Cultivate Relationships with High-Level Gatekeepers

By Geoffrey James

Big money software sales usually require software sales reps to have access to a wide range of decision-makers. To obtain this entrée, sales reps typically must cultivate an access point, or gatekeeper, who sponsors the sales rep to the rest of the organization. In software sales, gatekeepers typically have a technical background, though low-level techies – the ones who are most likely to spend time with a sales rep – seldom have the clout to obtain access to key decision makers.

Your challenge, then, is to cultivate a relationship with a high-level technical employee, such as an IT manager or a CIO, who can move your sales process to the fast lane. Avoid the easy road of targeting low-level employees with presentations about product features and other technological trivia.

Achieving the sponsorship of high-level technical executives requires a different approach. You must demonstrate to the gatekeeper, from the first meeting, that you can provide value. Ideally, the gatekeeper should view your sales call as an event for which the gatekeeper’s firm normally would pay a consultant’s fee.

To provide this kind of value, you’ll need to know a great deal about your prospective customer and the customer’s business, and you will need to apply your analytical skills to generate original insights. In general, IT managers are not particularly interested in the specifics of a product or service. Instead, you must provide the gatekeeper with your information and insight, so that individual believes he or she will gain career points by introducing you to other decision makers.

For this reason, the goal of the meeting with the gatekeeper is not to exchange pleasantries. The goal is to trade your expertise for additional information about the prospective customer, such as who has the problem and who has the budget, and for access to other decision-makers.

Maintaining your own credibility is critical during this process. Everything you communicate must be authoritative and reasonable without the extravagant claims and hype that are so common in the software business. In short, your goal is to act and sound like a real-world consultant rather than a talking brochure.

The above is adapted from a conversation with Neil Rackham, a conference speaker and the author of the classic sales bestseller, Spin Selling (McGraw-Hill, 1988).