Imagine you need to urgently contact someone ‘important’ for a matter of mutual significance although you have never met.
Chances are, you would try to contact him at work for two reasons: First, this is where you would find him during regular hours (and you want to make contact only during those hours; otherwise, it will be even odd), and Second, you cannot find their personal number or other information in social media outlets. ‘Important’ people can indeed be like that.
Interrupting this person from whatever they may be doing, accurately introducing yourself, and explaining the urgency of the situation would be difficult enough. But obviously, you still need to think it through and have some experience doing this… otherwise, you will miss the most significant problem you can face and need to bypass: the Secretary.
There are three kinds: those who occupy the position because they met specific criteria (pretty standardized), those who were personal choices of the decision maker (a wide variety of reasons there), and those who got the job because of some political pull or favor.
Bypassing the first type is always the easiest as they follow specific guidelines. Many effective tricks work, but I always disliked them, mainly because the secretary might get in trouble later on for not doing their job well. And this is true even in cases when the decision maker was glad he took your call! The best way is to ensure that the Gate Keeper understands the implications of Not passing the message on or not transferring your call to the director’s office.
The second type is always more complicated. As a personal choice, the gatekeeper has a clearer idea of the decision maker’s schedule, character, and habits, often leading the front desk with a sense of ownership. And it makes them unnecessarily overprotective. The advantage is that they have earned the right to use their instincts and intuition, not only the rules from the ‘manual.’ The first seconds of the discussion will often prove critical, but everything can fall into place once your call enters the middle game period.
At this point, some may think I intend to enlighten those annoying salesmen who hack their way, telephonically or in person, into some principal offices! But since my audience is essentially the office owners, perhaps you can sense where this is going!
Which is why we must eventually talk about the third type of gatekeeper: the one that shouldn’t be there, but unfortunately for us, for you and them, is picking up the phone or opening the door that day, although he/she is not qualified to do so, especially with you.
The wrong gatekeeper can prove catastrophic to the prospects of even major decision-makers. Lack of interpersonal skills, inability to evaluate the gravity of the situation, and the fact that they owe that position to someone else (and therefore, the fear of mistake kills any entitlement to creative decision-making) have all deprived some major players of some big deals. We are not talking about closing the deal or getting to negotiate it, but even finding out about it in its early stages.
A good friend, currently occupying a critical position in his field in Greece, was looked up by a good old friend (of ours) in the US who wanted to propose a (magnificent, in my opinion) joint venture. Having extensive experience Cold Calling top professionals and never having received a complaint about it (on the contrary), he did not hesitate to call him at work after all those years.
The secretary he had to go through in that state-funded organization in Greece reaffirmed (and should remind us all) that a gatekeeper should not be an inferior position designed for someone who knows how to use the coffee machine but the first degree of representation: the person sitting in front or next to our office, reflects who we are. And I must confess that I would have canceled the deal right there if I had been in his shoes.
The fact that the prospect eventually found out about the deal through another outlet, was furious with his secretary, and was ultimately inconsolable because the deal had moved on without him may sound comic and tragic simultaneously. Whether she kept her job, I do not know.
But to prevent your boss from reconnecting with a good old friend, carrying a beneficial deal, although the caller is experienced and successful in Cold Calling, was an achievement worthy of a Guinness record.
As I said to them, with all my love: It is only fair. Something similar had happened to me recently and served as a reminder that there are no inferior or insignificant positions, only inferior occupants.