Getting past receptionists and other gatekeepers is a universal sales challenge. Successful salespeople, however, have the right insights and approaches for success.

They know the secrets to see their way past gatekeepers. Part of which is to be expert in overcoming cold calling anxiety.

Successful salespeople have the right instincts because they’ve mastered the three A’s in sales – awareness, acceptance and action.

Starting in the 1970s en route to selling millions of dollars in goods and services in multiple industries, I made all the conceivable and unimaginable mistakes.

So I learned how to “read the room” in cold calls by using the three A’s.


Understand that gatekeepers are probably just as devoted to their jobs as you are to yours. They don’t want to risk criticism for admitting someone who doesn’t offer value to their organization. They see their job as to screening people out.

To counter-act their resistance, you must concentrate on creating the best-possible first impression by looking like a professional.

Did you ever notice that the most-professionally dressed people are accorded the greatest respect? Receptionists will size you up as someone who is or isn’t worthy of meeting the boss.

Many receptionists are hired to create a positive, first impression for visitors. It sounds trivial but many receptionists wear great shoes as part of their “uniform.”

They also appreciate salespeople who know what to wear and how to wear it. As a young salesperson, many receptionists commented to me: “Great shoes.”

Recognize, too, you have the power light up the room when you walk in the door – to create a favorable spotlight on yourself.

A positive, authentic smile turns on the light switch. You must decide how to follow the example of any great actor in an classic movie.

Along with effective visuals of their movements, great actors know the value of expressing the right tone of voice in their roles. You must have a positive appearance and a happy tone when you speak.

Be aware, too, of a technique used by popular radio personalities – they smile when they open their microphones. If you smile as you speak, you will project a friendly tone of voice.

Before a cold call, understand that you must already know about the company, and keep in mind the type of questions to ask the gatekeeper.

You must be aware of techniques in rapport-building and asking open-ended questions. Open-ended questions prompt gatekeepers to think about how to answer you and to provide you with information — instead a knee-jerk “no” reaction.

Hone your instincts in how to spot a need for what you have to offer. Have a great elevator pitch, use value propositions and know the seven steps to higher sales, the five value perceptions that motivate customers to buy, and the three-step process for overcoming sales objections.

Great salespeople turn gatekeepers into allies.

Good bosses rely on their gatekeepers’ opinions. Top bosses usually ask the gatekeepers what they think about salespeople. Once you persuade gatekeepers that you’re a professional with excellent communication skills and provide value, you’re halfway to landing a sale.


Acceptance merely means deciding on an objective. In my long career as a salesperson and later as a consultant in business-development calls, my objective was merely to take the first step in developing a relationship.

Gatekeepers might not know it, but they wield a great deal of power. You must accord them maximum respect.

“Most people think ‘selling’ is the same as ‘talking.’ But the most effective salespeople know that listening is the most important part of their job.”

-Roy Bartell

The first step: Decide how to introduce yourself to obtain an appointment. (But don’t be surprised if you get past the gatekeeper and make a sale on the spot. It can happen. Act as if you’re accustomed to it.)

Also, it’s time to decide for you to decide how you’ll go about turning on the switch to light up the room.


Especially in cold calls, don’t walk in the door looking like an average salesperson. Don’t marginalize receptionists, and don’t take them for granted. Developing a relationship with the receptionist is very important to your success.

The sales profession is an honorable one. Be proud of what you’re doing, hold your head high. Nothing happens in commerce until something is sold.

Instead of a briefcase, carry a small portfolio big enough to hold a notepad and business cards. Or don’t carry anything at all – just your business cards and smartphone to make appointments on-the-spot if you get an audience. This shows you’re giving the company personalized attention.

Most salespeople mistakenly give up after three cold calls. However, it normally takes a minimum of five quality sales calls before you get an appointment.

Get the gatekeeper’s name. Make a note of whatever you discuss and any other salient information. Mention it on your return visit.

Instead of pulling out my cold-call list, I used to write gatekeepers’ names in quotes on the back of a business card. Those gatekeepers were impressed when I remembered their names in subsequent cold calls.

To overcome the difficulties you face in chatting with gatekeeper, approach the gatekeeper not as a salesperson but as a professional who visited the company to offer the value – with an attitude of gratitude and service.

With a warm smile and tone in your voice, approach the gatekeepers. For them, it’s often a busy, boring and mundane job screening out people. Consider that your job is to brighten their day for a moment or two.

If the person is sitting at a desk or behind a counter, stand back. Do not tower over the person. If the person is busy, be very detached. Don’t be too anxious to introduce yourself.

Be alert to opportunities to empathize with them and their work. Depending on the person and situation, I’ve landed countless sales by starting with a question something like this: “What a tough job. How do you do it?”

For them, it’s a low-risk open-ended question. Many gatekeepers appreciate the empathy. Show genuine interest.

Many gatekeepers aren’t treated with enough respect by employers and visitors. You’ll increase your prospects if you manage to get the gatekeepers to be talkative with you.

One goal should be to position yourself to listen 90 percent in all conversations. You’ll get a great friend by listening.

Gatekeepers are accustomed to adhering to a daily script of resisting cold-callers. Often, you’ll hear the question: “What, you don’t have an appointment?”

If asked such a question, smile warmly and say something like: “I stopped by just to make an appointment to come back.” Segue to a brief benefit statement and ask open-ended questions.

Caution  about taking risks – make sure you understand human nature

Again, it’s key to learn how to understand people and human nature, and build the right rapport. Know what you can do successfully and what you won’t.

Be careful with your comments and questions – don’t assume anything.

In one lesson – after getting past the gatekeeper, I tried to be empathetic with the boss – I assumed she was expecting a child. She sat, stood and walked like it.

But when I asked her when she was due, her response was “I’m not!” Fortunately, I made the sale but not without a lot of embarrassment and anxiety.

Know to whom you can give promotional items. If you’re treated formally by a gatekeeper, don’t.

On the other hand as a salesperson loaded with promotional items – such as scratch pads or pocket mirrors – I learned that many gatekeepers appreciated them, especially scratch pads because it made their jobs easier.

With a gatekeeper at a big utility company in southern California who was easy going and amiable in response to my approach, I told her: “I’ve got a present for you – a picture of a beautiful woman.” Then, I held up a pocket mirror in front of her.

She absolutely loved it, shrieked with joy and literally instructed the boss to see me. I won a contract worth more than $100,000. That was a lot of money in those days.

Ironically, when I mentioned the episode at a sales meeting, most of my female peers sitting around the room groaned. But I had the biggest sales month of anybody in that national company with offices coast-to-coast.

So anticipate what you can do and what you shouldn’t.

But for most sales, I found using a polished, formal approach worked in most situations.

Finally, it’s vital to learn from even your successes and to learn from each rejection. Keep persevering. At the end of each day, evaluate your efforts.

You’ll enjoy your journey to riches.

From the Coach’s Corner, here are editor’s picks for select articles from our dozens of sales coaching articles:

6 Tips to Create New Sales with Successful Cold Calling — Attending mere networking events or depending on a high marketing budget aren’t sufficient for strong sales. OK, cold calling isn’t always easy, but you must if you want to dramatically increase sales in double-digit percentages.

Sales Strategy When Tempted to Bad Mouth Competitors — Imagine you’re making a presentation and you feel pressure to make the sale. Suddenly you’re asked about your competition. Bad mouthing competition is not a viable option.

For Top Sales, 5 Rules for Targeting the Right Prospects — If you target the right prospects, you’ll save time and money and increase your revenue. There are five rules to follow. They’re developed for B2B but work for B2C, too.

8 Tips for Cold Calling By E-mail and Telephone — Since the advent of the digital age, cold calling went out of vogue. But in the lingering tepid economic recovery – whether you’re in advertising or staffing services – cold calling has become the logical tool to use to generate clients or business customers. For most businesspeople, cold calling isn’t the easiest route but it is a proven way of getting clients and customers.

6 Rules to Keep Your Pipeline Full for Continuous Sales — It doesn’t matter what type of business you have. Even if your sales are great today, there will come a time when sales will crawl to a halt unless you take precautionary measures to keep your sales pipeline full.

“Most people think ‘selling’ is the same as ‘talking.’ But the most effective salespeople know that listening is the most important part of their job.”

-Roy Bartell


Author Terry Corbell has written innumerable online business-enhancement articles, and is a business-performance consultant and profit professional. Click here to see his management services. For a complimentary chat about your business situation or to schedule him as a speaker, consultant or author, please contact Terry.