How to Get Past the Screener

The ability to gain access to decision makers is a sure sign of a top printing salesperson. Moving beyond screens is an important job requirement for all salespeople. A screen is defined as anyone who needs to be engaged before meeting the person or persons who make print buying decisions.

Recognizing who the screens are, understanding their roles and managing them professionally within a targeted account is a significant challenge for many salespeople.

Who Are Screens?

Prior to the Internet and the ubiquitous use of voice mail, many sales directors spent countless hours helping their salespeople get through a screen. Today, many human screens have been replaced by the phone system, virtual offices, and security checkpoints. Human screens are also still around in large numbers. Selling high value print solutions and getting to executives still requires the ability to confidently and professionally get through the screen.

To make matters worse, sometimes screens can be actual decision makers for some print products and services and gatekeepers for others. For instance, a screen can be an office manager or print buyer who makes decisions on printed stationery, business cards, and standard printed materials, but who cannot make a decision on more complex print programs and campaigns.

The Screener’s Job

The screener’s key goal is to keep salespeople away from the decision maker. The situation is ironic: while the executive is in his or her office feeling frustrated because of a problem, the salesperson with the exact solution to the problem is being turned away.    

The screen can come with many titles. They can be administrative aides, assistants, and lower level employees. They seldom make important buying decisions. Many times you can enlist the screener as your partner; it is always better to have them on your side. Cultivating a screen through a common contact on LinkedIn or a mutual interest can lead them to help to provide an introduction or advice on how to gain access to the decision maker.

If it is a large company, you may want to make an appointment with a lower level contact with the express purpose of explaining why his or her boss would be very interested in what you have to say. If that person is enthusiastic about your presentation and impressed with you, your appointment is almost assured.

Another option is when you have the assistant on the phone and he or she is hesitant about putting you through, ask searching questions or make important statements having to do with the business that deserve the attention of the boss.

Examples of Opening Statements

Consider opening statements such as: “Jason Manufacturing Company increased sales by soliciting new prospects by adding a personalized direct mail program to their digital media campaign. I think Bob Lane would be interested in the details, don't you?”, or “Acme Medical Center has been using our colorful patient care brochure to help patients with post-operative instructions and how to’s. The result has been a significant reduction in post-operative complications. I am sure Dr. Lawrence would like to hear about this.”

These types of statements and questions prevent the screeners from dismissing your call and pique their interest. Remember, when you do the research and think through your comments, you are likely to touch upon issues that are important to the company. When the screen can visualize this and understand the benefit, you are more likely to get the appointment.

Email and Phone Messages

There will be occasions when you will be forced to leave a voice mail or send an email requesting a conversation. In all cases, keep the message focused and short. Use the same principles as you do in an opening statement. Explain who you are, why you’re calling, and the specific value that would encourage someone to get back to you. Always leave the door open for a meeting at a later date or the opportunity to meet with another executive who has responsibility for the decision.

A live conversation is always the best communication in this situation. Remember, your objective is to gain a face-to-face appointment. Avoid the temptation to sell your product over the phone. If the person on the phone asks for more information, politely mention that you will provide more complete details when you meet in person.  

Use Caution and Good Judgment

There are plenty of manipulative and tired techniques that aggressive salespeople use to get past screens. These work for some customers, but will most likely annoy or disturb most prospects. In the printing industry, companies want to do business with professionals where a long term relationship can be established. Research, preparation, and great sales skills work best.

The best part about being a print salesperson is that you can be sure every client you call on needs graphic communications. If they have stopped printing, then you have an even better opportunity. Many companies are reassessing how they communicate. Print is an essential part of delivering and reinforcing marketing and informational messages. Learning and practicing techniques that will help you get past a screen are important steps to more sales.

Joe Rickard is a training leader and consultant who works with companies in the graphic arts to improve their sales and operational effectiveness. He is the founder of Intellective Solutions, a provider of customized sales, operational, and sales management training material and services. Contact him at 845-753-6156, or visit