Who created the gatekeeper, and do schools have the best in the world?

by | 24 Jul 23

Are you a CFO, CEO, Headteacher or Governor of a Multi Academy Trust or school? Do you own a business? If so, then this blog post is for you! Over the past few months, I’ve been talking to lots of salespeople who are struggling to get past a gatekeeper (mostly in EdTech) and in most cases, we could trace the issues back to the lack of a solid ideal customer profile and wholesale adoption of what I call a spray and pray marketing approach.

Having worked in schools for several years, I know the above approach isn’t welcome, so I asked myself, why do so many salespeople get this wrong, is it arrogance or ignorance? In an attempt to find the answer to this, I recently shared two polls on LinkedIn, one aimed at salespeople, and one aimed at buyers, and the results suggest that there’s quite a disconnect between how well sellers think they know their audience in comparison to how buyers feel about it. In this blog post, we will explore what gatekeepers are, what they do, why they do it and how we can attempt to overcome any resistance salespeople encounter.

We’ll also try to answer the age-old question, do schools have the best gatekeepers in the business?

Disclaimer: This blog mainly focuses on schools, as that’s where most of my focus is right now, but the content applies to any business struggling to understand why they can’t get past the gatekeeper.

What is a gatekeeper, and how do they impact the buying process?

A gatekeeper is an essential figure in the buying process of any school or business. Their role is to filter the various requests and enquiries that reach the decision-makers in the organisation and determine which ones are worth pursuing. A gatekeeper can be anyone from a receptionist to an executive assistant, but their importance cannot be overstated. They can sometimes make or break a deal, as they have the power to decide who gets access to the decision-makers and who does not. The gatekeeper’s impact can be positive or negative – if you build a rapport, they can help you build strong relationships with decision-makers. Fail to do so, and they can create a barrier that’s impossible to overcome. Therefore, it’s crucial to understand their role and build a good relationship with them to make the buying process as seamless as possible.

The key attributes of effective gatekeepers in the buying process.

The buying process can be daunting, especially when faced with many options. This is where gatekeepers come in – individuals who take on the crucial role of filtering the relevant information that helps guide the decision-making process. But what makes an effective gatekeeper? Firstly, they must possess a deep understanding of the business and its needs in order to make informed choices. They should also have strong communication skills and a knack for building relationships, as they’ll be a crucial touchpoint between stakeholders and potential vendors. Furthermore, keeping abreast of industry trends and new technologies is critical, ensuring that the organisation stays ahead of the curve and uses the most innovative solutions. Overall, effective gatekeepers are indispensable when it comes to making sound business decisions and should be sought after as valuable assets to any team.

Why do gatekeepers exist?

Picture this, you’re a headteacher in a school, trying to balance the everyday demands thrown at you, from children’s birthdays to parental complaints and everything in between. At the same time, you get continuously interrupted by sellers trying to pitch their products, software and services to you. They haven’t done their homework and appear just to be ringing through a list of every school in the country, with no understanding of where each is at or what they need.

This level of interruption has prompted you to find a buffer between yourself and these sellers. You give the office staff information about what you are looking for in relation to new products and services and ask them to filter all calls, a bit like a bouncer or doorman at a nightclub.

Armed with your list and the authority to say no, your team can now filter effectively and prevent unwanted offers and advances from clogging up your diary.

That is why gatekeepers exist 😊

Does that mean sellers are responsible for the creation of gatekeepers?

I currently have a poll running on LinkedIn, so I’ll update any data in this blog once it has finished, but right now, my view is yes, we are. The poll currently (at the time of writing this blog) agrees with me, with a whopping 86% answering ‘yes they have’ to the question, have salespeople forced buyers to strengthen gatekeepers because of poor discovery and a lack of understanding around their ICP.

A lack of research into buyers and a slapdash approach to calling have forced buyers to retreat for cover and protect themselves from the noise we make as sellers.

It’s time we took responsibility for our target audience(s), did the research, and put relationships and connections at the heart of everything we do. That is when we will reap the rewards on many fronts. For example, conversion rates will increase, the pipeline will be more sustainable, retention rates will improve and will receive more inbounds through referrals than ever before.


Believe salespeople have forced buyers to strengthen gatekeepers

Do schools have the best gatekeepers in the world?

Yes, in my opinion, they do, and in today’s fast-paced and constantly changing business world, having an experienced gatekeeper on your side can make all the difference.

Why do I think they are the best? From my experience, most organisations utilise the gatekeeper as the first line of defence when looking to connect with or receive contact from sellers, but in schools, they are more than that. The gatekeeper in a school is often a business manager with decision-making authority, sometimes a member of the Senior Leadership Team, and they have strong backing from the ultimate decision-maker. That set’s them apart from other gatekeepers who are often placed simply as a buffer between the relevant lead in their organisation and the seller.

School gatekeepers can often say no with authority. In contrast, in other organisations, the chosen tool of choice is unavailability, and gatekeepers tend to knock back advances but don’t squash them altogether. I’d be interested in getting your views on this, so feel free to comment on LinkedIn or email me at chris@goaccelerate.org.

As a seller, is the gatekeeper my friend or my enemy?

As a seller, it’s essential to understand the role that gatekeepers play in your sales process. Gatekeepers are the ones who control access to decision-makers, making them either your ally or your adversary. In some cases, they can help provide you with valuable insights and information to help you succeed in your pitch. However, if not treated properly, they can become a significant roadblock in your sales process. Therefore, it’s crucial to build a strong relationship with gatekeepers and treat them as valuable members of your sales team who can help you close deals faster and more efficiently. By doing so, you can turn the gatekeeper into your friend rather than your enemy.

It is also worth remembering that it is always easier to build a relationship with any stakeholder if you demonstrate that you have done your homework and tried to understand the fit between them and your offer.

Closing thoughts – Are salespeople the creators of the gatekeeper, and do schools have the best in the business?

As we wrap up this blog on salespeople and gatekeepers, one question lingers: are salespeople genuinely responsible for creating gatekeepers?

The answer, as it often is, is not a simple one. While salespeople may contribute to the process, it’s essential to look at the bigger picture. Gatekeepers exist because organisations have become more complex, and decision-making power has become more concentrated. As for schools having the best salespeople, it’s undoubtedly true that they’re often very skilled. However, the sales world constantly changes, and the best salespeople are always adapting and learning. So, while schools may have some top-notch gatekeepers, the sector as a whole is constantly evolving and improving.

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