Breaking the Whitelist in a Cold Call

1 of 3 — Passing the Gatekeeper

This was originally posted over at

Beware - the below guideline how to break through the Gatekeeper builds on the principle of bending morale and may discomfort your ethical understanding of conducting sales.

Not ot offend anyone — I refer to the assistant, gatekeeper or secretary in the female form (she/her) and to the decision maker in the male form (he/his), to keep it simple. Obviously it is either way in real life.

Prologue: Recap on the roles and functions (even though it takes 2 more minutes of your life reading, it is important for understanding the strategy):

The key element and certainly necessary to get ahead in the sales process, is to reach the decision maker. A decision maker is a person who can say yes, even though everyone else said no. A decision maker can overrule anybody. That‘s the person you should be aiming for.

Depending on the size and structure of the company, these decision makers are very senior executives. It does not need to be the CEO, as it clearly depends on the value and size of the proposal.

In 99% of all senior executives in larger businesses, the true decision maker has an assistant or secretary. If they don‘t, it is safe to suggest to re-evaluate that you are really speaking to the decision maker. While assistants are a clear indicator that we are about to speak to someone who is in a higher command of the prospects‘s company, it is also a pain and a barrier. There is a reason that the secretary is also called „The Gatekeeper“.

There are ways to go around the secretary and there is the way through „HELL“ via the secretary. We will look into strategies for both ways.

Definition of the ultimate Decision Maker

  • Can allocate additional budget for any department of the company
  • Has ultimate decision making authority
  • Can overrule any decision of anybody in the company
  • Mostly also known as the CEO, Chairman or Managing Director

Common for all ultimate Decision Makers

  • Hard to reach
  • Very short on time on the phone to unannounced callers
  • Sharp minded and hard to convince
  • Sometimes appreciates a good sales pitch if real value is perceived
  • Seldom keeps call appointments (if it all)
  • Has at least one personal assistant known as the Gatekeeper

There are probably a few extra points we could list, but the one mentioned above are the most common ones.

The Personal Assistant

The role of the assistant is to keep the back of the Decision Maker free of unnecessary tasks and time wasters. The role is to screen the important from the unimportant. They are also trained to spot a sales person. An assistant most often stays with the Decision Maker for a long time. They not also know a lot about the business, they also know how to „handle“ the boss.

One of the biggest horrors of all professional sales people is that the Gatekeeper can sniff a sales guy a 100 miles against the wind. I remember the goosebumps and nervousness while dialing.

Unless it is a matter of life and death, the assistant will block the path to the master. In addition, she will guard his email inbox and his daily agenda. She is not just the ears and the voice of the Decision Maker, she is also his eyes and controls all communication access points; except one: The personal or business mobile phone. Like in a fairy tail, the assistant is the dragon who guards the gate so no fearless knight or sales cowboy can pass.

Do not underestimate the assistant. She is trained to smell any scum and almost any approach. On top of that, there are rules and laws in place the office is running on. If the rule is that no one passes who is not on the list, you can be as charming as Romeo, or as brave as Prince Lionheart, chances for making it through are very low.

Studies and experience show that the best way to deal with a Gatekeeper is not to deal with them at all. The chances of losing in the game are just far too high.

It is worth getting the direct number of the person you really like to reach, or to call when the assistant is not at his or her desk. We will look into how this can be done separately.

The Qualifying Process of the Gate Keeper

The decision making process of an assistant is to verify the importance. In essence, any approach will lead in one of the three possible outcomes:

  • You get rejected
  • You get through
  • Further investigation of your credentials and subject matter (which often leads to rejection)

Typical questions any assistant will ask for the decision making process:

  • where are you calling from
  • what is it regarding
  • why do you need to speak to the Decision Maker, maybe someone else can help you?

Typical standard responses which indicate that you are rejected are:

  • He is in a meeting
  • He is out of the office
  • He does not accept unknown calls
  • Can you please send an email
Important to realize: If in doubt, the assistant will inquire more information. If you are uncertain with your answers, you will be rejected. But in many scenarios you will be asked to send everything by email, and someone will contact you (if what you send is interesting to them).

If you don‘t make it through to the decision maker while being on the call, your chances of getting through after further „investigations“ shrink to 10% or less.

The White List

The Decision Maker, one of the most guarded person in a company, does interact with the outside world, but is very selective with whom. Some Decision Makers are even hard to reach for colleagues who report directly to him. In order to either make it onto the white list, you need to have the approval of the decision maker himself.

The crux is, that you have to make it through to him in the first place, to get the necessary blessing.

In order to be reach the Decision Maker you have to make it on to the „White List“. Assistants have a list of people who can go through to the Decision Maker. These people include family members, personal doctors or lawyers, people with higher authority (board members, Chairman etc) or governmental representatives. In case that the Serious Fraud Office or the White House are on the phone, chances are much better than if you or I were calling (in case you are the real Donald Trump, chances increase). Also people widely known in the corporate world or „celebrities“ have better chances. Bill Gates will certainly be transferred through. You get the picture.

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Breaking the White List

The key for breaking the list is to be important, really important. Every system and all rules have loopholes. Certain incidents may be so severe, which override any rules. For example, in case the office building is on fire, a fireman (a stranger to the business) would certainly pass through any security checkpoint. Being you, depending on the size of the company, this may result in being transferred to someone else down to further evaluate, to a subject matter expert who will spot any fake approach. Or it takes you to the requested Decision Maker, which is the key objective.

Creditability and Importance

To make it through, besides not being listed as someone who is allowed to talk to the Decision Maker, you need to be a special case. As stated above, you need to be very important, almost like a Warren Buffet, or someone known in the industry no one would reject. In case you are not Warren Buffet (and the chances are pretty high that you are not), you need to build creditability in the call.

Creditability does not have to be around you as a person, it can be build on references, on the subject matter or on someone else who is referring you to the Decision Maker. The beauty of this game is, that you might not be a celebrity yet, but someone important enough has asked you to speak to the Decision Maker. That person can be the best and biggest client of the company you are calling, it can be someone very high ranked within the company (like a CFO), or anyone important to the company.

This reference works especially well in the English language, when being referred from an outside party (like the big client, or a governmental agency). I found that the principle of fear works best in this case. Fear provokes a certain panic, which more often than not result in pushing the panic button. And here is an example how it works:

“Good Morning Linda, my name is Sascha Kronberg, and I am working with the Serious Fraud Office in London. I need to speak to Mr. John Smith. Please connect me. Thank you“.

I used this a couple times, and I was not lying. Our company was partnering with the Serious Fraud Office at one of our Compliance Business Events, and I was truthful about that I need to speak to Mr. Big, as we wanted to sell him a sponsorship at this event. I did not say that I was working for the government agency, but the English language allows the double meaning. After I finished my request, I added a „thank you“ in the end, which also signals no further conversation necessary, just obey as told. In order to provoke the right reaction, you must sound serious, not cheerful or outrages happy.

Of course it is up to you, and when questioned you should be truthful. But as long as no one asks, let them believe whatever they want. Also, you can be certain that your call will be announced while you wait to be connected. So you should use similar lines when speaking to the Decision Maker. Although you should use a complete opposite tone. Not happy but really friendly, repeating the line, but tweaking it slightly.

“Good Morning John, my name is Sascha Kronberg, and my company is working together with the Serious Fraud Office in London. I won‘t take much of your time.“

In this example I corrected my statement; by replacing a few words in my introduction, probably the weight of a ton is lifted from the Decision Maker‘s shoulder and he is happy that he probably does not end up in jail after the phone call. You can also add some little humor in the end by adding „don‘t worry, the police has not surrounded you building just yet“.

Note: If the Decision Makers replies in a relieved humorous way, you know that he is open to talk. If his reply is more serious, you also know where you stand. His reaction will define the pace of the conversation.

To be continued…

Let me know how you have hacked your way to speak to the decision maker on a cold call.
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