Business Development: The Dreaded Gatekeeper

A 254Kb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine complete with images is available by clicking HERE

Sunday night, your bags are packed and you’re ready to go. You have a three day road trip ahead comprised of scheduled meetings with clients along with cold calls to fill in the gaps. As a prepared salesperson with a quality service/ product to promote you have already done your homework by identifying unknown AEC’s in the area that might be interested in what you have to offer, at least that’s the hope.

After your first morning meeting with an established customer there is now ample time before your next scheduled appointment so you refer to your list for the first cold call target of the day. Sometimes you have a contact name, other times it’s purely an exploratory exercise, you’re essentially in the hunt for information and new customer potentials.

You find your prospects office and after dismissing the "no solicitation" sign you open the door and enter the lobby. After taking a two-second inventory of your surroundings you see her (or him). Your eyes lock as there ahead of you sits THE GATEKEEPER, the bane of many a salesperson! As you already have a bit of information on this firm (because you’ve done your homework) you now have 30-seconds to introduce yourself, express the nature of your call and focus on what (in your mind) you plan to walk away with.

(NOTE: First realize the fact and "rest in the confidence" that you truly have something of value to offer! Remember you’re not an Acme Supply salesperson selling a commodity/widget based on price. You have the capability to offer a solution that can solve a problem; save time and again is certainly of value. In my case I am fortunate to represent an accomplished, proven firm, an early adopter/practitioner of high definition 3D survey and provider of CAD/BIM modeling services).

With this in mind your first priority is to engage your perceived nemesis in conversation. As a tenured Gatekeeper rest assured that she (or he) knows the dance. Basically let the peddler have his say and then show him/her to the door as quickly as possible.

A novice salesperson may have a contact name and without an appointment may (DON’T DO IT!) ask to see that person. While I’ve tried this approach (more often than I’d like to admit) it generally gets you nowhere. Rest assured that it doesn’t serve to establish any warmth/comradery and it usually turns into a very short conversation. You’ll soon find yourself heading to your next appointment without the information you were hoping to secure so your effort was ultimately all for naught.

Instead, try taking the pressure off while setting both of you at ease by introducing yourself while extending your card. Express the fact that you simply want to get your card to the proper individual (i.e. VP of Construction, BIM Manager, etc.), ask whom that person might be and then request their card in return. Often the receptionist will have to go back to the person’s office to get a card, sometimes that individual will even come out to meet and engage you for a few minutes.

If you only get a name and leave a card it makes the follow up call that much easier as you already have the correct person’s contact information (and e-mail address which is key!) and they too have yours. I typically follow up with an e-mail of introduction (with an attached PDF referencing our services/capabilities).

Whether or not your efforts lead to a sale you can at least know that you were professional and courteous in your approach. You were able to successfully engage the dreaded gatekeeper and perhaps even find an ally in the process.

Robert Blum is the Director of Business Development for Architectural Resource Consultants and is based in Charlotte, NC. He is also a founding member of the U.S. Institute of Building Documentation (www. You can reach Robert at robert.

A 254Kb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine complete with images is available by clicking HERE