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3 Strategies for Your Consulting Firm to Outsmart Gatekeepers

Winning a big, juicy, new engagement is like flooding your consulting firm with bright positive energy. But what about when gatekeepers and other impedance at your prospect conspire to keep you in the cold and dark? Then you need a clever plan.

First, let’s decode the corporate circuitry at your prospective client:

Decision Maker – Your ultimate power source. They have the authority and funding to green-light your project.

Gatekeepers – Though they can’t directly reject your project, gatekeepers can shield the decision maker from your reach.

Breakers – Skeptical people with wire clippers who can, seemingly out of nowhere, stop the juice from flowing to your project. Breakers hold veto power.

Resistors – Anyone who is opposed to your project but doesn’t have veto power. They can’t kick you out into the cold, but their influence can reduce your likelihood to win.

Amplifiers –Your champions within your prospect’s organization. Amplifiers crank up the buzz on your project, boosting your odds of winning it. Fun fact: a resistor you convert into an amplifier often becomes your loudest supporter.

Transformers – Can reshape the scope or terms of your engagement significantly. (Transformers typically don’t influence whether or not you win the project.)

To win an engagement, your consulting firm must navigate the complex schematic of your client’s organization to complete to complete a powerful connection with the power source.

Below are three strategies for dealing with the interference between you and your goal: closing a project with the Decision Maker.

3 Strategies for Your Consulting Firm to Outsmart Gatekeepers


Connect directly to the Decision Maker, bypassing Gatekeepers and Breakers, and overpowering Resistors within the organization.

The golden rule when employing the Ignore strategy is: consider the players carefully.

Gauge the long-term influence of anyone you’re dodging on your way to the Decision Maker and, if their sway is minimal, sidestep them. Remember it’s often easier to ask for forgiveness than permission.


Redirect the insights and energy from those blocking your path into a powerful force that flips the switch to a win for your project.  Some best practices for Co-opting:

  1. Stay Right-Side Up. First understand why others are thwarting your objectives. With that knowledge, you can develop compelling arguments that serve their interests and yours.
  2. Find an Ally Inside. Find a lobbyist, champion or Amplifier within the organization who will back your cause and support your engagement.
  3. Dodge Obstacles. For example, turn to direct messaging to bypass Gatekeepers.
  4. Propose to Generals, Not Lieutenants – Avoid presenting your proposal to an underling who, in turn, will take it to the Decision Maker. That extra link cuts your odds of winning the engagement in half. It also substantially reduces your negotiation strength.
  5. Turn Opponents Into Informants. Leverage Gatekeepers’ information and insights to stay Right-Side Up and gather data that will bolster the case for your engagement.
  6. Respect All. Treat every individual within the organization with kindness, regardless of their stance on your project.
  7. Lead Confidently. Present yourself and your consulting firm as a high-value, senior resource. You can maintain peer-level status with the Decision Maker while honoring best practice #6 (maintaining respect for every player you encounter).
  8. Choose Integrity. Never deceive or manipulate in your quest to win a consulting engagement.


Instead of ignoring the opposition, unplug it; i.e., remove anyone in your way. This approach, which you may find bold or alarming, can be Right-Side Up in circumstances where an individual in your prospect’s organization is acting against the best interests of their own company.

  1. Ensure Total Victory – The Squash strategy necessarily makes the people you are squashing unhappy. After all, you’re removing their power—perhaps permanently. Therefore, to avoid lingering resentment and or sabotage down the road, you must ensure the people you’re disempowering are completely removed.
  2. Know Your Place – Your consulting firm is the outsider. Unless and until you’re viewed by the Decision Maker as a trusted advisor, assume that the benefit of the doubt will always accrue to an employee rather than to you or your consulting firm.
  3. Be Irresistible. Enthrall the Decision Maker with the undeniable benefits of collaborating with your consulting firm. The allure of partnering with you should vastly outweigh the inevitable fallout you’ll cause by squashing individuals inside the client.

Whenever possible, opt for the Ignore strategy.

Remember, all paths to a new project for your consulting firm run through the Decision Maker. Once you’ve identified that central individual (or, in rare cases, team of individuals), you can choose the best strategy for handling anyone else who has influence over your deal.

What tactics do you employ to manage Gatekeepers and other obstacles hindering your consulting opportunities?

  1. Amelia Waters
    May 29, 2024 at 8:39 am Reply

    Fantastic insights, tightly packed, as usual.
    What was outstanding today were the amazing circuit pictures!

    • David A. Fields
      June 20, 2024 at 7:32 am Reply

      You’re very kind, Amelia. The original circuit illustrations were animated, but apparently site loading doesn’t appreciate animated circuits! More importantly, I’m glad the information was useful and hope your future projects are all connected quickly to the power source!

      Thanks for the feedback, Amelia!

  2. Terry "Doc" Dockery, Ph.D.
    May 29, 2024 at 9:02 am Reply

    Good stuff David!

    • David A. Fields
      June 20, 2024 at 7:33 am Reply

      Thank you for the generous words, Terry. Much appreciated!

  3. Don
    May 29, 2024 at 11:11 am Reply

    excellent descriptions and powerful results drivers.

    One additional consideration: some RFPs (especially in the case of government clients) require communicating only via gatekeepers (i.e., procurement designee). In such cases, the winning strategies may be constrained, but still have applicability.

    • David A. Fields
      June 20, 2024 at 7:35 am Reply

      You’re absolutely right, Don. Some gatekeepers are totally unavoidable. As you point out, that’s particularly true in RFP processes that are tightly controlled (often for misguided reasons). I’m glad you highlighted that situation, Don.

  4. Maria
    May 29, 2024 at 12:03 pm Reply

    Big fan of yours David, and this is another fascinating article! But I’d like to hear more tactical advice about how “ignore” and “squash / remove” work in practice. Are we talking about removing from email chains? Not providing briefings to them until they bring their decisionmaker boss to the call?

    In my industry (cybersecurity) there are countless layers of leadership. 9 times out of 10 it is not the decisionmaker who reaches out for an intro meeting. A follow on article with actionable details would be appreciated!

    • David A. Fields
      June 20, 2024 at 7:41 am Reply

      Fair request, Maria. There may already be articles laying out more of the details of each strategy–I’ll search the archives. The simple versions are:
      Ignore – This involves reaching out to and talking with the Decision-Maker without acknowledging that the other interference is part of the process. It doesn’t necessarily mean leaving them off the email distribution (though, that’s definitely an option), but it does mean directing your email or phone call to the Decision-Maker, not the interference.
      Squash – Said most bluntly, this typically means suggesting to the Decision-Maker that the interference be removed from the organization. a.k.a., fired or transferred. It’s a dangerous tactic, but sometimes necessary and, when it works, it can strengthen the bond.

      Thanks for requesting more information, Maria, and creating an opportunity to discuss practical details.

  5. Simon Russell
    June 9, 2024 at 9:44 pm Reply

    Excellent insights on identifying the detractors and enhancing the ‘proactors’

    • David A. Fields
      June 20, 2024 at 7:53 am Reply

      Good framing, Simon! Even if the decision-maker isn’t always proactive, and some of the detractors are proactively trying to bar you from the business, the “with us” or “against” us emotion comes through in your description. One of our clients refers to interference points as “antibodies,” which has a similar feel.

      I’m very glad you contributed your reaction to the article, Simon!

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