Enabling our champions enables the sale.
Let's face it. We could all use an ally, right? Particularly one who believes in our product, and is willing to talk to the decision-makers who have the power to say yes. That, in a nutshell, is the definition of an internal champion.
Having an internal champion can give you incredible advantages. For starters, they can help you define the purchase criteria, and give you insight into the decision-making process at their organization. They can also help build the business case, and of course, introduce you to the decision-making powers that be.
Identifying champions is easy. Most likely, this is the person you've been talking to most. Typically, this is an end user who wants your product. They understand the pain points, have helped you assess solution fitment, and are feeding you lots of great intel that you can use to fine-tune your solution. This is the person who, once convinced, is happy to talk to others on their team on your behalf.
Starting a deal with a champion on your side almost guarantees a smoother ride. The good news is, you don't need to leave it to chance. Right from the get-go, there are ways to build champions wherever you go.
How to target and build champions
It starts with prospecting.
You want to identify end users for your product, and those who have been in the company for a while. The higher up the ladder they are, the better. Set your criteria in your sales intelligence tool, and continue to refine it till you're reaching the right people.
Reach out effectively.
Every new contact starts cold. You've got the intel on their preferred mode of contact, you know their place in the organization, and you probably have a working hypothesis of what they're struggling with. Use all of it in your reach-out. Be engaging. Ask questions. And if using email, make sure you're following all the rules to keep it out of spam.
Land first. Expand later.
Focus on selling to this person first. Engage from the get-go using disco demos. Send them demo teaser videos specific to their use cases. Tell them about other customers in similar situations who have benefitted from your solution.
Smash the demo.
Ideally, you've got more people in the room. But even if you're still only talking to the champion and a couple of their colleagues, go in with a custom product demo that talks directly to their problems. Lead with the biggest pain point - what happens in the first 6 minutes or so, sets the tone for the rest of the demo, and potentially, the relationship.
Build the relationship.
Bring this person into your circle of trust. It's okay to be vulnerable and ask about how they thought a particular meeting went, or whether your understanding of so-and-so's reaction is on point. Let them see that you're a person and that you're trying really hard. If they're going to jump in and champion you, this is when you'll see them rise to the occasion.
Nurture the relationship as you would any other.
Sales cycles can really stretch out sometimes. Keep in touch, and try to add value each time you do. This could be something as simple as a "Hey, here's a blog post that addresses what we talked about last time. Hope it helps!". See how nice that is, as opposed to a routine follow-up?
Don't expect them to sell for you
Sales is hard, and for the most part, it's about gracefully navigating rejection and objections till we get to a 'yes'. It is absolutely unrealistic to expect champions to put in that kind of effort or even maintain the motivation needed to do so. Moreover, it's very, very easy for them to get key information wrong when they're under pressure.
What you can do instead is…
Enable them to champion your product internally
It starts with helping them articulate the problem. They probably know the technical or functional side of things, and you know the business side. Put it together in easy-to-consume decks and other materials they can pass on to the right folks.
Help them develop a concise / elevator pitch. When they talk to the powers that be, this is the pitch that will matter. Also, there's very little that can go wrong here as this is a high-level, minimal-detail pitch that is just enough to get the other party interested in a meeting.
Use self-service demos. This is how you get to show off your solution, in your absence. Users get a hands-on feel for the solution at their own pace and time, and these demos need no extra effort from your champion. Bonus! Most of my SmartCue clients make small, use case and customer-specific self-service demos that address just that one problem and persona. This way, your champion is able to target the right people with the right messaging and build enough interest to get them all in the room for a proper sales demo.
Supplement your demo with the appropriate leave-behinds. We know that everyone multi-tasks, all the time. No matter how engaging you've been, or what a perfect fit your tool is, you have to assume that some of the people in the room looked at their email at some point. More so, if this was a virtual product demo. A good set of leave-behind materials (self-serve demos, demo snippets, decks) really helps your champion handle questions with ease.
Handle objections yourself. Make yourself available for follow-up calls and questions. Your champion isn't a proxy for you - use them as a conduit for these conversations and no more. The more people you talk to in the organization, the more objections you handle and the more consensus you build, the easier it gets in your 'official' sales meetings because you'll have more and more people who are already on board!
Having someone on the inside is a huge plus. But don't expect it to be a walk in the park either. Remember that people will always put their own needs and loyalties first, no matter how much they like you and your product!
Work on making your champion look good, and on making their job easier. That's how you get a foot in the door. The good news is, this is usually the hardest part! Now that you're in, lean in and use all the intel your champion is feeding you to get the rest of the team on board.
You've already got (at least!) one person rooting for you!