The problem with most inside salespeople, other than not asking for the sale, is that they allow themselves to get psyched out by Shirley the Gatekeeper. They may not tell you this, instead they may shrug and say, “Shirley’s just an annoying fly, she doesn’t bother me.” But then their body language tells you something entirely different, that this “fly” is something straight out of “The Fly.”
Most salespeople do a couple of things wrong when it comes to Shirley. One, they try want to step all over her on the way to Bill the Decision Maker, and two, they sound like every other salesperson who’s trying to reach Bill.
Boring, mundane—just another salesperson. Sigh.
Another problem: the salesperson’s energy level is too low when speaking to Shirley. Pick it up the energy. Don’t pitch Shirley, but use her as a warm up to Bill. Remember, the best Shirleys in the world pick up on weakness immediately, so don’t talk low, don’t mumble, don’t sound as if she’s just some useless stiff who does one-armed phone exercises all day. Smile. Have a little fun. Engage.
By the way, I like to refer to the gatekeeper as “Shirley” because for me the name invokes a different time period, say the late 50s or early 60s. (How many eight-year-olds running around on the playground today are named Shirley?) I picture her every time she picks up the phone. There she is, circa 1959. Smoking a cigarette, rotary phone in hand. There’s a small metal fan behind her blowing the paperwork (Bill’s files) all over the office. Her accent is all New York. She calls me “honey.”
Shirley. That’s the image I have when I make a call, and you know what? It helps me in my quest to get Bill on the phone, and if Bill’s not in, to go forward and ask Shirley for Bill’s mobile. I love Smoking-Shirley-on-the-Rotary-Phone as much as anyone, but my goal is to pitch and close Bill.
I always think of the decision maker as “Bill.” Very serious, well dressed, somewhat distracted, likes to look out his office window and think about the big picture because the small picture is too much aggravation.
So you got Shirley on the horn, and you’re upbeat, and you ask for Bill, and he’s busy looking out the window, so you then you ask Shirley for his mobile, and Shirley … Shirley denies you. Well, what did you expect? She’s been with Bill since ’59, still smokes (not in the office, maybe occasionally), and still uses a rotary phone. This is not the time to get creative or persist. This is the time to politely thank her and retreat—quickly. You asked, you failed, and now you move on.
Some Shirleys are seasoned veterans and some are not. Your best chance is with the unseasoned gatekeepers, and you usually know you have one on the line by the sound of their voice. They’re young, they don’t smoke, and they’ve laid eyes on a rotary phone in their life. And so, you may try this:
“Shirley, it’s John. How you doin’?”
“Great. Do you have Bill’s cell. I’m heading out.”
“John. How you doin’?”
“Just John. Like Lady Gaga without the Lady. I’m out here in the field. Do you have the mobile?” (to no one) “Hang on Stan, I’ve got Shirley on the line.” (to Shirley) “That’s Stan, you know how he can be. Do you have the cell? We’re running late here.”
By this time, in your offbeat and upbeat dialogue with Shirley, you’re either going to get the cell phone or you’re not. Notice how I asked Shirley how she was doing—twice. Most salespeople never ask this very disarming question. The dialogue above also alludes to the fact that maybe I know Bill personally, or that I’m working with Bill (and the invisible Stan) on a project. That’s another disarming piece of information. The Lady Gaga joke? Hit or miss. Use jokes sparingly. Be extremely comfortable with what comes out of your mouth otherwise it will come back to haunt you—like “The Fly.”
When speaking with Shirley you want to deliver a positive, knowing energy, offbeat, and unusual. You want to sound as if you’re “in the know.” You want to separate yourself from what your peers and your competitors are saying. Most of all, you want to bypass the middleman by getting Bill’s cell phone.
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