Having a tough time getting in to see a decision maker? Maybe you aren't talking to the right people. According to Tom Cottingham, founder of NarrowCast Concepts, in Louisville, and a veteran sales representative, a prospect's administrative assistant can be a sales rep's best ally. "Administrative assistants are some of the most important people I call on," he says. "They may not control the checkbook in a company, but they control another commodity just as important: company time."

Some aggressive salespeople squander great leads because they don't introduce themselves properly--offending the gatekeeper--and then can't get appointments. Others give as little information as possible to people who surround key decision makers. Cottingham cultivates administrative assistants by letting them know his agenda. By confiding in them, he often gains their trust and is able to line up an appointment with their bosses. "They'll say, 'Well, he's really busy but he's got a half hour on Tuesday at 1:30, so if you show up then he may be able to see you.' Sometimes these executives can see me, and sometimes they can't. If they can't, then I just thank the assistant for trying and try to find another time to try again."

Copyright 1998 G+J USA Publishing