Internal champions – why champion you?

Developing Internal Champions

Developing Internal Champions

In complex sales a lot of the decision-making is going on when you not there.  Changes occur all the time – what was true yesterday may not be true today.  In these environments, salespeople absolutely need someone who has a seat at the table who can sell for them when they are not there … because in the complex sale you not there most of the time.  Enter the internal champion.

As Paul Weinstein shared in a recent HBR blog, internal champions have four things that make them irreplaceable in developing and closing a sale: credibility, connections, company intelligence, and motivation.

According to Paul, credibility, connections, and company intelligence are attributes all internal champions need to possess – they are the “ticket to the dance.”  If they have these attributes you will avoid the trap of developing internal champions that are willing but not able.

But are they willing?   How can salespeople develop an internal champion who helps them win the business vs. someone else?  That’s where motivation plays a role.

Weinstein goes on to share internal champions are usually motivated by a mix of factors.  We thought four were particularly important:

  • Innovation – they want to explore and break new ground and see what you sell as a way to get that.
  • Advantage – they see your offerings as a way to improve their company’s competitive advantage.
  • Advancement – they view working with you as a way to solidify their position inside the organization.
  • Respect – internal champions are motivated by gaining status within their organization because while perceived as being very knowledgeable, they often are taken for granted and feel they are undervalued.

In addition to keeping in mind these motivational factors, we’d like to add three more ideas to consider for  getting the right internal champions:

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 in every major account.  In order to make that happen, managers need to establish developing and managing internal champions as a coaching priority.

It’s not about finding one. This is not an Easter egg hunt – internal champions are not something you find.  It takes time and effort to develop an internal champion.  So:

  • Pretenders must be spotted early on.
  • It is a two-way street, there has to be something in it for the internal champion.
  • Remember, your competitors also have internal champions.
  • A determination must be made as to what is a reasonable request for help.

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, otherwise skilled sales reps, don’t even do it.

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About Janet Spirer

For more than 30 years Dr. Richard Ruff and Dr. Janet Spirer - the founders of Sales Horizons - have worked with the Fortune 1000 - such as UPS, Canon USA, Smith & Nephew, Boston Scientific, Owens & Minor, Textron - to design and develop sales training programs. Janet has followed two different, yet complimentary paths. First, as a B-School Professor she taught marketing, sales, and business strategy courses. She also managed a consulting practice focusing on sales productivity and marketing – working with a variety of clients ranging from Xerox to IBM. She translated those experiences into a book – “Parlez-Vous Business” – that helps sales people develop the business savvy to sell successfully. Since co-founding Sales Momentum® in 2000 with Richard Dr. Spirer received her Ph.D. from The Ohio State University, an M.P.A. from The University of Texas at Austin, and a B.A. in Economics from Brooklyn College. She holds the appointment of Professor Emeritus at Marymount University.
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