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  • Writer's pictureNadav Efraty

Chapter 2 - The Champion

You can never sell any new capabilities to any corporation unless someone inside is personally excited about your offering. But excitement alone is not enough. A potential champion must have 3 mandatory properties:

  1. Tactical domain ownership.

  2. Personal vested interest (e.g. recognition, bonus, promotion).

  3. Access and influence on the Economic Buyer and stakeholders.

The first step of a sale is uncovering the critical tactical needs and pains and the potential champion. Note the word critical is key. Everyone who works anywhere has various needs and pains, but driving corporate buying decisions is such a lift, that people do not commit to driving them and changing the status quo unless the need or pain are at the top of their priority list. For this reason, sellers should refrain from uncovering any pain and moving forward with the sale – they must verify that they have uncovered a critical pain by explicitly asking the potential champion how critical it is to solve that uncovered pain, and why, and keep digging until they are convinced that the priority level is at the top. If it is not, it is very unlikely that the meeting will end with a committed champion anyhow, so rushing to pitch or demo is not going to move the sale forward – this is the last opportunity that seller will likely have to uncover a truly critical need. 

The seller’s job is to sell its offerings day in and day out, but the champion is not a professional procurement person. The champion may need guidance to:

  1. Identify the stakeholders and understand their roles in the decision-making process.

  2. Uncover the strategic implications of the tactical pains.

  3. Identify and collect the relevant metrics.

  4. Analyze the financial impact to build the business case. 

  5. Uncover and drive the buying process and decision criteria.

  6. Understand the competition and alternatives.

The champion has a personal interest in buying from you. That makes the champion your partner, but it also creates bias. Champions are often optimistic about making the purchase, and thus, tend to underestimate the challenges and objections, or just believe that they can overcome them, often without even fully sharing them. Also, because of that relationship that is forged based on their interest to see the purchase through, it is often hard for them to be the bearers of bad news. For those reasons, as much as we trust the champion, we must always validate everything that we learn from the champion with the Economic Buyer (more on that later). 

As we partner with the champion to sell to the corporation, we can better qualify and test whether we have a real champion or not. The properties we are looking for are:

  1. The champion must give access to the Economic Buyer. A person that doesn’t give access to the Economic Buyer is NOT a champion but rather, a coach at best. In such a situation the seller doesn't have a champion or access to the Economic Buyer, so these red flags mean that the opportunity is unlikely to close. 

  2. The champion should advocate and internally sell the 3 whys (why buy? Why now? Why from us?).

  3. The champion should demonstrate proactiveness and urgency. Again – it is almost impossible to sell to a corporation unless people inside are excited about the offering. 

  4. The champion should share internal information (e.g. politics, competition, etc.).

  5. The champion should coach and remove roadblock related to the decision process and criteria. 

Arming the champion – It is the seller’s job to create the best possible sales decks, case studies, business case and other opportunity specific customized assets that will enable the champion to advocate and sell internally when the seller is not in the room. If the seller doesn’t know how or doesn’t commit the effort of creating those assets for the champion, no one should expect the champion to come up with them, thereby greatly reducing the probability of winning. 

The sales org must guide and arm the sellers so they can guide and arm the champions. Just like you cannot expect the champion to develop everything for themselves, leaders are responsible to develop the system and tools that will help their sellers win. 

In partner driven sales, the channels would sometimes own the relationship with the champion. In such cases, the seller should arm and guide the partners so they can transfer that to their champions.

Historically sellers placed huge emphasis on relationships. Modern sellers realized that relationships are critical for the incumbent vendor who wishes to maintain the buyers’ status quo and prevent them from making a change, but they are not as useful for the change agents. First, the incumbent vendor will typically have a much longer and stronger relationship with the buyer than the seller that is trying to displace the incumbent, so deep established relationships are the new seller’s weakness to begin with. More importantly, even if the champion is the best friend of the seller, the champion will typically fail to get the deal through without understanding the strategic implications and business impact and without aligning the stakeholders and Economic Buyer. On the other hand, a seller that has a relationship with the Economic Buyer will often see that the tactical buyers resist the change because they have other priorities.

Last, in an enterprise environment, with the complexity, stakeholder, checks and balances, even if one of the stakeholders is the seller’s best friend, it would still be a full, non-trivial sales process, and in most cases the buyer is not the best friend of the seller... This is all to say, there is no doubt that relationships are great for getting a meeting or two, and it goes without saying that sellers should be personable, respectful, attentive, empathic. No one wants to deal with, let alone buy from assholes. But in the end, the buyers will not buy unless they and their stakeholders see real value and sellers should focus on value, not on relationships building. 

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