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How South Florida CEOs Get Past Gatekeepers

How South Florida CEOs Get Past Gatekeepers

Today we're going to talk all about how to get past gatekeepers.

Gatekeeper is an interesting word. And it's not anything new, believe it or not. It's not like CEOs in South Florida or their sales directors, just came up with this word in the last 5, 10, 20, or 30 years.

Gatekeepers Definition by Merriam-Webster and Wikipedia

The world of sales, selling, and sales thought leaders want to believe that getting past gatekeepers is the be-all end-all to their success -- at least part of their success early on. And there are lots of innovations to be made there.

But the reality is: the whole idea of a gatekeeper dates back literally centuries -- to the late 1500s, like 450 years ago.

Merriam-Webster defines a gatekeeper as someone who

  • “tends to or guards a gate,” literally
  • “controls access”
  • “healthcare professional, for example, a primary care physician, who regulates access especially to hospitals and specialists...managed care plans rely on a physician-designated gatekeeper to orchestrate and control the health care of its enrollees” (medical industry, healthcare)

So a gatekeeper can control access to expensive healthcare resources. What's interesting here: this is the first time we’ve gone beyond the definition from the Renaissance -- the 1500s -- of someone physically guarding a gate. The health insurance industry decided that doctors and healthcare providers would decide when you should get access to more expensive doctors, specialists, and hospitals.

Wikipedia has a slightly different take on the idea of gatekeepers:

  • “a person who controls access to something, for example, a city gate” (historical definition)
  • “someone who decides whether a given message will be distributed by a mass medium” (in the late 1900s, the term gatekeeper became more metaphorical and used as an analogy)
  • In academic admissions: deciding whether somebody gets into a particular college, university, or fellowship
  • In academic peer review: deciding whether a faculty member becomes a full professor, associate professor, or assistant professor
  • In professional certifications: for professional credentialing (regardless for example if someone wants to be a board certified cardiothoracic surgeon or trained and certified on software by Microsoft, Cisco, or Salesforce)
  • In Information Technology security: for access management, identity management, controlling passwords, access rights, and permissions

Define Product/Market Fit Before You Start Worrying About Gatekeepers

When it comes to sales reps and sales managers, there's way too much thought given to how to outsmart the gatekeeper; sometimes for the right reasons, many times for the wrong reasons.

But to be effective in navigating around the gatekeeper, if that's what you want to do, it starts with thinking about your product/market fit:

  • Who is your ideal customer?
  • At what price point does this ideal customer purchase?
  • How often does this ideal customer make purchases from your company? What is the frequency? Do they make repeat purchases? How often do they come back?
  • What quantities do they purchase your products and services in? Or for what durations do they purchase your products and services?

These are all really important questions to answer, to define your product/market fit: what it takes to scale and satisfy strong demand.

It's critical to nail product/market fit before you spend time figuring out how to get around the gatekeepers. Otherwise, it could just be a futile exercise.

If your company doesn’t have product/market fit, you could be chasing and trying to potentially attract the wrong decision makers -- worrying about butting heads with the wrong gatekeepers in the first place.

So make sure that you’re crystal clear on who your ideal customers or ideal clients are that you want to attract. Know what price points they're going to purchase at, how often, and in what quantities and durations.

Clarify Your Buyer Personas

Next, you need to understand who your buyer personas are.

A buyer persona is a semi-fictional representation of an ideal client, based on actual research and some educated speculation.

Be as clear as possible about who the decision maker is or potentially who the decision makers are. If there's more than one kind of decision maker, you may need more than one buyer persona.

Identify the gatekeeper because you should, if that person’s role is a make/break for your sales process, also have a buyer persona for the gatekeeper.

Ask yourself also: is it just one kind of gatekeeper? Or are there different kinds of gatekeepers? If pretty dissimilar, will you need multiple buyer personas that define different categories of gatekeepers?

If all of this is relatively new, don't go overboard with building too many different buyer personas for different kinds of influencers and decision makers.

Pick the one or two that are the most important economic drivers your company. And focus on those first:

  • Your primary buyer persona
  • Your secondary buyer persona
  • (And maybe) One or two negative buyer personas -- so you understand who’s a really bad fit for your company and can disqualify them faster, to avoid wasting time on wild goose chases

So again, your buyer personas need to be very clear on who the decision maker is and who the gatekeeper is.

Learn what each of them cares about. More than likely your decision makers are going to care about vastly different issues than your gatekeepers. Take time to understand the degree to which our company has product/market fit and its buyer personas.

Map Out Your Buyer’s Journey

You also need to understand your ideal client’s buyer's journey: what are the key steps that each person takes, from a stranger whose never-before-heard of your company to somebody that becomes a new client, with their first purchase from your company?

Understand the different steps that your ideal client goes through:

  • Awareness stage
  • Consideration stage
  • Decision stage

What do they care about at each of these stages? And how can your company -- either a CEO in South Florida or their sales team -- intercept them as early as possible?

This is a big mindset change, a big shift in buyer behavior that's happened during the past few years. Most people aren’t paying enough attention to this drastic change in buyer behavior.

And as a result, this whole idea of getting past gatekeepers could be taking you down a wild goose chase.

Is It Time to Bury Your Obsolete Sales Toolkit from 10+ Years Ago?

If you think that the be-all-end-all of scaling your revenue growth comes down to trying to trick and manipulate your decision makers into taking meetings with you and figuring out a way to hide and be under the radar, so the gatekeeper doesn't detect you, you may not be going about this the right way.

We live in a world now where people are doing crazy amounts of research on search engines and social media before they ever get to you -- so much research, that in many Industries and for many business models -- 70% or more of their decision-making may be over before they're ready for any conversation with any company like yours.

70%! It's like you arrive at the baseball game and you missed the first six or seven innings.

So how can you be relevant in that first 70%, in this very buyer-centric world, where sellers no longer have the power? The power is all in the hands of buyers.

Improve Your Positioning to Stay Relevant and Avoid Disruption

People now use search engines to answer the most mundane of questions -- asking Google, Bing, Siri, Alexa, Cortana, and Google Assistant for answers.

Mainstream adoption of search engines, social media, and mobile devices have been complete game changers for empowering buyers.

But in many cases, these technologies are stripping power away from traditional sales organizations. This has been a tough pill to swallow for many companies that have been around for decades, that depend on a legacy playbook they've used since the 1980s, 1990s, and early 2000s.

Understanding the buyer's journey that people go through today is vital to staying relevant and meeting them where they are.

One of the most important positioning things you can do:

Be seen as a thought leader, trusted advisor, and subject matter expert that’s differentiated from all of their currently available internal and external options in front of your ideal client. This is what gives you leverage, and it's so critical to how people make decisions today.

Embrace Account Based Management (ABM) Before Your Company Becomes Invisible

Another big thing that's changed in the last couple of years is the emergence of account based management (ABM).

Essentially, many decisions that used to be made by a single decision maker are no longer being made by one person. These decisions are now being made by committee. And wow, does that throw a monkey wrench into the whole idea of getting past the gatekeeper! Which gatekeeper? For what purpose? Who are we trying to get to?

What this largely comes down to: In many cases, sales cycles are getting longer, and people are getting more risk-averse. That's just a fact of life. You're not going to change it.

The best way that you can adapt to it: understand who the different players are, who the different stakeholders are that we need to reach.

Again, we’re back to product/market fit and buyer personas to make sure that your efforts aren't misdirected, trying to sneak around the wrong gatekeeper for the wrong decision maker, for the wrong reasons. What if this one person that you're obsessed with reaching is only 25% of the ultimate decision?

Understand their journey, your product/market fit, what your company is trying to achieve, who the most important and second most important people are that you need to get in front of, in the right places, at the right time, and most of all: in the right context.

So you’re seen as a differentiated expert and not just a vendor. Not just a bid. Not just somebody that's chasing them for the business and is going to compete their prices into the ground and destroy their profit margins.

Assess Whether a Gatekeeper is Your Ally or Your Competitor

Another big thing to ask yourself :

When it comes to gatekeepers, does your product or service potentially compete with the gatekeeper for their job?

If that's the case, that is a very different challenge than just somebody that's trying to be a hero for the boss and to save them from another cold pitch.

So does this gatekeeper see you as a threat or a potential ally?

That's a big thing that you need to understand to approach this correctly.

If the gatekeeper is a competitor to your company, your business model, that's a whole different playbook and a whole different set of product/market fit issues that need to be tackled.

Gatekeeper or No Gatekeeper: Get to the Right Person, At the Right Time, In the Right Place, and In the Right Context

You need to get to the right person at the right time, in the right place, and in the right context.

If you get the timing wrong, and they're not thinking about these things, or they've already completed thinking about these things, no matter how good a fit your company is -- it's like the Carole King song from the early 1970s: “it's too late baby, now it's too late.”

The 70%, the Zero Moment of Truth, matters a ton!

You have to get there in that early stage of the buyer's journey. That's the whole premise of today's topic: how to get past gatekeepers.

What bothers me with the way that challenge and that question is phrased:

Getting past the gatekeeper is some kind of sneaky thing, that you to interrupt and force your way past gatekeepers: maybe using cold calls or cold emails (basically spam)

Stop Playing the Bud Fox, Gordon Gekko Game from 1987

This is the whole idea of the determined salesperson calling 27 days in a row until they've beaten this person into submission -- to beg, plead, and borrow -- to get that ultra-coveted 15-minute meeting.

It reminds me of that movie from the 1980s -- Wall Street -- where Bud Fox (Charlie Sheen) is chasing after Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas).  Fox just calls, calls, and calls -- and engages in small talk with Gekko’s secretary. He sends rare cigars at some point, does everything possible to get that meeting.

And of course, because this is the 1980s, there's no Google, no LinkedIn, no Facebook and no mobile devices (aside from absurdly expensive cell phones the size of a snow boot). So there's no buyer empowerment.

Eventually, it works out for Bud Fox and Gordon Gekko -- for a while at least.

But you aren’t Bud Fox, and your decision maker isn’t Gordon Gekko. This isn’t the late 1980s anymore.

We’re in a world where tools like Google, Siri, iPhone's, Facebook, Twitter, and Linkedin matter a ton. How you stand out from the crowd isn’t going to come down to who's more persistent, who has the more aggressive sales team.

Begging for that meeting is just a terrible context for today.

You have a very empowered buyer that requires a very different playbook than the one from the 1990s and early 2000s.

Reality Check: It’s All About Them, Not You

You need to attract the decision maker based on what they care most about.

This is a fundamental flaw in most companies’ strategy today. Their digital assets -- when you land on their websites and their social media, all they do is talk about themselves: their products and services, their fancy buildings and facilities, how wonderful their people are, their accreditations and certifications, and their portfolio. It's all about them.

This is like going to a cocktail party -- where someone you meet can’t stop talking about himself. 90% of the conversation is dominated by that one person who won't let you get a word in edgewise. What’s your impression of that person?

Wow, you want to get away from this jerk as soon as possible, because this isn't a pleasant experience. He’s not interested in talking with you. He’s interested in controlling everything.

In a world where your company is one click, or one web browser back button, away from somebody “no” and leaving -- and looking at the nine other alternatives that are in front of them on that search engine results page, you need to be ridiculously relevant.

You need to be obsessed with what they care most about. Everything that you talk about on your website, in our digital presence, needs to be all about their problems, their questions, and their goals.

Content, content, and more content is critical. Focus on being seen as a teacher, a helpful educator, a subject expert, a trusted advisor, a guru, a consultant.

Stop Living in the Past

In this digital-first world, where entirely industries are being devoured by software, artificial intelligence, and machine learning, you can no longer afford to position your company as just another supplier or vendor.

You need to position your company, from a competitive standpoint, as differentiated experts and thought leaders.

This is a super-critical shift in mindset for South Florida’s chief executive officers and their leadership teams.

The Bottom Line on Getting Past Gatekeepers

If you're just worried about getting past the gatekeeper, you may be missing the point.

You need to publish and promote educational content to attract the right decision makers, with the right resources, in front of the right person.

Again, this comes back to the whole idea of product/market fit (the right place), with the buyer persona.

The buyer personas will tell us where they hang out online and offline, so we're not spinning our wheels -- trying to get in front of dozens of different promotional channels. The buyer personas will help narrow things down, to focus on the right places.

The right timing is critical as well. You’ve got to understand the buyer’s journey for each buyer persona.

To get to decision makers on their terms, it's not about your timing -- when you want to close the deal. Otherwise, you come across as the desperate, stereotypical car salesperson on the last day of the month: “What's it going to take to put you into this sedan today?” We don't want to come across like that.

So promote your educational content, your resources, that attracts the right decision makers --  the right person, in the right place, at the right time. It's all about their timing. Their problems. Their questions. Their goals, not yours.

Remember: You must come across in the right context, as a subject matter expert. Then a lot of this nonsense of getting past gatekeepers just completely melts away.

It’s all about thought leadership and your competitive positioning.

Done right, this helps to dramatically accelerate your sales cycle and grow your revenue faster.

So we've been talking today all about how to get past gatekeepers. And why a lot of your initial ideas and the conventional wisdom of why you need to get past gatekeepers in the first place may not be quite as relevant to what you thought in today's modern buyer's journey.

I'm so glad to have had you with us for this episode of the South Florida CEO Podcast.

I'm Joshua Feinberg, and we look forward to seeing you back again next time.


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