We are the internal champions, my friends 🎶
Or so the song should have been!
After all, internal champions are an effective way to navigate & win any B2B sale.
Learn what an internal champion is, how to find them & build the relationship where they are helping you sell from the inside.
Why should I care about finding a champion?
While deals can be won without a champion, getting an insider is a game-changer.
Imagine knowing every pitch before it's thrown to the plate in baseball.
Fastball, high outside; don’t swing – ball.
Slider, low & away; don’t swing – ball.
Change up, inside, shift knee, swing away – home run!
Ask the Astros about having insider knowledge…they won the 2017 World Series with it.
Okay, yes, not the most glorious or gracious way of winning.
But that’s the goal of an internal champion: to help you win (without blatantly cheating).
Arguably the toughest part of the sales process is navigating how companies buy.
You must know:
Who has the most influence?
Where are they on the buying scale?
Is it a “decision by committee"?
Does the actual signer need to be involved?
Guessing all of this is possible, but more often than not, you need someone on the inside.
Enter: your internal champion.
What is an internal champion in sales?
In sales, an internal champion is someone within your prospect’s organization with whom you’ve built a strong relationship over time.
Typically, an end user who wants the product you’re selling (not the actual buyer).
In turn, they help you navigate intros & relationships with other buyer types within the company.
Common sayings for this insider knowledge in sales would be “a little bird told me” or “I heard through the grapevine.”
If you’ve crushed a specific aspect of the demo that the decision-maker can’t stop talking about, it would be great to have that knowledge.
Your champion unlocks that information for you & helps you capitalize on it!
Real life example: How an Account Executive leveraged her champion to win a deal
Melanie LaCombe was working on the largest deal of her sales career (so far).
During the late stages, Melanie’s Chief Revenue Officer made the mistake of presenting a company-wide proposal. Not the small project that Melanie & her champion had been discussing the whole time.
The decision-maker said, “Absolutely not. This is way too big for what we need.”
The deal was in shambles.
Thankfully, the strong champion relationship Melanie built allowed them to come back to the table and work back to something all parties agreed to.
For Melanie, an internal champion was the difference between closed-lost and closed-won.
Here’s how she described the journey on our How I Deal podcast episode:
How to identify a champion
Identifying a champion should be a very natural process.
Typically, it’s the person you’re working with most often. They’re helping you get time on the calendar.
They influence the decision but aren’t the ultimate decision-maker.
B2B purchase decisions include 6.8 stakeholders, on average. Your solution will apply to each of them differently.
Most champions are end-users who other stakeholders have given status.
Know your ideal users
End-users who become champions give you a sizable leg up in the sales process.
They can expose areas where your product can solve real pain or fall short.
They know the struggles with the current tech landscape and buying process bottlenecks.
While you don’t want to sell only to technical problems, understanding them uncovers bigger problems.
End-users can be a great way to start a conversation & get a foot in the door.
They’re usually willing to meet to see what’s out there or point you in the right direction.
Prospecting end-users, especially if they've companies for a long time, or have “senior” in their title, could be a very natural opener.
How to start, build, & nurture champion relationships
You can’t complete a marathon without taking the first step. Every relationship starts cold.
In B2B sales, we recommend kicking the relationship where your champion lives.
Send them an email, call them, message them on social media, or a mix.
Hit them with a hypothesis about their current situation or empathy toward their role.
We call this approach “peer-to-peer prospecting,” leading to closing some large deals.
Here’s what some responses to peer-to-peer cold outreach have looked like:
Build the relationship by dedicating one-on-one time. More face time = deeper understanding.
Be vulnerable with questions like:
“I’m not sure what John Doe thought about that demo; do you think he liked it?”
Or “Mary Jane was quiet; should I get her more involved?”
Give your champion an avenue to be your champion.
You can provide enough direction to get more information by asking simple questions.
Your sales cycles are never exactly the same. Some close fast, others drag on.
Re-engage your champions throughout the deal cycle. Always add value with each touch.
Send them helpful content that addresses their needs, product updates, etc.
These frequent check-ins will cement the relationship even further.
Maggie Blume, an accomplished account executive, lays out her champion nurture sequence:
Enable your champion to sell for you
After the early stages of the sales cycle, your champion needs to be able to sell internally.
If they’re going to bat for you, ensure they’re stepping up to the plate with the Little League Big Barrel (preferably corked).
Let’s make that happen.
Understand their problem
If you truly understand your prospect's problems, your champion can put your product in a winning position.
They know the technical side; you know the business side. Put those pieces together for a big presentation.
Problems are the #1 reason tools are purchased, so help your champion outline those problems.
Help them communicate your solution
Provide documents and resources that champions can present.
If it’s your slide deck or case study, and you’ve coached them through using it, you’ve upped your chances of winning the deal.
Ask for intros to decision-makers
Leveraging your champion relationship might be the only way to get that 15-20 minutes with your economic buyer.
Being on the same page and becoming your champion’s “preferred vendor” means you can ask for things competitors can’t.
Where internal champions can go wrong
Relying on them to sell for you
When it comes down to brass tacks, it’s your job to sell.
Your champion isn’t on your payroll (usually) & they navigate a complicated field already.
Asking them to vouch for a product that eats into the budget puts them at risk. Especially if there are mixed feelings about your company and what you can deliver.
Your prospect might want to check out a competitor. Your champion might loop you in, but chances are, they won’t be fighting as hard as you hope.
Game of telephone issue
Ever play the telephone game? You whisper something to the person next to you.
But the original message has changed totally by the time it goes around the circle back to you.
Conversations with your champion can work the same way.
You tell them one thing & by the time they filter it through the buying committee, your message has missed the mark.
Solve this issue with a conversation intelligence tool like Pickle.
Capture your champion conversations & share the key moments with anyone not in the meeting.
While there’s no silver bullet in B2B sales, building a strong champion is your best shot.
Approach with their needs in mind, add value over time, & coach them to solve their problem.
That’s the formula & you can repeat it with every new sales cycle.
Now go build your champion!