Client insists on me going through gatekeeper, just before closing...

18 replies
Had a client throw an interesting scenario at me recently.

I pitched him then we setup a phone interview. He liked my offer and wanted me to come in to meet him (at his request). We set up the appointment, ready to close.

I show up and he's gone. Instead, one of the employees refers me to a "manager" and insists that I would have to go through him (even though the owner never mentioned it and wanted to meet me personally).

I'd already explained my offer on the phone and was ready to close in person.

But now I had to pitch all over again so I decided to let it go (i've done this before many times and I'm used to just talking to the owner, this is the first time I encountered this). He wanted to see business cards, flyers, etc.... when I already had the work order to sign. So it was a mismatch.

What do you think? How do you deal with politics/communication snafus like this?

This was for a restaurant.
#client #gatekeeper #insists #site
  • Profile picture of the author David Miller
    The reality is that you were ready to close, not him. A couple of things stand out for me. You say you pitched and set up a phone interview. Then you set up a face to face appointment. Seems like it's reverse but that's not what caused your problem.

    Clearly you assumed that he was going to sign on the dotted line, and that was your only reason for going there. He obviously had other ideas. Did he ever say "come on in and I'll sign?"

    It sounds as if you may have developed a cordial relationship on the phone, but that's no reason to not fully qualify him before you show up. As simple as making it clear to him what you expect when you get there. Had you asked him if he was ready to pull the trigger he may have told you that you haven't gone through all the steps he needs to make a decision.

    It's not unusual for a business owner to include a trusted employee in certain purchasing decisions. Your thread title says Gatekeeper, and this doesn't seem to be the situation you encountered.
    The big lesson in life, baby, is never be scared of anyone or anything.
    -- FRANK SINATRA, quoted in The Way You Wear Your Hat
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  • Profile picture of the author Jason Kanigan
    You could call the owner back and ask what happened, why the change.

    Could be illuminating.

    "Hi John, I thought we were going to meet in person and was looking forward to it. When I got there, it seemed things had changed. Now I don't mind meeting with someone else, but could you share with me: Why the change? I'd really appreciate it."
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  • Profile picture of the author John Durham
    That is what we call a "one legger" in the face to face world... it means only one of the decision makers is present, or the proper one isnt, and you are most likely going to be picked, and brushed off... There is no way his manager can present your offer to him like you do. His manager isnt interested in spending more money, because he already has his own budget agendas usually.

    I would flat out tell him, I only make appointments with decision makers. And if he declined, then I would move on to the next number. The key to not being desperate is to have a stack of appointments that are qualified. Keeping your pipeline stuffed so that you dont have to waste time with people who are less than desirable to meet with, and you have more than enough interested people to meet with at any given time. Thats why we advise that prospecting is more important to focus on than selling. Good prospects are halfway in the bag already.

    The key to having that is staying on the phone until you have that stack of appointments.

    Dont hang your hopes on people who "hem haw", just set more appointments with people who clearly are interested in doing business.

    Dont run questionable appointments. Thats my advice. Just let him know you would rather do it at a time when you could meet with him personally.

    He is afraid he will say yes, and so he has a guard dog doing his dirty work. If he is interested enough, he will want to meet you himself. There are exceptions, but generally if he isnt interested enough in his business to meet you, then dont run it.

    If I had a telemarketer who sent me a manager who was not qualified to make a decision and write a check, I would tell him "This is wood" and it would not count toward his appointment setting quota, unless the owner clearly told him that the manager was the decision maker, could write a check, and the appointment setter had spoken directly to the manager ahead of time confirming that there was interest.

    I would ask the owner right on the phone, "can you forward me to the manager real quick so I can ask a few questions ahead of time?" and qualify him.

    In your case, I would leave my business card and say, I will try back when the owner is here, or "I will go ahead and give him a call and reschedule".
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  • Profile picture of the author theinfomaven
    Excellent Responses, Guys.
    Thank you Jason, John, and David.

    You basically nailed it.

    What's interesting is the entire conversation started with the owner in the first place. I didn't have to pass through anyone in the call.

    Essentially I told the manager that I expected to meet with the owner (by name) and he insisted that everything would go through him, not the owner.

    I asked why. His response was that the owner tends to send everything through him, and also the owner's mother was sick, which could be true. I tested him to make sure that's actually the case (Didn't want him thinking I was born yesterday), and he verified that it is.

    I told him I'd be in touch and left it at that for now.....Calling him back is still a possibility.

    Think it was wise to let it go? Though I felt I could have pushed a little more to close, I figured pitching through the manager would skew the message.

    Any further input is of course appreciated.
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    • Profile picture of the author McGruff
      I wouldn't even go into that much detail with this manager. You don't have to go through a manager because you've already connected with the owner. Either this manager is unaware that you've already connected and scheduled an appt., or he's jerking your chain. IMO getting drawn into a mid level self important manager's game is not an effective use of your time. Plus, you were told that the owner's mother was sick, so he should reschedule with you. A simple "Oh, I can understand that family takes priority, he'll probably call me to reschedule" Then walk out and call the owner back. This sends a subtle message that your time is too important to be wasted in this manner.

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      • Profile picture of the author Alton Hargrave
        It appears that you blew the deal. I would have made the presentation again in a patient and friendly manner and left. There are many possible reasons it happened the way it did, but you seem to have jumped to conclusions and walked away. Often, a business owner has a subordinate listen to a presentation and offer his opinion. Or, an owner just has one of his people take care of wrapping up a deal after the owner has listened to it.

        In any case, consider taking things a little easier next time and don't let the over aggressive experts make you think that something is wrong when is not. Sometimes, things don't happen in exactly the way you anticipate they will.

        You can probably contact them and salvage the deal. Just be flexible and not so hurried.

        Good luck,

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  • Profile picture of the author Aaron Doud
    So when they put you in front of the person you needed to sell you decided to bailed?

    And it's their fault?

    Rule 1: Unless the company is small the owner will delegate marketing (and most other tasks).
    Rule 2: Even when the final decision falls to the owner the person you need to sell is the employee (manager) in charge of what you are selling.

    I will never understand why people don't understand that real companies are ran by employees not owners. A good owner hires the right people to handle things instead of doing it all themselves. Learn to find and sell the right person. Don't waste time chasing the owner as he won't be the one you need to talk to.

    These are not "gatekeepers" they are employees hired to handle these things. The owner considers them relative experts which is why they are in charge of handling these things in place of the owner. If you treat them like they don't matter you will not close the business. Even receptions are not really "gatekeepers" if you know how to talk to them. They will help you find the right person to pitch.
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  • Profile picture of the author NewParadigm
    It's always good to qualify them upfront as well, asking them if they are the sole decision-maker or who else is in on the process, so you know to set a time where everyone can attend.

    In a moment of decision the best thing you can do is the right thing. The worst thing you can do is nothing. ~ Theodore Roosevelt

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    • Profile picture of the author Sys4
      Originally Posted by NewParadigm View Post

      It's always good to qualify them upfront as well, asking them if they are the sole decision-maker or who else is in on the process, so you know to set a time where everyone can attend.
      Right, on! Don't sell - market and qualify. You're not selling pens. You have specialized knowledge and skills. You're no different than any other professional i.e. attorney, accountant, auto mechanic, etc... Market your services and qualify your potential clients. You'll save time, sanity, and increase your revenue.

      If you're not choosing your clients, you're not marketing your services effectively.
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  • Profile picture of the author digichik
    Originally Posted by theinfomaven View Post

    Had a client throw an interesting scenario at me recently.

    I pitched him then we setup a phone interview. He liked my offer and wanted me to come in to meet him (at his request). We set up the appointment, ready to close.

    I show up and he's gone. Instead, one of the employees refers me to a "manager" and insists that I would have to go through him (even though the owner never mentioned it and wanted to meet me personally).
    This is disrespect and placing no value on you or your offer. First, you are not a salesperson, you are a business owner whose time is just as valuable as his time is. You don't have to bow or curtsy to him.

    I would not present my offer to an underling just because some other underling says I should, especially when the appointment was made with the understanding I would be meeting with the owner/decision maker.

    You may want to follow up with the owner at some point, but I wouldn't bother. If he is this disrespectful in the beginning, he will probably end up being a nightmare client. Move on to clients who will respect you and value your time.

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  • Profile picture of the author shane_k
    I think David and Aaron hit the nail on the head, in more ways than one.

    First, it seems that you assumed you had a sale that actually wasn't a sale.

    That is ok, we have all done it. After you get more experience you will be able to tell when someone is serious or not.

    Second, you are assuming that the owner is going to have the final say.

    There are alot of business owners who are passive owners/investors and let their employees/managers/executive team run the show

    There are also alot of owners who let their managers make the decisions because they themselves are not experts in those areas, and their managers are. That's why they hired them.

    Also there are those owners who sad to say are probably lazy, or incompetent, and don't do any work, or are too afraid to have the final say (ever see kitchen nightmares?)

    So don't assume that just because a person is the business owner that they are going to have the final say.

    Finally, that manager could be the business owner's right hand man and someone who's opinion the owner trusts 100%

    And is there to give the business owner a different perspective on things.

    What if the business wasn't 100% sold on your idea, and you pitched the manager and the manager pushed the owner the rest of the way until you got the deal?

    Instead of looking at the manager as a "gatekeeper" or "obstacle" you could have turned them into an "Ally" a "cheerleader" for your cause.
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  • Profile picture of the author Rearden
    This is exemplary of the reason WHY you must learn to pre-qualify HARD up front.

    Because, as someone mentioned earlier. Many a times in the B2B world, you have decision-makers, check-writers, and multiple influencers.

    Sometimes you have to pitch the influencers AS WELL AS the decision-makers.

    IE -- if you sell a laundering service to a restaurant. You have the decision-maker (owner), and multiple influencers (wait help, managers).

    DMs make decisions in different ways.

    Bottom line, your job is to figure out HOW those decisions are made as early as possible, and to pitch accordingly.

    Tangentally, this is why I love working with either (a) small businesses with the owner who is actually reachable, and (b), with direct-to-consumer, B2C, situations.

    One-call closes are regularly viable, because the decision-maker, check-writer, and influencer are usually the same person or couple, and your income-generating opportunity is double, sometimes triple, as you don't have multiple call-back scenarios like this example.

    FWIW -- chalk it up to experience. We've all done it. Just make sure to correct it by asking the tough, qualifying questions up-front.

    You MUST protect your time as a salesperson.
    David Duford -- Providing On-Going, Personalized Mentorship And Training From A Real Final Expense Producer To Agents New To The Final Expense Life Insurance Business.
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  • Profile picture of the author Jason Kanigan
    "Is there anyone else who's involved in making decisions like these? Anyone you'd typically want in the conversation with us?"

    Even I forget to ask this one (and get burned by it) once in awhile.

    If they lie and pretend to be the sole decisionmaker--though even owners tend to bounce things off their significant other--and later you discover more people are involved in the decision making process, then you will have learned something about the personality fit of this individual.

    Everyone wants to be the Type-A decision maker type. Few truly are.
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  • Profile picture of the author Edk
    I reckon you did the right thing: no great thinking about it, and 'out the door.' That client is looking for someone he can dither about with. No one needs those customers. Not ever.
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    • Profile picture of the author McGruff
      Originally Posted by Edk View Post

      I reckon you did the right thing: no great thinking about it, and 'out the door.' That client is looking for someone he can dither about with. No one needs those customers. Not ever.
      Absolutely. Look, this is a restaurant it's not a large corporation with layers of management. The owner had to leave and inadvertently forgot to inform you. Either that, or you weren't worth the effort for him to alert you that he had to leave OR that he would like you to speak to a manager associate that handles marketing. This would have definitely come up in either your initial call or in the phone interview. It didn't..I would put one additional call in to the owner allowing him the opportunity to explain and reschedule. If he doesn't it's time to move on and find a client that values your time.

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  • Profile picture of the author hayfj2
    In wanting to see flyers etc....

    "You obviously want to see those for a reason, can I ask WHY?"

    "I know your boss liked what I have, but what do you need to be happy with
    so we can close this deal, and start getting it all working for you?"

    "I'm happy to go thru everything, but what did your boss say about what I had to offer. What was he excited about....What was he nervous about?"

    "Ah, you've got to report back to your boss. Ok, thats cool. Lets imagine for a moment, I'm him, what are you going to tell me that you like about whats on offer, and what it will take to make the deal a definite."

    Hope that gets you thinking...


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  • Profile picture of the author theinfomaven
    Thank you, Gentlemen.
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