Some people are so special that you can never forget them. Although it was a long time ago, I remember this amazing receptionist I used to encounter during my sales calls. She was very outgoing and she always seemed to have a smile on her face. She seemed to know each salesperson by his or her first name and they in turn would ask about her children or about a vacation she had recently taken. She knew a lot about the salespeople's personal lives, how many kids they had or that they had just been promoted to a new position.
This woman always had fresh flowers on her desk and she simply had an aura of authority. After being in her presence a number of times while waiting to see executives at her company, I was struck by the power this woman had in terms of being able to steer people into the offices of those who were important to their careers. She was what could be termed a gatekeeper of the highest order. She wasn't a receptionist but rather someone who had the ability to help you gain access to just about anybody you wanted to see. Gatekeepers are important people and they can, in many cases, open doors that can help make a person or company successful. But too often people don't realize the importance of a gatekeeper.
For example, many years ago I used to call on a major pharmaceutical company and the advertising director was a tough person to get to. His secretary was very protective, and unless she knew you it was very hard to see him. I called the man's office many times and his secretary would usually tell me that he either was too busy to take my call or he was in a meeting. I just couldn't seem to make a connection with her. I asked her all kinds of questions in hopes of learning more about her, and therefore make progress in establishing a better rapport. I tried all kinds of tricks to get the secretary to chat with me in hopes I could get closer to her and in the future gain access to her boss.
It seemed no matter what I tried, I just couldn't hit the right formula. Then one day I got lucky. I called and asked if I could speak with her boss and her answer was similar to what I had heard many times before. I was frustrated and then something of a miracle happened.
Somehow we got on the topic of ice hockey and she told me she was a big New York Rangers fan. Since I also was an avid hockey fan, we got into a conversation about the sport, and everything changed overnight. From that day forward I never had a problem getting through to her boss who always seemed to be available. It was a valuable lesson I learned early in my career.
Whether you're in sales or just want to talk to someone in an organization, the ability to gain access to the people you want to talk to usually involves going through a gatekeeper, and knowing how to treat that gatekeeper is extremely important. Gatekeepers should be respected and treated with dignity. They should be cultivated just like you would a treasured client. Always acknowledge their help and make sure you let them know how much you appreciate it. Believe me, it makes a big impression and doors will open for you to some of the most powerful decisionmakers. Gatekeepers are no different than you and I; they want to be treated with respect. Demanding to be put through to their boss, especially when they have never met you before, just doesn't work. The initial impression of your rudeness will last a long time.
Many a career has been sidelined because someone made the mistake of treating a gatekeeper badly. Smart people treat administrative assistants and secretaries like the important people they are. It is essential to recognize these people as the real power brokers they can be. Smart people understand this truth and make sure they treat every gatekeeper they meet with the utmost respect.
What I'm driving at is working with a gatekeeper is really an art. It demands creativity and imagination. Those of us who understand this accept the premise and do the things that ingratiate us with gatekeepers. Gatekeepers can make anyone's life so much simpler. I've watched people walk into someone's reception area and literally throw their calling card at the receptionist. I've witnessed many stupid people treat gatekeepers rudely by the demanding tone of their voice.
Believe me, that could prove to be one of the most idiotic things you've ever done in your professional life, and you may never talk to the person you want to see. Never is a long, long time when just a little courtesy and politeness could make all the difference in the world.
Courteous behavior opens doors,