Voice Mail, Gatekeepers, and Other Obstructions to Sales Success

Updated: December 16, 2009


You first seek the right person to introduce yourself and your product. You believe you need to get an appointment to go in and meet this person face-to-face, and introduce your product while showing how it will resolve their business problem.

Your first challenge is to get through the gatekeeper. Your charm is often effective: you' re respectful and you will let her know you need her ("Can you please help me?"). But in this case, Acme has a receptionist who is not friendly. If you don't know the name of the person you're calling, she can't help you. So you do more research - on line and with colleagues - and get the right name. You call back, and after being put through to the right department, you are met with yet another gatekeeper who doesn't want to put you through.

"Does Mr. Jones know what this is in reference to?"

"No, Mr. Jones doesn't know me or my company. But I think he'd be interested in speaking with me since I have a product that he might be able to use to resolve his business problem."

"Sorry, but I can't put you through to Mr. Jones without him telling me to give you time. I'll put you through to his voice mail and you can leave a message. He'll get back to you if he's interested."


Here's the message you leave:

"Hi Mr. Jones. My name is Kate Anderson. I'm the senior sales consultant at Merriweather. I was speaking with Joe Jones yesterday and he told me of your desire to solve your X problem. We have a product that can manage that for you, from what I understand from Joe, but of course I'd need to know more if there is indeed a chance that my product could help. I'm wondering if you'd be willing to return my call so that I could possibly ask you some questions and determine - with you - if my product would serve your needs. Please call me back at ___________."

Now you have to wait to hear from him, and you know that most people do not respond to voice mail, especially when they don't have a clue who you are.

What are your odds of getting a call back? Slim to none: unless Mr. Jones 1. is actually seeking exactly the solution you offer, 2. his current vendor can't manage his needs, or 3. he's seeking to compare possible solutions, he won't speak with you. Why should he? If:

  • he's not aware that he needs your specific solution, he won't know he needs to speak with you;
  • if his current vendor is managing the problem, he won't know your solution is better/cheaper/quicker;
  • if he thinks his problem can be resolved with his current team, he doesn't need outside support.

In fact, he'll return the call only if he's seeking to check out all possible alternatives, and needs to compare price, (the automatic assumption is that the solutions are similar so the price has to be similar or lower).

In other words, if you get a return call you must expect to be treated like a commodity and be ready to defend your price points; if you don't get a call back, you've lost a new prospect that most probably needs you.

Is it the fault of the gatekeeper? Nope. Remembering that a gatekeeper's job is to let in the folks that will serve her boss, and keep out those that will waste his time, she's just doing her job.

Is it the fault of your product or your marketing? Nope. That's all just fine: clear, professional, manages a need.

Is it your fault? Nope. You're a professional, and truly want to serve.

So what's the problem?

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