She could not have cared less!

One of my most memorable moments in my early days in outside sales involves a wonderful experience with an exceptionally skillful gatekeeper.  Her name was Doris.  (Of course that is not her real name.  I just like the name Doris today). 🙂

The company that I worked for at that time taught their sales people to make face-to-face cold calls on businesses in the Atlanta, GA market.  Our goal was to schedule appointments with the owner or top manager to present the services our company had to offer.

I was a young, “wet behind the ears” 26 year-old kid who had a great work ethic and was not frightened to talk to anyone.

Anyone, except Doris on that particular day.

The company had a “NO SOLICITING” sign on the front door in HUGE letters.  When I walked in, Doris had a sign on her desk that said, “We shoot every third salesman, and the second one just left.”  To make matters even better, she had a small wooden desk decoration that said, “98% Angel – 2% B**ch – Good Luck!”

I looked at those signs.  I looked at Doris.  I looked back at the signs and gulped.  As my eyes returned back to Doris, an amazing thing happened.  She began to transform into a very scary creature.  Her nose grew into a long snout.  Her ears began to elongate and become pointed.  She smiled as fangs grew from her mouth and fire came out of her nose!

Okay, maybe I am exaggerating… slightly.

As I began to speak, my voice cracked and I sounded like a young man entering puberty rather than a grown, well-polished sales professional.  I said, “Ma’am, it is obvious that your company would prefer not to be called upon by sales people.  But I am reasonably sure that if your company owner knows what I want to talk to him about, he will be willing to see me.” And then I asked her, “What would be the best way for me to approach this situation?”

Much to my surprise, her ears and snout retracted back to normal, and her fangs disappeared into the sweetest smile.  She replied, “Well, you are the first salesman to ever ask me that question.  Young man, apologize for dropping in unexpectedly, and tell me that you don’t want to barge in right now.  But then ask me if you can schedule and appointment with the owner.”  She also asked, “Why would I want to help you get an appointment?”

I put my finger in the air and said, “Wait right here.”  I then turned around and walked back out the door.

I immediately turned around and walked right back in, starting over with a big smile on my face.  After she heard me repeat her exact words back to her, she laughed a little bit.  Then I said something special to her.  I said, “What I am going to do for the owner of your company is actually going to put more money in his pocket – and you are going to look like a hero for knowing I was the one sales person to let come inside today.”

Thank you, Doris.  I learned much from you that day.

All basic sales training will point you in a similar direction on this topic.  People are not interested in what interests you – they are interested in what interests them.  That doesn’t just apply to the stakeholders and the owners.  It applies to everyone in the sales process.

Everything you do in sales should go through a process I refer to as “Benefit Based Thinking”.  Benefit based thinking would best be defined as the process of considering, understanding and communicating exactly how the person with whom you are working will personally benefit from taking the action you are encouraging.

If a business owner contracts with your company for your product or service, how will it help their business and how will that affect them personally.  If an individual buys your product or service, what will that mean to them and their family.

In the voluntary employee benefits arena, I always found gatekeepers (whether on the phone or in person) more cooperative on a cold call when I used the following benefit based approach:

  • I want to visit with (company owner) about a program designed for you that will give you money to pay your personal bills while you are missing work due to a covered accident or illness – or to care for a seriously ill spouse or child.  Would you help me get that set up for you?”


If I don’t care what your product specifically does – what can you say to turn my attention on how I would benefit from helping you sell it?