barbarianIt’s a fact: in today’s business climate, it takes much longer to reach decision makers. It seems that our best efforts at creating content and value, as well as our ability to broadcast vast amounts of information to well targeted titles does not seem to be generating the response we expected. The decision makers who receive a perfectly worded email describing a “to die for” promotion are not reacting to it the way we predicted.

There are distinct barriers to opening the conversation and here is where I’d like to offer advice based on years of experience in inside sales. It seems expedient to target decision makers, and yet, it may not necessarily be the most productive approach. C-level executives are busy with many things beyond making purchasing decisions and may not pay due attention to an e-sales pitch or a call from a stranger.

I believe that in this relationship-building exercise, it will be easier and more fruitful to begin with the often maligned gatekeepers. Do not avoid them or by-pass them– engage then instead.

The first step in this process is to understand their roles:

Executive assistants are technically knowledgeable individuals responsible for cataloging and distributing information, assisting top-level business staff and arranging schedules. Their duties vary by employer and tasks may include screening, prioritizing mail/ phone calls, researching and writing memos. They may maintain executive calendars and meeting agendas, prepare materials used in executive presentations and make travel arrangements.

Often they perform tasks once reserved for lower- and mid-level managers, such as negotiating with suppliers, purchasing supplies and maintaining leased equipment. In a nutshell, executive assistants have potentially significant influence in shaping the decisions made by the executives they support.

Getting the message through to busy executives by working with their assistants, rather than around them, could prove to be a very smart approach. Thus, it makes sense to tailor messages to them and this could be as simple as asking their permission to contact the boss. In your communications be respectful, brief and acknowledge their role. Make a pitch that has some benefit in it for them and be thankful. I have a very strong feeling that making allies of executive assistants will not only establish a long term relationship, but will help with the lead or sale.

Administrative assistants are the ones who keep the email and voicemail boxes clean and trash all the emails which have been sent directly to the decision maker unsolicited without opening them. The administrative assistant won’t weed you out if you work with him or her directly and appropriately – instead, they will gather and review information with the decision maker(s) to determine if further time or information is available to discuss your product or service.

Receptionists generally have no responsibilities in filtering other than to put someone into voicemail, carry the stack of mail to the decision maker’s desk unopened, and never open the email of the decision maker. Nevertheless, you need to be direct and patient when working with them, as they support the whole company, not an individual.

These are the key players to engage when trying to move the information in front of the decision makers or committees. Here are some suggestions for dealing with them:

  • Be articulate and brief. Don’t put the assistants off by over-selling them company benefits and features. They just want to make sure the function falls squarely in their decision maker’s scope of work or with someone else in the department or company.
  • Be knowledgeable. Know the decision maker’s general role, the industries in which you and the prospects are respectively competing. He or she doesn’t have time to explain this information and expects you to be able to share why your company is vital to his/her boss, department and company’s success.
  • Be professional. Have the ability to hear what is said. No means No. Don’t fight it; there are plenty of fish in the sea and no one sells every company and decision maker. Understand the assistant’s receptiveness (or not) rather than forcing yourself upon him or her.
  • Most importantly, be respectful. Respect the assistant’s time and NEVER, EVER lie about the purpose. Today’s assistants are busy with tasks of reviewing more correspondence than ever: emails, voicemails, and direct mail pieces, in addition to any other tasks for which they are responsible. Today’s assistants are too educated and/or savvy to be fooled. Be clear about your purpose. If you mislead the assistant to get a foot in the door and he or she receives any repercussions, it will be you and your company who pay the consequences.

We marketers have many tools at our disposal. We spend good time and money for business intelligence, lists and the like. Let us recognize the importance of making the decision maker’s assistant our best friend in a meaningful, mutually respectful way. Do this, and eventually the gates will open.