Making Nice With the Gatekeeper Gives You A Better Chance of Getting Through to the Boss
They call them the Gatekeepers, the Silent Sentinels, the Frontline Facilitators. Administrative assistants are the backbone of every organization. From the legal office receptionist in your small local town to the corporate assistants in bustling cities, these individuals work behind-the-scenes, quietly executing executive tasks and injecting their influence into every department they touch.
Assistants can grant access to opportunities, including coveted face-to-face time with high-level leaders. With a swift click on a calendar, they can make a sales rep feel incredibly lucky or disappointingly flat.
What’s the best way to ensure you’re one of the lucky ones? Why, by cracking the Gatekeeper Code, of course.
Techniques to Avoid
The Fast-Talking Bypass: When an administrative assistant answers a direct-line phone call, try not to hurriedly ask for the person you originally dialed. If that person were available, you would be speaking with them. Take the time to introduce yourself, ask the assistant how he or she is, and then inquire what the best way would be to get in contact with the boss.
The Voicemail Veto: The assistant you refused to leave a message with will be the same one listening to your voicemail. Try not to put a bad taste in the assistant’s mouth by demanding to be sent to voicemail. You don’t want his or her translation of your message to be tainted by negativity. When an assistant says, “Can I take a message?” go ahead and leave one. Save personal, confidential messages for in-person, direct communication.
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The Electronic Snub: When emailing, ask the leader if they have an assistant they’d like you to work with. When you know of an assistant, go through that person when sending out scheduling inquiries. To review: when an assistant is an option, use them first. Sending a scheduling inquiry directly to the boss will clog up the inbox and cause you further delays. Assistants schedule meetings, and while they may need to get approval for your meeting, they can certainly get in front of their boss quicker than you.
The Title Tantrum: When your clients are other businesses, it’s important to remember your title doesn’t mean nearly as much to them as it does to you. You may be the director of your region, or the CEO or founder of your business, but to the person on the other end of the line, you may as well be another stranger on the street. Do not expect your title to speak for you. Basic human considerations, such as saying please and thank you, will win more hearts than an air of entitlement.
The Liar Liar Pants on Fire: Lying to an assistant to get on an executive’s calendar is like nailing a lid on your coffin. Once the assistant catches on to what you’re doing (which, believe me, will absolutely happen by the time you arrive to meet with the executive), you’ll be forever stashed in the “untrustworthy” bucket. This is not a nice place to be when trying to schedule follow up meetings or project implementation sessions.
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The Communication Choke: Leave a message, shoot off an email, and then please, please, please, just wait. No need to later call the assistant, then call the executive’s line, then send an email to the assistant, then send another email cc-ing the boss. You may think you’re pursuing all possible avenues, but to assistants, you’re undermining their ability to do their job. Give them a nice, polite window of time and then follow up—without tattling on them to the boss.
Techniques to Embrace
The Sweet Talker: There is absolutely nothing wrong with using an A-game sales mentality with an administrative assistant. They are people, too, and often susceptible to the same ego manipulation techniques executives are. Be polite and inquisitive, speak clearly, use eye contact if you’re in person, complement them, and thank them for their time. Making yourself memorable (in a positive way) is key.
The Personality Player: What is your personality power? Do you have a great sense of humor? A quick, dry wit? Are you wonderful at reading people? Can you tailor your mannerisms to meet someone else’s preferences? There’s a reason you are wonderful at selling your business. Capitalize on your passions, strengths, and uniqueness, and let the assistant see you do it.
The Resourceful Renegade: Never underestimate an assistant’s ability to assist. They are the eyes and ears of their organization and often fully understand the operational tasks, requirements, and responsibilities of their leaders. They can also steer you in the right direction when you’ve called the wrong place. Try asking them for help. They can provide golden nuggets of information regarding staffing size, technology needs, or current vendor relations. Even if you don’t get to the boss that day, these tidbits of knowledge are invaluable.
The Candy Shoppe: You will occasionally find an assistant who doesn’t like chocolate. Take the risk. The gift will be remembered long after your face is forgotten. Sure, you may not want to be known as “The Vendor Who Brought Me a Basket of Chocolate-Covered Strawberries,” but leaving a good impression increases the chances of being called by your actual name someday by the executives who approve your invoices.
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The Graceful Defeat: Sometimes the fish just don’t bite. Every now and then, you’ll be turned down. Maintain your professionalism and ask if you can follow up in six months. Reach out through LinkedIn, both to the executive and the assistant. Send a holiday greeting to remind them you’re still around. Sometimes the business isn’t wanted, but the person behind the business is. Keep all avenues open by accepting your product may not be wanted now, but may be wanted later. When the need arrives, who is the executive more likely to turn to, a never-heard-of, dull sales caller or the nice vendor who sent a card at Christmas?
When your goal is to communicate with the executive, never pass up the chance to win the heart of the assistant. Money has been made and agreements signed soon after hearing the words, “Remember that woman who brought us Starbucks a few weeks ago? What’s her number again?” Guarantee your digits are dialed by solidifying your relationship with the one person who records, maintains, and organizes such things…the assistant.