How to Get Past the Receptionist*

*(or gatekeeper, or anyone in your way of reaching the REAL decision maker) in Ten Easy Commandments

One of the hardest steps in the sales process is connecting with your prospect. I’m not talking about connecting as in “making a connection” or finding something in common and bonding with your prospect. I’m talking about actually getting through and getting a chance to talk to your prospect in the first place.

I don’t care what stands between you and your prospect – receptionist, assistant, gatekeeper, phone system, voicemail, armed guards (yep, I’ve tried dropping by unannounced in NYC with very little success), purchasing department, mid-level manager, Vice-President of No, SPAM filter, etc. – the fact of the matter is that many salespeople never even get the chance to make their pitch to the right person.

It’s a complete waste of your time and a total morale buster to meet or talk at length with anyone other than the real decision maker. When you’re all done presenting, they can’t buy! All they can do is say, “I’ll talk to my boss and see what he thinks.” That’s not selling…that’s visiting.

One of the most important things you can do to improve your chances for success is to put yourself in front of people who can say yes to you. I learned that lesson from Jeffrey Gitomer and I’ve been grateful ever since.

Anyone in the company can say no to you, but only a few people can say yes. Get to them. It’s hard work, though. Here’s the good news: I’ve created a list that will help you below.

The Ten Commandments of Getting Past the Gatekeeper, Getting Through to the Decision Maker, and Getting on with the Sale

1. Thou shalt have no other objective than to sell the appointment. Face it – you’re never (or VERY rarely) ever going to make a sale over the telephone the first time you call. So don’t try. Instead, focus on engaging the prospect in a way that they are willing to take an appointment, be that in person, on a GoToMeeting, or on the phone. Get them to commit to the next step, not to the purchase order.

2. Thou shalt not make unto thee a fool of thyself by mispronouncing thy prospect’s name. If somebody calls my office and asks my assistant if they can speak with “Noel Rickoon,” “Noha Rickman,” or “Nick Ripken” it’s over before they start. Do your homework.

3. Thou shalt not be a jerk. This might seem like common sense, but salespeople are not necessarily known for their politeness. If you treat the gatekeeper with disrespect, if you’re rude to the receptionist, or you just act like everybody owes you something, you’re hurting your chances of getting to the boss. And, even if you do get through, when the boss says “Hey, Ms. Assistant,” please put Johnny Salesguy on my calendar, the assistant will reply, “Really? You’re going to meet with that jerk?” Executives listen to their assistants. Assistants are often the eyes and ears of the organization, their trusted advisors, and their opinions of you matter.

4. Remember the value, to keep it holy. The one word secret to getting past the gatekeeper is value. If you don’t provide value in your first call, you’ve got little to no shot. And, remember that it’s not what you think is valuable – it’s what your prospect perceives as being valuable. Call with a new idea that they can use to drive profit or efficiency and you’ll get right through.

5. Honor thy contact and thy gatekeeper. Show respect to everyone that you talk to. You’ll make more sales with honey (in other words, be sweet). I think you’ll be surprised what can happen if you make friends with the gatekeeper and ask for their help. People love to help. But only if they like you.

6. Thou shalt not kill thy chances of making a sale by lying thy way through the gatekeeper. If you lie, you lose. Oh, you may think you’ve won because you got past the gatekeeper by using a fake name or reason for the call, but you’ll eventually be found out and you’ll eventually lose out. The ultimate honor a salesperson can earn is that of “trusted advisor,” and the root of the word “trusted” is truth. Got it?

7. Thou shalt not commit to meeting with anyone but the REAL decision maker. Sometimes when you’re asking to speak with the big cheese, a very helpful gatekeeper will offer to put you in touch with someone else instead. Someone lower on the totem pole. Don’t be distracted. Don’t take any meeting just because it’s a meeting. Ensure that you’re meeting with the real decision maker. Tell the gatekeeper that only the big cheese will do. You’ve got something of value to discuss with them and you promise you’ll make the gatekeeper look good. Say it with a smile – it works half of the time. The other half of the time, you can try a line Jeffrey Gitomer gave me: “I’d like to speak with Mr. Decision Maker (insert real name). What’s it about? Well, it’s a business matter that’s personal in nature.”

8. Thou shalt not be a cold-caller. Do not ask, “How are you doing today?” or “Have you ever heard of us?” Instead ask an engaging question that gets to the heart of the sale. Make them think. Be prepared. You can start by reading “Don’t Ask, Don’t Sell” if you need help with creating your own questions.

9. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy competitor. The best thing you can do is praise your competition. I know it sounds crazy, but this works almost every time. Let’s say the gatekeeper says, “Well, we’re already working with XYZ Company,” you say, “Great! XYZ Company is a really great choice. They’ve got some of the best widgets out there. I’d just like to share a few ideas that will augment your current program. Many of XYZ Company’s customers do business with us as well.” Of course, that better be true. The flip side is that you can say that XYZ Company offers an inferior product, that you’ve recently heard that XYZ Company’s service is terrible, etc. The problem with this is that you just make yourself look bad and you insult your prospect by telling them that they made a bad choice. Bad move.

10. Thou shalt not covet thy brochure. I’m not sure covet is the right word, but this is an important point. Far too many salespeople hide behind their marketing materials and benefit statements. If all you’re going to do is recite everything in your brochure, save your breath and mail the thing instead (don’t worry – they won’t read it, but then again they aren’t really listening to you either). Instead, deliver value by presenting a new idea that you created just for your prospect. Review their LinkedIn profile, website, and Google for something relevant and timely to discuss. Again, you’re calling for an appointment, not a sale…so don’t spend time talking about yourself, your company, or your product. Talk and ask about them. Oh, and if they ask you to send a brochure tell them you’d be happy to bring one to your appointment if they’d like.

NOTE: I’m not attempting to make light of any particular religion; I’m just suggesting that you need to be more religious about your sales activity.

NOTE WELL: I’ve always looked at the (real) Ten Commandments as the most important and central instructions for living a good life and for being a good person. The Ten Commandments are by no means exhaustive (that’s why you’ll actually find 613 Commandments in the Old Testament) nor are they a guarantee. They’re simply a very good start. Staying on the theme, my ten commandments above are meant to serve as a very good start to your becoming a better salesperson.

P.S. Think I’m missing something? Have an idea for the 11th commandment? I’d sure love to hear your ideas and your insight, so please share below in the comments.



  1. Spike_Mobile says:

    This is excellent. I find getting to the decision maker to be a challenge all on its own. Thank you for posting this, I’m sure this advice will help. 

    • noahrickun says:

       @Spike_Mobile Appreciate the comment! I’ll be happy to give you a few ideas about getting to the decision maker if you could provide a little insight for me. What, specifically, do you find challenging? 

      • Spike_Mobile says:

        @noahrickun Thanks Noah – that would be great! Can you follow me on Twitter and we can DM there?

  2. AzaeliaBearson says:

    As a “gate keeper”, I found this article interesting. 
    First, it helps to point out that when we shoot you down,  it isn’t (necessarily) personal. I’ve been reprimanded for letting salespeople talk too long or talk at my boss. It’s a waste of their time. There’s also been times when I really don’t have time to talk to the people I’m paid to talk to, much less sales calls. This does NOT make rudeness right,  and receptionists shouldn’t do it, but unfortunately it’s easy to be flippant when we’re busy or otherwise trying to keep our jobs.
    Now a few tips of my own…
    – Don’t call the same place after being asked not to. I’ve had the same conversation with the same people.  The irony is that we might consider using you if we didn’t remember you as the people who kept calling for a year. Literally.
    – Actually, I wouldn’t be so quick to dismiss brochures. I’m actually more likely to keep a brochure if you tell me in a few words what it is and leave. My interest is piqued, and while I may not pass it onto my boss, I may pass it onto someone else.
    –  Don’t “call back.” Sometimes the person you’re trying to reach really is busy or not in the office, and with some managers work in more than one location. Let the receptionist take the message, because for all either of you know, they really are looking into a new toner supplier.

Sales Blog