October 15, 2021

The Making of a Champion

The Making of a Champion


The Making of a Champion

Spend enough time in sales and you’ll learn that a sales career rides on an account executive’s ability to spot and win over champions. Looking back over the past two decades that I’ve spent running Sales and Marketing organizations, I can count on one hand the number of complex B2B deals that closed without the help of an influential insider. Here’s what the best reps have taught me about recruiting the kind of champion that moves the needle.  

Coaches vs. Champions-Know the Difference

Talk to ten reps and you’ll get ten definitions of a champion. But the smart reps boil it down to two things--influence and action. Champions may not be the most senior or tenured employees in a company, but, without fail, they’ve got the ability to shape key decisions. This may come from their domain expertise, their relationships, or their direct responsibilities.  

But influence alone does not make a champion. The people that reps need on their side are willing to put their influence to work--actively making introductions, endorsing products and services, and personally committing to make projects successful.  

Individuals who lack influence or the willingness to act can be like quicksand--sucking reps’ time without helping deals move forward. They may provide insight into the internal players, process, and politics of an organization, but if that’s the extent of their involvement, they’re coaches, not champions.

If You Don’t Have a Champion, Keep Shopping

Inevitably, reps find themselves stymied by coaches and other players who don’t have the juice to get the deal done. In these situations, they often struggle to move on, fearing that if they burn a relationship, they’ll burn the deal. Skilled reps employ a few strategies to push through this predicament. First, they put other players from their own company to work--their boss, folks from marketing, Sales Engineering, or customer success--to get to know additional players in the account.  If the reps ever get questions about their colleagues’ actions, they simply respond, “apologies, but I can’t control their behavior.”

Good reps also cultivate several relationships simultaneously. That way, when one fizzles, they’ve got several other lines in the water. And if reps are ever criticized for going behind someone’s back, they can legitimately claim they’ve been engaged with a range of people for some time.  

If the previous two approaches don’t pan out, addressing the issue directly may be the best move.  “I need to reach out to other people in your company because my competitors are.” This may ruffle some feathers but good reps know that if there’s no friction, there’s usually no deal.  

Champions Don’t Come Cheap

Champions with the juice to advance a deal are typically savvy and focused. They won’t agree to become a de facto member of the sales team simply because a rep asks. They need an incentive. This may come from receiving greater influence, recognition, or responsibility due to their affiliation with the project. The best reps know how to link champions’ motivations to the deal in play.

In addition to incentives, champions need a reason to believe that reps have what it takes to deliver. In that respect, information is a rep’s most valuable currency. Reps gain credibility by bringing champions new insights into what’s happening in the industry, company-specific intelligence they’ve gleaned from other coaches, and best practices from other companies. In the words of one top-performing rep, “if I don’t walk into a meeting with a relevant piece of information that my champion doesn’t have, I don’t have any business being there.”

A Textbook Partnership 

I recently caught up with an Account Executive who was celebrating a major win in an account she’d recently inherited. “Everyone told me the account was dead. They were doing small deals with us but we suspected they’d cut ties soon.” She went on to explain that their strongest advocate had neither the influence nor the desire to push for an expanded relationship. “Since the account was in a precarious position, I couldn’t jeopardize my relationship with our sponsor, so I asked a few colleagues to build bridges that eventually got us to the CRO.” From there, the AE identified a critical gap in one of the CRO’s key initiatives and proposed a solution. That was enough to turn the CRO into a champion and the AE landed a deal that was 3X larger than the initial contract.

While not every sales story has this kind of happy ending, the odds are heavily in favor of reps that know how to engage real champions in the sales process. We’ve analyzed the sales data from hundreds of enterprises and found that multi-threading your sales conversations can increase your win rate by up to 44%. Reps and sales organizations looking to accelerate sales productivity will likely drive immediate impact by making better use of champions. People.ai is ready to lend a hand. Our relationship maps allow sales teams to map both the formal reporting structures as well as the influence structures on their target buyers. For more information, click here.  

This article was written by Justin Shriber with insights from Susan Zuzic.

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