If you could pitch your product or service to anyone at any level of a company, who would you choose?
You’d have difficulty finding an enterprise salesperson who wouldn’t include the word “chief” in their response to this question. There is no doubt that C-level executives seem like the end-all-be-all for sales pitches; if a rep can get to this level, it’s a done deal. But pitching to the C-suite isn’t always the most effective route when it comes to selling a product or service. As Rob Reed, founder of MomentFeed, said in a recent Forbes article: the most successful executives set the strategy and vision, supply the resources for their teams to execute, and then get out of the way. The issue with targeting these executives when selling your product or service is that if your product disrupts a process from the top-down, there is little to no incentive for that product or service to succeed. As Reed says:
“When the CMO brings a tactical solution to her team that requires execution, the incentives are completely out of alignment. The CMO could think it’s the best thing since product placements, and it very well could be. But her team has very little incentive to make it succeed. Because if it’s successful, the CMO is the hero both internally and externally. No one’s getting a promotion.”
The idea is to build a case from the inside-out, because if your product succeeds, the C-suite executive will be a hero by default. What you need is a champion:
Cham·pi·on: 1. (n) Someone or something that has beaten all other competitors in a competition; 2. (n) A person who enthusiastically supports, defends or fights for a belief or principle.
When your champion is someone outside of the C-suite, you have the opportunity to make that person a hero internally if your product or service succeeds. This not only makes your champion look good, but it also makes the C-level executive look good—everybody wins. The key is to identify someone who reports directly or indirectly to the C-suite and build them up to becoming your champion.
Identifying your champion is only part of the challenge. Depending on the nature of your product, champions can come from many parts of the organization, and if you’re selling to complex organizations it varies greatly from one to another. Below are four keys to finding a champion and ensuring that you succeed in executing the sale together.
- Understand your champion
The best champion is someone whose day-to-day is most significantly benefited by your product or service. If your product can make a good portion of their job easier, more streamlined or more efficient, the champion will have more incentive to be supportive and involved in the sales process. Once this champion and their role is identified, it’s important to understand who he or she is as a person. In a recent post on LinkedIn Pulse, Jill Rowley refers to this as knowing your buyer and knowing your buyer’s reality. Some questions Jill suggests that you should be able to answer before contacting the buyer:
- How does the buyer think and communicate?
- What does he or she value?
- Do you have any mutual connections, groups or interests?
- What is his or her industry like? What are the politics like at the company?
- How complex is their organization? How many decision makers are typically involved in a purchase process?
- Provide the champion with relevant supporting materials
Once you’ve identified your best champion, you should knock their socks off with not only your knowledge and preparation, but with highly targeted content that will help him or her spearhead your product’s initiative. This content should clearly explain how your product benefits the champion in his or her role specifically, and should include ROI information and other metrics that make a case for your product.
- Help the champion cater to other stakeholders
In today’s complex buying cycle, it’s likely that there are multiple decision makers involved in the purchase process. In order for the sale to succeed, reps and their champions must address the needs and goals of every stakeholder on the buying side. Sales reps can again do this with highly targeted sales content that explains their product’s benefits in terms of each stakeholder’s role and responsibilities. The goal is to anticipate the questions decision makers from various roles will ask, and be prepared with specific content to answer those questions. This builds your trust with each stakeholder, makes your champion look good, and increases the chances that your sale will make it through to purchase.
Most of the time, a purchase decision ends in the C-suite. It’s beneficial for your sale to begin and grow through a champion at a lower level, because it provides more incentive for the sale to occur and product or service to be properly implemented. The C-level executive is simply looking to set the strategy sign off on the necessary resources, and then let his or her team execute successfully, while a champion has the motivation and incentive to see the project through to the end. Having a deep knowledge of your champion and other decision makers, and coupling this knowledge with highly targeted, contextually relevant content to support each stakeholder, will help turn your champion into an internal hero.