, you should know immediately by their title. If they don't hold the title but are working in an assistant's capacity, ask questions like, "Do you work closely with [executive name]?" Or, "You wear a lot of hats, how do you prioritize your day?"
It may be tempting to call the decision-maker after hours when you know their assistant isn't there. This is fine for making initial contact, but avoid working around their gatekeeper — they are often a valued partner of the decision-maker. In some instances, it is beneficial to work with the gatekeeper so you can build trust with them and have them vouch for you with the decision-maker.
Enter, gatekeeper marketing.
Gatekeeper marketing is the act of effectively directing your message or objectives to gatekeepers who may grant or block access to key decision-makers.
Once you've identified the gatekeeper, here are a few tactics to help you build trust with them.
How to Engage with Gatekeepers
1. Ask meaningful questions
A gatekeeper can be a valuable ally. By talking directly to the individual instead of immediately asking to be passed off to leadership and expressing genuine interest in getting to know their organization and challenges, you can gain valuable insight that can help you make the sale down the line.
Here are some questions and talking points you can try to build trust and learn more about your prospect:
"I see your company is preparing to launch XYZ product. How has that experience been?"
"What are some of the challenges your organization has faced in launching XYZ?"
"A previous client of mine worked through a similar challenge. I would be happy to talk to you about the solutions that worked for them."
Before speaking to the contact, do your research to learn more about their role at the company (LinkedIn is a great place to start). This will give you some background on who they are and how they work with the decision-maker you are trying to reach.
The gatekeeper is likely aware of their boss' pain points, and your solution might also benefit them. Talk to them as you would the decision-maker, and ask their advice on the best way to approach their manager when it's time.
2. Connect on social media
Social selling techniques shouldn’t only be directed at decision-makers. Gatekeepers can be valuable social media connections as well. Research who the gatekeepers are supporting the decision-makers you would like to get in touch with and engage with their content.
For example, when you see gatekeepers share content that is relevant to their company or line of work, try leaving a thoughtful comment thanking them for sharing or providing your thoughts on the topic.
Creating a sense of familiarity with them goes a long way in building trust and working with them to close a sale.
3. Find a common connection in your network
When researching your gatekeepers and decision-makers, check to see if you have a common connection who can make an introduction for you. Being introduced through a third party is a good way to establish credibility, and it helps you not be seen purely as a solicitor.
Work with them as a valued partner, and see the dividends payout when you finally approach the decision-maker.
The influencer is traditionally a junior-level employee who's asked to research options before their superior is briefed. They don't have the budget or authority to make a final decision, but they do have the power to influence the decision maker. The influencer is usually your main point of contact at the company, and they'll pull in the appropriate stakeholders (such as finance or IT) throughout the sales process.
To find out how much power your influencer really has, ask questions like, "Have you done this before?" "Are you confident the decision maker will follow your recommendation?" and "Is there anyone on your team who might hijack our conversations?"
The answers to these questions tell you how experienced your influencer is in presenting product/service solutions to the decision maker, and it signals how much help you'll need to offer throughout the process.
The decision maker
This is typically the C-suite; the person who signs the check, re-allocates budget on their own, and says "yes" without conferring with anyone. And, while it's not common, a decision maker sometimes conducts research. When that happens, make the most of the situation and keep them close.
Often, the decision maker delegates the sales process to an influencer until it's further along. In this case, work with the influencer, but keep the CEO in the loop. Show you're happy to work with their team, but regularly check in with them.
Access to unlimited content has put the buyer in control of the sales process. Your account-based sales strategy needs to adjust to fit the changing behavior with your prospects, and influencers are now imperative to winning business. If you ignore them, you're missing an opportunity.
The Influencer vs. the Decision Maker
The influencer is usually a junior employee asked to research solutions for their department or company. Influencers don't have budget or authority to make a final decision, but they can impact the outcome
The decision maker is typically an executive in charge of the final decision. They're rarely involved in the research or vetting stage of the sales process. Instead, the influencer shares their research and recommendation with the decision maker who makes a choice.
Decision Maker Synonyms
When referring to a decision maker, they might possess different titles or descriptions depending on the company they work for. Here are a few different terms that can be used to describe them, depending on their role.
Vice President (VP)
The self-proclaimed decision maker
The self-proclaimed decision maker is a toxic prospect. If they're offering unsolicited information, like "I make X amount of money", "I carry a lot of weight around here," or "The CEO and I are buddies," chances are, this person has little influence and might be wasting your time.
Whether it's intentional or not, they're gating you from the rest of the internal purchasing process. Pay attention to those volunteering too much information about their authority.
Ask this influencer how often they meet with the CEO because strong influencers meet with executives often. And find out what other products/services they've brought into the company and how that process worked. If they haven't sourced solutions before or don't work with the C-suite often, find another contact.
Many times, salespeople have their own definition of a decision maker, but it might not match that of the prospect. By the prospect's definition, they're the decision maker because they're deciding what to recommend to the C-suite. This person is actually the recommender.
In this case, the prospect is not being deceptive. Don't dismiss the recommender, because they're extremely valuable to the sale. Ask why they're researching a solution and who's asked them to do so. Their answer will tell you who the real decision maker is.
Often, the blocker has all the qualities of an influencer. They're junior or mid-level, are in charge of researching solutions for their team or company and are your primary contact and communication source for the company.
But, eventually, the blocker will stop answering your phone calls. Your emails will go unopened, and the deal will stall. You've been ghosted: the specialty of the blocker.
What's important here is to discern when it's time to walk away from the company and when it's time to simply find a new lead there. If you think you're talking to a blocker and someone else at the business should hear what you have to say — do your research.
Track the company's hiring on LinkedIn to see when someone on a relevant team starts. Then, reach out to them to see if they'd be interested in hearing about your solution. Strike up a relationship with an executive and use that as leverage to engage someone new at the company.
Or simply use LinkedIn to track down someone else on the team and say, "I've been speaking with a colleague of yours about your need to lower export costs on overseas shipments. It seems like you might be the more appropriate person to speak with. Do you have a few minutes this week to jump on a call?"
Identifying who you’re speaking with and who you need to speak with is a crucial part of the sales process. Incorporate these questions into your strategy, and find more success with each person you talk to within a prospect’s company.