Sales Enablement

Champion Selling: You’re Setting Your Champion Up for Failure

They go by many names: champions, mobilizers, sponsors, coaches. We can debate the nuances between them, but we can all agree that they’re critical to modern selling. So why, despite our focus on champions, do so many deals stall? And why do so many others vaporize late in the cycle after countless selling hours?

It’s not the champion’s fault when these things happen. It’s the sales rep’s.

Too many sellers are ill-equipped to handle the new era of consensus buying. And sales enablement isn’t helping. They’re spending too much time on traditional selling techniques that assume access to all the decision makers. 

The truth is, the current buying environment requires sales reps to be more adaptive. And a major part of adaptive selling involves identifying and coaching champions through the non-linear buyer journey.  

Reps must coach champions to help others in the organization make a decision. This new approach means selling through influence vs. direct access. Today’s best sales reps are just as successful managing their champions as they are selling to the core decision maker.

To execute champion selling, reps need to focus on the 4 P’s – Partnership, Positioning, Practice, and Process. Working with your champion ohn each of the 4 P’s is a recipe for success. Let’s break down the ingredients:

1. Partnership

Champion selling is all about WE.

Who’s WE? It’s the rep-champion partnership. It starts with rep situational awareness around the barriers to accessing key stakeholders. This then shifts the focus to WE. From this point forward the rep and the champion are a team, working to address the needs of the other stakeholders. They must form a social commitment with each other that needs to be honored. Changing the language to WE is key:

  • “What do WE need to provide the CFO to…?”
  • “When should WE reach out to IT to make sure they have bandwidth…?”
  • “How should WE prepare the investment alternatives…?”
  • “After your meeting with your boss, WE can should get back on the phone to debrief and discuss next steps…”

2. Position

How does a champion sell on our behalf? 

Equip them with the language to tell others about the problem, not just your solution. Too many deals stall or vaporize because the organization lacks alignment on the problem. In a world of competing priorities, there may also be disagreement about whether a problem is worth solving.

Create content for your champion, including specific messaging laying out the risks and opportunity as well as the consequences of inaction. The champion content should focus on helping others in the organization form a shared view of the issue. It should also communicate the risk of the status quo. Finally, use the content to define how your solution uniquely addresses the issue.

3. Practice

How confident are you that your champion can position the problem and solution effectively?

You’ll likely have to say things multiple times for the champion to understand, and ultimately internalize the message. Picture yourself as a sales manager coaching a rep to deliver a key message or handle a common objection. Be sure to test their understanding by asking key questions through the lens of other stakeholders.

“So, if IT asks about the level of resources required to implement, how would you answer?”

4. Process

Help your champion see what’s coming next.

Often, this may be the first time they’ve bought your solution or the first time they’ve made a purchase in their company. Educate the champion on the complexities of the process, especially who else needs to get involved. Help them see the landmines that they haven’t considered. These might include stakeholders coming late into the game, procurement processes, business case expectations, and technical requirements. Work with your champion to avoid these de-railers.

Also, guide your champion through the early procedural hurdles in order to build commitment:

“We’re going to need to get an MSA in place. I’ve found that things go smoother when we start that process early, even if you choose not to move forward. Who can we engage to start that conversation?”

Moving from Concept to Execution

There are significant implications of a champion-led approach for sales enablement. Companies must spend more time and effort helping reps to sell through champions. Your sales methodology will need updating to make this come to life. It should include tactics to identify and develop a champion, tests to ensure reps really have a champion, and ways to equip them for success.

Additional Insights

Q: How can sales reps effectively identify and develop champions in the current buying environment?

A: Sellers can identify Champions first by conducting thorough research to understand the key stakeholders within the prospect's organization. This involves not only identifying decision-makers but also recognizing individuals who hold influence or act as internal advocates.

Building relationships with these Champions requires active engagement and a personalized approach built on a genuine and authentic style from the seller.

Sellers should focus on understanding their champion's motivations, challenges, and goals, aligning their solutions with the champion's objectives to foster trust and collaboration.

Leveraging tools such as LinkedIn can help the process. Building a digital relationship can be an effective way to start and accelerate the process. Strategies include following, commenting on and reposting potential Champions posts. But sellers need to be sure to do this in a genuine and transparent manner.

Other strategies include leveraging marketing events, referrals to help identify potential champions, and initiate meaningful conversations.

Q: What specific challenges do sellers face in the this era of consensus buying?

A: The shift towards consensus-buying presents several challenges for sellers, including navigating complex decision-making processes, addressing diverse stakeholder needs, and ensuring alignment across the buying committee.

The MEDDPICC and the 4 P’s of Champion Activation offer structured frameworks to assess the risks in the consensus-building aspect of the deal.

Using these frameworks to build strategic partnerships with Champions, sellers can gain insights into the dynamics of the buying committee and tailor their positioning accordingly. This often involves a series of co-creation strategies to equip Champions with the necessary messages and content to effectively communicate the problem and solution within their organization.

Through continuous practice and coaching, sellers can ensure that champions are equipped to address stakeholders' concerns and objections, ultimately streamlining the buying process.

Once the deal has progressed to later stages, guiding champions through the intricacies of the procurement process and potential obstacles help mitigate risks and enhances the chances of successful deal execution.

Q: How can marketing & sales enablement evolve to better support reps in champion-led selling?

A: To empower sales reps in champion-led selling, marketing and sales enablement must partner together to develop the content, messages, strategies and tactics required to align sellers with the dynamics of the modern buying landscape.

First this involves revisiting existing sales methodologies and incorporating champion-focused strategies and tactics. Sales enablement teams can provide targeted enablement to help reps identify and develop champions effectively.

Second, sales playbooks need to be updated to include best practices for navigating consensus buying and leveraging Champions activation toolkits.

Third, technology and analytic tools that enable reps to track and measure their engagement with champions can enhance visibility and effectiveness in champion-led selling.

By evolving current marketing and sales enablement practices to prioritize champion development and support, organizations can better enable sellers with the necessary tools and skills to thrive in the new era of consensus buying.

Champion selling is a must-have sales capability for hitting your number in today's environment. Contact us for more ways to quickly implement this powerful new sales approach.

About The Author

Author photo Ralph is a partner with The Brevet Group, and for 20 years he has led sales performance teams in the United States and Asia. Recently he also served as a sales leader in both the media and technology industries. Ralph’s work has focused on a unique blend of management consulting and sales enablement to help companies execute their sales strategies. Prior to this role, Ralph was the APAC sales effectiveness leader at Mercer.

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