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Business Tips: Getting Past the Gatekeepers

By Craig Harrison,

Does it sometimes seem as though decision-makers are residing in a gated community? Learn how to bypass gatekeepers (GK)—those peoples who “guard” the decision-makers and often run interference for them. You want to get in front of decision-makers (DM).

Traditionally a secretary, administrative assistant, or switchboard operator blocked entry. Now there are electronic nemeses as well: voice mailboxes and blind e-mail addresses. Yet gatekeepers can be your adversaries or allies, depending on your approach. Your challenge: to be regarded as important enough to be allowed into their inner sanctum.

Here are my rules of thumb for “Passing Gate” and receiving consideration by decision-makers:


1. Turn GateKeepers into allies: treat them with respect, humor and compassion. Their job is tough, too. They get it from both ends. They are people with their own personalities, not faceless obstacles to be overcome at all costs.

2. Help decision-makers look good in their manager's eyes. Can you solve his/her problem? Let the GK know. They will "carry your torch" for you. presenting you as his/her solution to the DM’s problem.

3. Recognize GKs and other intermediaries as vital to your information-gathering mission. Learn more about the DM, his/her department, recent trends, internal machinations within company, from the GK. Be nice to all.

4. Calling before/after GK’s shift will get you through directly. Many DMs work long hours and feel less pressured before/after hours.

5. Gather information with every call you make. Ask appropriate questions and gather information about the decision maker, his or her schedule, what else is happening in the company at the time. Be attuned to insights into the psychological make-up of the person you are calling for. Ask when the best (and worst) time to call is? How do you pronounce your DM's name? Does he or she prefer an informal name: "T" for Hortence or Condy for Condelezza.

6. Utilize multiple forms of communication to make contact. Use calls, postcards, faxes and e-mails. Ask GKs and DMs about their preferred ways of communicating.

7. The phrase “returning his/her call” upgrades your call’s importance in GK’s eyes. Use it to indicate past history.

8. When leaving repeated voice mail messages, list a different benefit you provide during each message, as a way to both qualify and distinguish yourself.

9. Keep your messages succinct: be short and sweet.

10. Stay upbeat—even if it’s the 10th unreturned message you’re leaving.

11. Be creative/funny/distinguishable so as to get consideration.

12. Humor works. Self-effacing humor and humor in solidarity with the gatekeeper help open doors.

13. When all else fails, have your Gatekeeper call theirs!



1. Call and claim you're family, or claim to be calling from the police, IRS, or FBI.

2. Become surly, rude, or sarcastic. It's a turn-off and suggests immaturity and a lack of flexibility.

3. Avoiding filling up your recipient's voice mailbox with long and detailed messages. It's inconsiderate and shows bad judgment on your part. Use your short elevator speech instead.

4. Don't make the Decision Maker wrong for not being there to answer you in person, or for not having responded yet. Believe it or not, you're not the center of their universe!

5. Avoid using clichés and following scripts. Show some personality and spunk such that you'll stand apart from the crowd when you call and be memorable when they decide who to call back.

Treat others like the valued individuals they are and remain confident you're someone whose call decision-makers will be glad they took. The only Gates you may not master on your first call…Bill Gates.


As a self-employed speaker, trainer and consultant on communication and customer service topics, Craig Harrison is simultaneously a decision maker, gatekeeper, and caller on a daily basis.

Craig is standing by to take your calls and e-mails: (510) 547-0664, or via Excellence @ Visit him at


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