There are lots of things that are important for becoming successful at selling in the B2B market. Some seem to be discussed all the time, while others receive less attention. One topic that falls into the latter category is internal champions.
So when recently we came across a Harvard Business Review blog by Steve Martin about five types of internal coaches, we thought it was useful to highlight what Steve had to say.
Steve makes the interesting point that five different types of internal coaches can exist and only one type is what we would label a true internal champion. For example there is the coach who is a Well-Wisher. A “Well-Wisher talks to you on an intimate, friendly basis. He provides information that you consider proprietary. However, the Well-Wisher is an extremely amiable person and is probably providing the same information to all the salespeople competing for the business.”
Steve goes on to provide a particularly effective definition of an internal champion (Guide in his labeling). Internal champions “are confidants who provide all the inside details about the internal politics of decision making, but they also help you plan and execute your strategy to win the business.” It is this latter part that is the distinguishing characteristic. A true internal champion is both willing and able to help you win the business.
The major mistake is failing to distinguish the Well-Wisher from an internal champion. If that mistake is made, you end up getting blind-sided when the chips are down.
With the rigorous definition of internal champion in mind, what do we know about developing and managing the relationships with internal champions? Let’s take a look at four highlights:
Getting one is a must-have versus a nice-to-have. In major accounts a lot of decision making is going on when you not there. Changes occur all the time – what was true yesterday may not be true today. In such an environment, you absolutely need someone who has a seat at the table who can sell for you when you are not there and keep you up to speed.
Managers need to establish internal champions as a coaching priority. Because internal champions are a must-have, how one goes about developing one should be a part of the account strategy for every account executive in every major account. In order to make that happen managers need to establish developing and managing internal champions as a sales coaching priority. If front-line managers do not keep the internal champion objective on the front burner, the importance of internal champions will fade over time.
It’s not about finding one. This is not an Easter egg hunt sort of thing – internal champions are not something you find. It takes time and effort to develop an internal champion. With that in mind several points are noteworthy:
- Well-Wishers and other pretenders must be spotted early on.
- It is always a two way street, there has to be something in it for the internal champion.
- The competitors also have internal champions.
- A determination must be made as to what does and does not constitute a reasonable request to help you sell.
Rehearsing is a big deal. It is almost always true that internal champions do not have selling skills and it is always true that they do not know as much your solutions and company as you do. So, if they are to sell for you effectively, then rehearsing becomes a big deal. Rehearsing is probably the most poorly executed of all the requirements of developing and managing internal champions. Many, other wise skilled sales reps, don’t even do it.
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