Make gatekeepers your allies

February 1, 1999
Jean (Mowrey) Male

Pharmaceutical Representative

Befriend the person who controls office access.

If you don't have access to a physician, you won't be able to convince him or her to prescribe your product. Building good relationships with office gatekeepers, therefore, is essential to convincing doctors to write for your products.

When you're anxious to see doctors, gatekeepers may seem particularly disinterested. Sometimes they even seem like your enemy. It is important to make these people your allies rather than your adversaries because access to decision-makers is in their hands. Keep the following points in mind when dealing with gatekeepers:


•Â Gatekeepers are doing their job. They are expected to screen calls and visitors to help keep schedules on track. They are not only deluged with pharmaceutical reps but with medical equipment, office equipment, telephone company, credit company and every other type of sales rep you can imagine.


•Â See life from a gatekeeper's perspective. Every sales rep a gatekeeper allows through the door means that the staff may have to work later. Many offices do not pay overtime, or, if they do, they do not want to pay overtime for chatting with sales reps. In addition, many office staff members have children in day care and they are required to pay a premium for every 15 minutes that they are late. Keep conversations short and sweet when staff members are busy.


•Â Make your positive intention clear by stating the purpose of the call. Let the gatekeeper know that your motivation is to find ways to solve their problems, either by saving the practice time or money.

In general, do everything possible to make gatekeepers your friends.

Greetings and salutations

How often do you go to a doctor's office and nod that uncomfortable familiarity to the staff? You don't know their names and they don't know yours. They aren't likely to take the time to want to know your name unless you take an interest in them first.

Think of offices where you know the names of key staff and they know you. What a difference! Learning, remembering and using names is an important way to connect with people and open office doors. Here are some suggestions for remembering and using names:


•Â Make sure you hear the name. Ask that it be repeated if it is said too quickly or quietly.


•Â Ask how a person prefers to be addressed, especially with titles or names like Robert or Patricia. For instance, ask "How do you prefer to be addressed?" or "Do you prefer Robert or Bob?" If a physician is introduced by a first name, you might say, "Shall I call you Doctor rather than Patricia or Patty?"


•Â Use the names as quickly as possible after hearing them and use them several more times throughout the conversation. Be careful not to overdo it, though, as this can come across as irritating or phony.


•Â Connect the person's name with prominent features and find out more about him or her. This helps create a mental picture that will enable you to remember and connect with him or her the next time you meet.

Try to engage people with a friendly, open approach. Let them know that you are happy to see them. Smile. Customize your greeting. Instead of saying, "How's it going?" say, "Hey, Mike, it's great to see you." Start the conversation by talking about what was going on in the office during your last visit. If possible, add some personal information, such as "How was your son's music recital?" or "Is your daughter playing soccer this year?" This is far more likely to cause gatekeepers to look up from what is distracting them and connect with you.

Common ground

You can find common ground with virtually anyone. As salespeople, we don't go to an office daily and work with the same colleagues. Gatekeepers are your colleagues. They can make your job much more enjoyable and lucrative if you become genuinely interested in them. You will be amazed at how much you can broaden your horizons or uncover potential needs. You can learn about local shortcuts, vacation spots, recipes, gardening tips and parenting tricks, hear book and movie reviews, learn about great deals and contracts and maybe even make a friend.

Use your powers of observation for clues of their interests or start with an interesting comment. Here are a few common interests you can explore with gatekeepers:


•Â Artists, books, movies, theaters or music.


•Â Children (age, gender, schools, activities).


•Â Clothing styles, shops and sales.


•Â Community events.


•Â Cuisine (ethnic foods, new restaurants, recipes).


•Â Favorite television shows.


•Â Cartoon strips.


•Â Health and fitness.


•Â Hobbies or special skills.


•Â Hometown origin and areas of interest.


•Â Past jobs or schools.


•Â Sports.


•Â Vacation spots.


•Â Books and magazines.


•Â Common friends.


•Â Inflation, deflation, stock market.


•Â Industry information.

There are virtually hundreds of things to talk about. However, there are also two important caveats to remember: Avoid being too familiar too quickly, and always respect time limits. Take your cue from the gatekeeper, and be aware that even when one staff person is happily engaged with you in conversation, his or her colleagues may see you as an imposition. PR

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