How do you start a cold conversation with a gatekeeper? This is a challenge that haunts salespeople the world over. If you struggle with cold calling, you might find this technique helpful and one to build upon over time.

This is not a stand-alone opening line. It's not to be rattled off by a mediocre sales rep intending to waltz by the gatekeeper on the way to the executive lounge. Nope, this one requires homework. When done properly, it can and will make a significant improvement in your cold calling efforts.

Here are the steps to prepare you for using the opening line:

Step 1: Leverage your verticals

In order for the opening line to work, divide up your customers into verticals (industries, subsets, groupings, and so). In other words, group them by kind, however you may define it--demographic, size of company, industry, location, etc. The more connections these groups have, the better. They will serve two primary purposes: building vertical call lists and creating customer one-sheets.

Step 2: Collect customer names and testimonials

Ask your satisfied customers for a quote, case study, testimonial, or simply permission to use their names. Collect these and create a vertical one-sheet. Get as many as you can to fill up the page. Remember, only one vertical per page. If you sell into five different verticals, then you should have five different one-sheets--one sheet for each vertical with the names and quotes from only those customers in that vertical. This will be used as your validation piece once you engage the gatekeeper. Be sure to make color copies to bring with you when knocking on doors and have an electronic version to email when making phone calls.

Step 3: Prepare your lists and one-sheets

When cold calling, divide your call lists by the same verticals as your one-sheets. Start with one vertical. For this example, let's say it's dentist offices. You have 12 customers who are dentists and nine agreed to either give you a quote or testimonial or have their names on your customer one-sheet. Create the one-sheet and then do the same for the other verticals.

Step 4: Make your cold call

After introducing yourself to the gatekeeper (I'll use the dentist example again), open with this line:

My purpose for calling is to let you know that we work with 12 dentists in the city helping them to lower their medical supply costs and that's why I wanted to connect with you.

Why does this work?

  • It states the most credible thing you can say to a gatekeeper--we have experience with people just like you.
  • It states you know about their business
  • It is specific (not vague) regarding the number of industry customers you have
  • It has a legitimate benefit (not a trumped-up benefit) since you already work in their industry
  • It states a clear purpose--creating conditions for you both to connect


You can modify words to suit your vertical:

  • 350 retail stores in the southeast
  • 6 insurance companies in the area
  • 23 restaurants in the county

You can modify words to suit the benefits:

  • Reduce system downtime
  • Improve employee retention by 15 percent
  • Reach more potential customers in the region

Your conversation after this can go in many different directions. Regardless, be prepared to use your customer one-sheet to answer the gatekeepers when they say: Exactly which dentists do you work with? Thank them for asking that question and pull out your customer one-sheet and show them. Chances are they will know some of the others on your list--instant credibility. This is much better than giving them product brochures.

Final Tips

The most important thing you can do as a cold-calling salesperson is to be credible in the mind of a gatekeeper. That's what gets you into the executive lounge. Gatekeepers see and hear lame sales techniques every week. Avoid that by using good words delivered well.

Don't attempt to sell to the gatekeeper--go for credibility. Nothing is more credible to a gatekeeper than a calm, confident, friendly salesperson whose company already has an established track record in the gatekeeper's industry.

Be sure to practice the conversation all the way through to the end--asking to speak with the manager, decision-maker, etc. Yes, practice before you cold call--a lot. Confidence comes from good words and plenty of practice.

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