Closing the Deal on the Go: When Secretaries Are the Decision Makers

Think of Joan Holloway on the AMC hit series Mad Men. How much do you think she was responsible for when she worked at Sterling Cooper? She definitely had the ear of Roger Sterling, Jr. and also had a lot of authority around the office, including the ability to make certain hiring and firing decisions. Yes, assistants like her have a lot of responsibilities. They decorate the office, select office supplies, make travel arrangements, set lunch reservations, schedule appointments, and do a whole lot else. In the recent season three finale, she was even called in by Cooper, Sterling, Draper, and the other principle characters as they were raiding their former office because she was the only one who knew where anything was.

There are assistants like Joan Holloway all over, with just as much if not more influence and authority, and that is just one of the reasons why you should treat a prospect’s secretary with respect. If you are not sure if a secretary is responsible for a buying decision, assume she is. After explaining who you are and why you are calling, ask something like “Is Mr. Sterling the person who will make the final decision.” If the secretary replies, “Can you give me some more information,” or “Maybe I can help you,” you may already be speaking to the decision maker.

But if this is not the case, you should still treat them with the respect and consideration they deserve. Treating an assistant as if they are of token importance may turn a potential ally into a hostile stranger. At the end of your conversation, with a secretary, be sure to thank them for their help, even if they told you nothing more than when their boss will be in. Few people bother to do this, but the ones who do will likely be remembered.

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