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The Gatekeeper

This week I am writing another series of posts. This time on working through an organization’s buying committee. This is the first post of this series.

The gatekeeper used to be thought of as a receptionist or an administrative assistant. They were the person that gave you access to the contact that you needed within your prospective client’s company—or denied you access. When you think about the way your prospective client is organized and how you approach them today, it helps to think about this idea of a gatekeeper more broadly.

Who They Are

A gatekeeper is anyone you need in order to gain access to both the contacts and the information that will open and advance an opportunity.

This role is not necessarily attached to a single title. In some businesses it may still be a person in an administrative role. But in a lot of organizations, the gatekeeper may be someone who uses your product or services that determines which salespeople are worth allowing in. They may be an end user, a member of management, a professional buyer, or an executive.

The question you need to ask when determining who is a gatekeeper is whether or not they have the power to give you access to the rest of the organization. You may meet a high-level executive at a conference who has no juice to give you access to the part of his company where you can be valuable. You may also come across a low-level supervisor that has the power to march you straight into the contacts that you need.

The reason that I suggest strongly that salespeople “just get in” is that you need to find someone receptive to your message that will help you find your way through the rest of the organization. You need access.

Gatekeepers are thought of as obstacles, but this isn’t always true. A receptive gatekeeper can give you access, can make introductions, and can give you a lot of information.

How You Create Value for Gatekeepers

Gatekeepers protect the organization’s time. You create value for them by proving that you have something significant to offer their company. You make it easier for them to front you in when you give them some evidence that you know and understand the company’s challenges, that you have ideas that can help, and that you can be trusted (this means that your intentions are to help the company, not make a sale simply for your benefit).

You create value for gatekeepers by being someone worth bringing into the organization, by being a value creator.


There are two primary risks that you need to consider when working with and through gatekeepers.

The first risk is making assumptions about power. It’s easy to assume that because someone doesn’t have a great deal of formal authority that you can plow through them. This is a mistake. Just because a gatekeeper has no formal authority doesn’t necessarily mean that they have no influence. The risk is in underestimating the gatekeeper’s real power, especially if they can limit your access to the people or information that you need.

It’s equally a mistake to believe just because someone has a title that they have the power to walk you into the organization. Sometimes their title gives them that power. But other times, their title isn’t helpful in giving you access.

The second risk is making the mistake of getting trapped with a gatekeeper that is receptive to you and your offering, but that doesn’t allow you into the organization. This is more common now, especially when you think of the gatekeeper as a role, not a title. There are some gatekeepers that will meet with you, will share some information, and then deny you access to the contacts with the authority and power to open and opportunity. Sometimes the extent of their power is to deny you access.


Does this person have the formal or informal power to give me access to the rest of the organization?

Does this person have the ability to give me information about the organization and its needs?

Does this person have the ability to help me understand how decisions get made within the company?

Can this person help me find the people with the power and the dissatisfaction necessary to opening an opportunity?

Can this person help me understand whom I will need on a buying committee to win an opportunity?

Will they give me access?

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  • Fred McClimans

    Anthony – XLNT Post. But, having dealt with gatekeepers throughout my career – and especially in the development of my business – how about thinking of them as “value curators” rather than “value creators”? I always taught my sales team to work around the gatekeepers, as we promoted information and analysis to the various divisions within their company. But sometimes the best approach was to show them how they could better curate information THUS creating value for themselves AND their company… Curious on your thoughts…

    Looking forward to our next chat – Fred

    • S. Anthony Iannarino

      I think you are spot on, Fred! Sometimes gatekeepers can be obstacles, but other times they are the linchpin. They can give you access to the rest of the organization. I like the intention behind value-curators, and there is no reason not to go into every relationship with a positive attitude and positive intentions. 

      Let’s catch up soon, man!

      • Fred McClimans

        We should definitely book some Skype vid time later this week. Would love to chat a bit.  – Fred

  • Cara Celli

    Elinor Stutz talks about this in her first book, and I love her approach this this potential obstacle. She would give them candy! lol and it worked! I love your approach, too, Anthony. It’s true that someone you think might not have all that much clout really could have a lot of it. Then there are others who look like they do, but really have no power to get you where you need to be. It looks like the main point, though, is to make sure to treat every contact as though they have the power to make important decisions. You might find that they really do! Great post! CC

  • Gary S. Hart

    Gatekeepers were my best ally. In the movie “Big Fat Greek Wedding” the mother said,”The father is  the head of the family, but the mother is the neck and she can turn the head any way she wants.” They can provide subtle information like best time for appointments, likes and dislikes, and so on. 

    Gatekeepers are typically trusted team players and highly influential. 

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  • Karen

    What sre the best questions to ask the receptionist when trying to find the buyer of your product or service? Thank you. Just joined.