Account friend or internal champion – it matters

Internal Champion

Internal Champion

In major B2B sales where the sales cycle is long, competition is keen and multiple players are engaged in the decision, developing internal champions is one of the more effective best practices. Why? A lot of the discussions and decisions go on when you’re not there.  So if you have a champion in the room, it’s more likely you’ll have a better outcome.

But like many things that work really well, developing an internal champion is not easy.  As a matter of fact, it requires substantial thought, time, and effort to get it right.  And the negative consequences can be telling – if you don’t get it right and your competition does, it could be the difference between winning and losing.

Because it’s an effective best practice, let’s explore some of the traps that sales people need to avoid when developing internal champions.

  • Confusing friends and champions.  A major trap is failing to distinguish between account friends and internal champions. Both account friends and internal champions will like you but champions have an added feature – they are willing to “sell” for you when you are not there – big difference. This trap has the added negative that you may think you have a champion when you don’t.
  • Selecting the wrong person.  People you develop as internal champions cannot help if they are not one of the decision-makers or key influencers.  In a complex sale, this is an easy trap to fall into because it’s difficult to determine the decision making authority and influence power of the various players.  A wrong selection can be telling because it takes time and effort to develop an effective internal champion.
  • Failing to rehearse your champion. Let’s take the following scenario.  You have a champion that likes your solution, is willing to speak for you in that upcoming key internal meeting, and is one of the key players in the decision process.  Nice picture.  The trap is the failure to leverage your advantage. The last step in such a scenario must be to rehearse your internal champion on how best to “sell” for you in that upcoming meeting.  You’re the sales person – your champion isn’t – so help them to help you.

In summary, two points to consider:

  • To win major account business you have to continuously get to the right person, at the right time, with the right message.  An internal champion can be of tremendous help in getting that done!
  • Because developing internal champions is an important and a highly skilled task, the topic of internal champions should be included in every basic sales training program and coaching effort.

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About Richard Ruff

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. During his career Dick has authored numerous articles related to sales effectiveness and co-authored "Managing Major Sales", a book about sales management, "Parlez-Vous Business" which helps sales people integrate the language of business into the sales process, and "Getting Partnering Right" – a research based work on the best practices for forming strategic selling alliances. Dr. Ruff received his Ph.D. in Organizational Psychology from the University of Tennessee and a B.S. from Rennsselaer Polytechnic Institute.
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One Response to Account friend or internal champion – it matters

  1. Nice concept here, Richard. I know that it’s better to have internal champions rather than account friends. It all starts with hiring and finding the right talent to join your team in the first place that you can find a champion. It’s a long shot but once you hire talented individuals and properly coach, train, and hone their skills, I believe you’ll have a champion in the end.

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