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Above all, consider the corporate gate keeper.

Looking for an entrance into a VC, an angel group, a bank, a CxO for a sales opportunity, or any other entity?  There are always gate keepers whose job it is to filter out the inconsequential or inappropriate, and allow through those with most promise.  That said, gate keepers can and do block some great opportunities before the decision maker even has a chance to use his or her expertise to evaluate.

So how do you reconcile this?  Getting beyond the gate keeper and finding your way directly to the decision maker(s)?  Every sales person with a bit of street history will resonate with this question.

One answer is to find someone with a relationship to either the gatekeeper of the

goalkeeper soccer player people on football stadium grass field

Gate keepers are like goal keepers: rewarded for keeping the other player out of the goal…

decision–maker.  LinkedIn might be good as a start, but beware.  Few of your contacts will be willing to use their valuable social or political capital helping you with a sales effort, and you will definitely strain your relationship with the intermediary if not a close friend.

[Email readers, continue here…] Using your attorney or accountant to find who is close to the decision maker sometimes works. After all, you have a paying relationship with these resources, and asking for help is not considered a daunting request.  Do you have any contacts or friends within the target company?   An inside name is an excellent ice–breaking opportunity.

Are you working with or selling to a particularly important competitor to your target customer?  Dropping that name will often immediately draw a response if the decision maker is curious or particularly competitive. Just remember, selling can be a strip–tease in which you reveal very little in the name of confidentiality, making it appear to be valuable comparative information.  Let me reinforce this:  never reveal competitive information to gain access or advantage.  It is unethical and your target will immediately worry whether you might do the same someday.

Another way to approach the gate keeper directly is with a strategic idea or extremely profitable suggestion that he or she can make their own, and enhance their standing within the company.  You must be willing to offer this freely, obviously ultimately connected to your product or service for implementation, but never claimed by you to be your idea.

One of my companies is in just such a position as I write this, able to offer an idea that is worth many millions and saving massive headaches, but having to make the idea owned by the gate keeper.  It takes careful presentation, lack of ego, and a real focus on the implementation tactics to make this work.  But what power.   So, after all, do consider the gate keeper as a potential partner whose “commission” on the sale is social and political approval from above.  Or, if you can pull it off without alienation, don’t take the time to consider the gate keeper at all.

  • Matt Brainard

    Great piece Dave. Very relevant to my every day experiences.

  • Mark Wayman


    I work 100% by referral. If I want to meet a CEO, I find a mutual friend and have them call and make the introduction. Works 100% of the time!

    I only make introductions when there is a tremendous value statement for BOTH of the individuals. If someone won’t take a short call for me, they are an acquaintance, not a friend. Had that issue maybe twice in 20 years.

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