By Harvey Mackay

As every salesperson knows, the key to the sale is knowing who’s got the hammer.

The purchasing manager?


If it isn’t the purchasing manager, is it the person who writes the specs the purchasing manager has to follow?

More likely.

Okay, is it the person who draws up the budget for the person who writes the specs the purchasing manager has to follow?

Quite possible.

All right, is it the person who heads the department of the person who draws up the budget for the person who writes the specs the purchasing manager has to follow?

Best bet.

Any peddler worth their expense account tries to reach up as high up as they can on the corporate ladder on the theory, usually correct, that orders from headquarters tend to carry the day. That’s basic selling 101.

But those of us who use that tactic have also learned that the higher up we go, the more likely that the decision maker we’re trying to reach took the same sales course we did, aced it and will have a trusted assistant trained to block our access.

Just look how many more people would get to heaven if they knew St. Peter, the most well-known gatekeeper.

You have to know how to get through.

When I am selling envelopes, I never place a call to a prospect without first finding out whom their assistant or secretary was. Easy to do by simply asking the main receptionist before they connect me to the Big Kahuna’s office. When the call goes through, this sets the stage for a nice one-on-one because I’m immediately able to address the gatekeeper by name.

Recently, I’ve gotten even better results by not even trying to personally talk with the Kahuna persona. I say flat out, “I would like to work directly with you . . .” regarding an appointment, charitable pledge, study or report, whatever.

In short, when I talk with BK’s trusted assistant, I’m talking with the person I want to talk with. If BK has enough faith in them to appoint them to the position of being BK’s assistant, that’s good enough for me. All I’m asking is that they use their judgment to decide if I’m making a reasonable request. If I am, give me their best effort to see to it that it gets done.

Over the years, I have had a lot better success working with people in this fashion than trying to run over them or around them.

Treat them with dignity. Respect their power. And by all means, acknowledge their help. Not with lavish gifts. That’s gauche. Just the little niceties. A creative, handwritten note with a beautiful commemorative stamp. A humorous card. A favorite plant or flower. A special book. A separate pit stop, where you stop by to see them, not BK, just to say “Thank you.”

Little things mean a lot . . . Not true. Little things mean everything!

Pat O’Brien of CBS Sports is a friend. He is a human butterfly. When he lands, it’s for never more than a nanosecond. He is always on the fly and virtually impossible to track down. For the past five years, my batting average, at best, is I get through only 10 percent of the time. That’s okay, because I’m continually in touch with his trusted assistants.

“Tell Pat I’m thinking of him.”

“Please see that Pat gets this mailing.”

“Tell Pat I just ran across his high school classmate from South Dakota.”

“My daughter Jojo says Pat will love reading the following books.”

We’ve managed to stay close all these years, even though we hardly ever talk directly. His people are my conduits and vice versa.

Cast your line out and make your network include everyone who can ultimately give you access or contact with the person you want to reach.

Access to the decision maker is only a gate away.

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