Convincing the gatekeeper: writing copy for the real decision maker

August 30, 2010 by Dean Rieck
Filed under: Copywriting Tips 

gatekeeperCopywriting is a tougher job than most people realize, especially when you’re writing for what pros call the “complex sale.”

One type of complex sale is when you have to convince one person they need the product and another person to approve the purchase.

Here’s some advice from Sally Bagshaw on how to approach these tough projects.


Imagine this: You’ve poured your heart and soul into one of the most persuasive landing pages you’ve ever written. You’ve used emotion, you’ve added great testimonials, in fact you’ve used every single copywriting trick in the book to convince the reader that this is THE product they MUST buy NOW.

But it doesn’t work. Your page barely gets a nibble. No one is impressed.

Especially not your client.

So what went wrong? You took a great client brief, you did a lot of research into the product, heck you even use the product yourself. Shouldn’t it be easy to convince that potential customer to buy it?

Well maybe you did convince them. The only problem was that they were not the person you should have been convincing. You should have been convincing the gatekeeper.

The gatekeeper is the person (or people) who stand in the way of closing the sale. They are the person who makes the final decision to say “yes.”

Sometimes the gatekeeper and the potential customer are the one and same. Sometimes you have a whole committee to convince.

As a copywriter, you must make sure that your copy speaks to them all.

Different purchases mean different gatekeepers

There are many ways to classify the different types of purchases out there. People have written books on it, but here’s how I break it down:

Incidental purchases
These are no-brainers. There’s little risk or research involved, and not a lot of cash either.

Think grocery items. The best thing with incidental purchases is that you usually only have to convince the person reading the copy. They are unlikely to consult with others, and they can fork over the money themselves. So use emotion, use testimonials, and focus on the you.

Purchases where the customer can approve it
Yay! The customer can approve the purchase. Ker-ching! Not quite. If the product is expensive, or new, or there are a lot of options out there, then the customer is likely to do a lot of research and have quite a few barriers to purchase.

From a copy point of view you are only convincing them, but you do need to incorporate facts, evidence, and testimonials from people who are in the same peer group as the customer.

Purchases where someone else has to approve it
Here’s where it gets interesting. When someone else is in control of the purse strings, it’s a more complex purchase. It could be that their boss has to approve the training course before they can sign up, or it may be a spouse or friend who needs to be onboard for a group holiday booking. Software and IT often fall into this category.

In any case, you need to convince those other gatekeepers (or give the customer the tools to convince them). Address the barriers to purchase. It may be cost. It may be return on investment. It may be warranty or compliance details.

Be direct. “Here’s how to convince your boss that this training will not only improve your skills, but the skills of the whole team…”

Make it as easy for them as you can.

The take home message for you

As a part of your copywriting brief, make sure you ask your client what kind of process a potential customer has to make to buy their product (or service). Really understand those barriers (gatekeepers) and what you can do to convince them to buy. It will make your copy better, and your client happy.

What has been the most complex product you’ve had to write for?

Sally Bagshaw is a Brisbane copywriter who is also known as the Minister for Internal Affairs and Finance in her household — thus controlling the purse strings for most purchases.

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  3. Writing compelling copy with a stick and red feathers

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Smart Comments

7 Comments on Convincing the gatekeeper: writing copy for the real decision maker

  1. Ted Grigg on Aug 30th, 2010 6:27 pm
  2. I wonder if the creative input document should not deal with this up front.

    This is a good examples of a case where the marketing input was flawed. The target audience(s) represents a key component to any copy direction.

    As the direct response writer, you are correct in challenging the marketing direction.

    If your marketing direction is off, then the creative execution cannot win regardless of how well you write the copy.

    Thank you for yet another excellent post.

    [...] excellent copywriting tip from Pro Copy Tips .Enjoy learning from this article. This entry was written by copymaverick, posted on August [...]

  3. Sally Bagshaw on Aug 30th, 2010 7:14 pm
  4. Hi Ted

    Thanks for your comment. I totally agree, a good brief should pick up this type of thing. But sometimes it’s more than knowing the target audience. It’s also knowing the sales process for that particular product or service inside and out. (Which can be a challenge – I’ve had clients who really have had no idea the process that a prospective customer goes through to purchase their product.)

    What type of questions do you ask to make sure you are covered?


  5. Ted Grigg on Aug 30th, 2010 9:56 pm
  6. Great point Sally.

    Understanding and describing the selling process is a critical part of the good creative brief (see

    In fact, when getting input from a client, I draw a flow chart looking at the selling and buying process to expand the definition of the target audience to include stakeholders (not stockholders), purchase influencers and ultimate purchasers.

    This is particularly the case when developing the creative strategy for a BtoB promotion. Many individuals are involved in the buying process.

    That’s why I describe writers as “salespeople in disguise.” They have to put on their salesman‘s hat to ask these types of questions.

    As a direct marketer, I spend a lot of time with the client to understand their customers’ objections and other barriers to the purchasing cycle. I would think this would apply to most any professional marketer.

    Some clients either do not understand fully how their customers go through the buying decision, or fail to provide the information when the marketer (or the writer dealing directly with the client) fails to ask for it.

  7. Lucy Thorpe on Sep 1st, 2010 10:37 am
  8. Beware the gatekeepr indeed. There are gatekeepers everywhere and it’s a skill getting round them! Most PR messages need to get through a journalistic firewall before they reach the consumer. So persuading a journalist to even open your e-mail is all about tackling the gate-keeper, let alone persuading them to run the story. It seems we need to have many people in mind when we write our copy.

  9. Sally Bagshaw on Sep 2nd, 2010 8:03 pm
  10. PR is the classic gatekeeper scenario. Not only do you have to understand the readership well (to make it newsworthy), but often there’s also the delicate relationship with the journalist.

    Though, with the rise of media release submission sites, media release style is evolving. Anyone (journo/blogger/article site) can pick up those releases and use them.

    [...] The Gatekeeper Posted on September 3, 2010 by lucythorpe| Leave a comment I read a post on Procopytips this week about the need to pitch your sales copy at the real deal- makers in a transaction as [...]