How Can You Gain Access to Higher Level Decision-Makers?

Posted on 06/01/2013 in Sales Management

One of the most popular topics in our Key Account Management and Selling On Value workshops is how to gain access to higher-level decision makers. This is a critical skill for sales professionals, especially when you need to build relationships with multiple decision makers and influencers at key accounts. The following are two related topics:

  • Guidelines on how to gain access
  • What to do if the gatekeeper blocks access

Top 10 Methods on How to Gain Access to Decision Makers

STAR has surveyed thousands of sales professionals and sales managers, and asked for their most practical and effective tips on how to gain access to higher-level decision makers. Here are the Top 10 responses: 

  1. Use an outside referral to get an initial meeting or phone conversation with the top level decision maker
  2. After you have the initial conversation (see above), use "top down” selling to gain access to the decision makers who report to the top person
  3. When you are speaking with a mid-level contact, ask some legitimate high-level questions that would normally be outside of his or her authority limits; then, ask follow-up questions such as "who would have this information?” and "would you be willing to help me contact this person?”
  4. If this is an existing customer, use your current contact as an ally to refer you to sales opportunities at other divisions or locations
  5. Use "indirect influence”, meaning that you let one of your internal allies become your advocate, and let this person sell your product/service/idea for you
  6. Offer training or informational workshop for which the topic would attract other decision makers
  7. Join a relevant trade or industry association, especially one that is likely to include higher level managers
  8. When you make a future appointment, schedule a joint sales call and bring one of your higher-level managers with you, and ensure that the customer will have a matching level person at the same meeting
  9. Although it isn’t as common as it once was, entertainment and outings can also be used
  10. Finally…be persistent! Average salespeople give up after two or fewer attempts, whereas successful sellers make 6 attempts (on average) to gain access to new and important customers.

What If The Gatekeeper Blocks Access?

For many of the above suggestions, you may find that a gatekeeper is blocking access to the higher-level decision maker. This is a common roadblock, for which some of these suggestions would then be appropriate: 

  • Don’t go around the gatekeeper, but do your best to cultivate this person as an ally.
  • Make a reasonable request, such as "I’d only like 5 minutes”, or "Can you forward this information to him or her?”
  • Telephone or visit either very early or very late in the day, in the hope that the gatekeeper isn’t there
  • Send an email directly to the decision maker
  • Cite a referral or internal ally (similar to the suggestions in the Top 10 list)

STAR has two workshops that address the skills and concepts discussed above. Please visit our Sales Workshops page online to learn more about our workshops that teach the skills of gaining access to decision-makers: Key Account Management Workshop and Selling on Value Workshop. Managers may also be interested in visiting our Selling on Value Not Price Sales Meeting Kit page for help on how to lead a skills clinic on value selling at your next sales meeting.