Original article by Chet Holmes from BNI SuccessNet.
If you’re selling business-to-business, don’t you want a meeting with the most powerful CEOs? Imagine sitting in front of your dream prospect who has the ability to hand over a seven-figure check before you leave his office.
That’s why I learned to get around gatekeepers. Ultimately, I was able to reach the following executives on the telephone (some are not in these positions anymore, but they were when I got to them):
Michael Eisner at Disney
George Zimmer of the Men’s Wearhouse
David Pottruck, CEO of Charles Schwab
Phil Purcell, CEO of Morgan Stanley
Carl Reichardt, Chairman of Wells Fargo Bank
Alan Horn, COO of Warner Bros.
How do you get through?
Your voice has to sound like you’re important. The dead giveaway that you are selling something is when you try to be charming to the assistant. I got the chairman of Wells Fargo Bank on the telephone by calling him with a very authoritative voice and saying: “Hi. This is Chet Holmes. Is Carl in?” To my utter delight, he called me back.
Who calls CEOs of the largest companies in the world? Very important people. If your voice is authoritative and you tell-not ask-the assistant what to do, you are likely to get through.
The other secret to getting that top executive on the telephone is to send the gatekeeper back as many times as possible, each time giving very little information. Let me show you the difference between a weak and strong salesperson.
A weak salesperson:
You: How are you today?
You: Is Mr. Smith in?
Assistant: Who’s calling?
You: This is Bill Johnston.
Assistant: May I ask what this call is in reference to?
You: I’m calling to talk about my product.
Assistant: I see. Let me take a message.
In this scenario, who the assistant was leading the conversation. And as long as the assistant is leading, you lose. You must lead the conversation at all times. But let me stress one point: never lie. That doesn’t mean you tell the whole truth. You just don’t give false information. Ever.
A strong salesperson:
Here’s how to send the gatekeeper back so many times that the CEO finally gets fed up and tells her to put the call through. You might even considering having a contest to see how many times you can send the gatekeeper back to the CEO you’re trying to reach.
You: Hi. This is Bill Johnston. I’m calling for Carl. Is he in?
[Notice that the assistant can’t ask my name, I’ve given it. Important people give their names. And I didn’t ask, “How are you today?”]
Assistant: Can I ask what this call is in reference to?
You: Just tell him it’s Bill Johnston.
[The assistant goes to Carl and tells him it’s Bill Johnston. The boss says, “What’s it about?” The assistant says: “He didn’t say. It sounded like he knew you.” The boss tells the assistant to get more information.]
Assistant: I’m sorry. Can you tell me what this is in reference to?
You: Did you tell him it’s Bill Johnston?
Assistant: Yes. He didn’t seem to know you.
You: Hmm. Just tell him I’m from XYZ Company. That might jog his memory.
[Remember to keep the tone of authority. That keeps assistants off-guard. They don’t know if they have any power over you yet. The minute you start sounding like a salesperson, you give them that power and they will wield it well. You must keep them off-balance.]
The assistant goes to the boss again, expecting that he might know you. You didn’t say he would. You said the name of your company might jog his memory. Ideally, you will have sent a letter in advance with very little information. Even if it gets thrown out, it still gives you the liberty to act like he might remember you, your company name, or the purpose of your call.
The boss says he doesn’t know the name and sends the assistant back to you once again.
Assistant: I’m sorry. Mr. Johnston, but the company name didn’t ring any bells. Can you please tell me what this is in reference to?
You: Who am I speaking to?
[You take control of the conversation.]
Assistant: This is his assistant.
You: Are you his regular assistant?
You: What’s your name?
[We want to get as much info as possible from every call. Not only are you taking control, but you’re taking impeccable records and gain more information from every call you make.]
You: Shirley, if you tell Carl that I’m following up on some correspondence sent to him, that should be enough.
Be clear that a top executive is not afraid to take your call. And most are rescuers. They will just say: “Put him through. I’ll handle this.”
Often by this point the CEO comes to the phone just to have the assistant stop coming back to him. He will be gruff, a little impatient. That means that the first words out of your mouth have to be sharp and to the point and sound important.
Whatever you do, don’t turn into a salesperson and ask him, “How are you today?” That screams, “Salesperson!”
Maintain your authority. And have a fantastic two-minute opening worked out, like a script following the educational approach I teach. Be clever, be confident (that’s key), and know that your tone of voice has five times more impact on their perception than the actual words you use.