Champion Enablement: The Next Best Thing to Being There

February 01, 2017 | Jim Ninivaggi
Champion Enablement: The Next Best Thing to Being There

“Get to the decision maker.”

It’s the rallying cry of every sales manager and sales leader to their reps. But what if, despite their best efforts, the reps can’t get to the decision maker?

Take this typical scenario:

Your rep has been working a deal for months, cultivating a champion. She is told a decision is imminent, and that it only needs approval from the senior exec team who holds the funds. Your rep asks for the opportunity to present to the exec team and is told by her champion, “That’s not necessary – they don’t meet with salespeople.” Your rep pleads her case on why she should meet with the execs, but is coached by her champion that it would be a mistake.

At this point, your rep has two options: 1) go over the head of her champion and try and get to the exec team, or 2) enable her champion to become the internal proxy to seal the deal.

For many companies, option 2 (while in some cases inevitable) is so undesirable that they choose to ignore it as a possibility. The reason is rooted in an irrational fear that by simply acknowledging that champion enablement is sometimes OK, that sales leaders are somehow giving reps approval to NOT try to get to the decision maker.

As a result, there is not a lot of research or training on the concept of champion enablement. But maybe there should be. Because sometimes, option 2 is all you have.

With that in mind, let’s look at what a champion and champion enablement is, when to (and not to) use it, and tips and techniques on how to enable your champions to be your internal advocates.

What (or Who) is a True Champion?

For any of us who have spent time in sales, the concept of cultivating a champion (or coach, advocate, etc.) is instilled early in our careers. Indeed, you learn early on that not having a champion drastically reduces your chances of closing a deal. But what exactly makes a champion?

While there are some iterations, here are the key attributes I have seen throughout my career:

  • They want you, and you alone, to win. A true champion is in one corner – yours.
  • They will benefit in some way if you win (e.g. you’ll help them achieve their objectives, they will gain positive recognition for a successful implementation of your solution, your solution will help them achieve some political objectives, etc.).
  • They have credibility and the ability to influence within their organization (i.e. people at their company listen to what they have to say and respect it).
  • They are willing to advocate for you internally.

A common mistake many reps make early in their careers (and sometimes repeatedly) is hitching their wagon to the wrong star. There is nothing worse than mistakenly identifying someone as a champion because they want to coach you, provide insights, are willing to take your calls – only to find they are doing the same with your competitors, or have no clout within their organization.

Paving the Way

Too often, when a rep finally realizes that they need an internal advocate to help sell on their behalf, it’s too late to make the case. Identifying a champion is just the beginning; champion enablement needs to start at the very beginning of the sales cycle. Hope for the best (that you won’t need the champion to sell on your behalf), but prepare for the worst (just to be safe, you should have that advocate ready).

Some tips:

  • Early in the sales process, set the expectation with your champion that you will look to partner with them on selling efforts internally.
  • Give to get. Look for ways to provide help and insights to your champion, above and beyond what may be expected. People are more willing to help others when they have received help from them.
  • Jerry Maguire famously said, “Help me, help you.” Truer words could not have been spoken when it comes to your champions. Ask them for guidance on how you can best prepare them to be your internal advocate. A true champion will tell you what they need to advance the deal.

Champion Enablement: Putting Words in Their Mouth

A few additional parting thoughts:

  • Don’t just provide champions with a slide deck on its own. Provide them with the exact words they should use. By recording your voice to a slide deck, it enables the champion to mirror your message, or (perhaps even better) they’ll send your recording along to the decision makers at their company.
  • Play the role of the coach. Offer to have the champions send a video of themselves, so that you can provide feedback.
  • Provide champions with the supporting content, case studies, ROI examples, and so on to help them make the case. As the late Rick Page said beautifully, “Hope is not a strategy.” Think of all the objections and questions you don’t want to hear, and make sure to provide your champion with the proof and messaging to overcome them.
  • Provide champions with an easy-to-use playbook to find the learning, coaching and supporting documentation they need, whenever they need it.

To those who fear that providing reps with a champion enablement strategy in some way advocates that they not meet with decision makers, set clear expectations. It should be clear to the rep that this is a NEXT BEST CASE scenario, and managers need to make sure that the rep has indeed exhausted all avenues to get in front of the decision makers as well.

Want to learn more? Check out:

  1. Why Sales Readiness is Critical to Growth in 2017
  2. What Did Organizations Do Before Sales Enablement?
  3. 11 Keys for Effective Sales Coaching
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