“Make that internal champion look like a ….”
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How do I create internal champions?
(Transcribed from podcast)
Recently, I was conducting a virtual training seminar for a group of salespeople, primarily in industrial-type distribution. We were talking about how to pursue a high-value target opportunity. Typically, in my training seminars, what I’ll do is I’ll have salespeople select a group of targets that they’re going to go after—that they’re going to pursue. Once they select them, we go through how to pursue them. We started talking about internal champions. And if you haven’t heard that term before, you’re unaware of it, an internal champion is, basically, a decision maker within an opportunity that doesn’t really have authority to buy, but what they do is they can greatly influence the process, either with their opinion or their suggestions. And, if you play your cards right, these internal champions, they can oftentimes help you sell your solution without you having to do much of the work, because they’re working from the inside. That’s why we call them internal champions.
We were focusing on internal champions and the salesperson had a great question. He said, “Paul, you know, I’m typically not interacting with internal champions. I’m focusing on procurement-type buyers or a meeting with the owner of the company or high level decision makers. I struggle to build relationships with these internal champions. So, how do I create these internal champions?” That’s the question we’re going to answer on today’s show.
Before we get into that, though, a quick shout-out to Andrea over at The Creative Impostor Studios. When you’re building a podcast, you’re going to have a lot of questions. You’re going to be curious about How to do this? What do I need to do here? Do you have some ideas to help? You’re going to have all these questions running through your mind. I guarantee you, Andrea and her team over at The Creative Impostor Studios, they can help you out; they can make it easier. It doesn’t have to be as hard as we make it. So, reach out to her team, whether you have questions about a podcast, starting a podcast. Again, this is a great way to connect with your audience, build a brand, and even generate buy-in with your customers. So, think about podcasting as that platform. Now is the time to do it. Reach out to Andrea. We’re going to have a link to her website on this episode’s webpage. Check it out.
Also, pick up your latest edition of Value-Added Selling. In Value-Added Selling, we talk a lot about internal champions and what they think about, how to influence them, how to persuade them. So pick up your latest copy. We have a whole chapter dedicated to target account penetration, which is what we’re going to be talking about today.
All right, let’s get back to that question. How do I create internal champions? First things first. Remember that those internal champions, although they do not have direct authority to buy, they will greatly influence the buying process. Our research shows that today’s sales professionals are having to deal with more and more decision-makers. We’ve also found that high-level decision makers are seeking the feedback of other decision makers. They’re going to involve other decision makers as well. In fact, there’s going to be about six people involved in the decision-making process.
We’ve got to understand how those people think. We can’t just rely on one person to make the decision. We know there’s going to be other people involved. Those internal champions are typically the people most affected by the change that you’re asking the customer to make. For example, if you’re going to ask a customer to switch out their software to a brand new software platform, the individual—the individual that is actually going to be using that software on a daily basis—is going to have a lot of feedback in how it’s used. They’re going to have a lot of input. They’re going to have an opinion. We need to understand who those people are. So, first things first, I would say, when you’re trying to create internal champions, you first need to know who they are. Who has the most influence? And it usually is the person that is most impacted by the change or the person that is most impacted by the problem that they’re currently experiencing.
Next thing we need to do once we identify these internal champions, we need to understand how they define value, because a procurement-type buyer will define value differently than a high-level decision maker. And an internal champion is going to define value in a different way than all those other decision makers. So, we need to understand how they define value. To do this, you’ve got to put yourself in their position. You’ve got to think as they think; you’ve got to feel as they feel.
For example, let’s say you’re selling a piece of equipment and, an engineer is not the ultimate decision maker, but that engineer is going to have influence over the process, so, they’re an internal champion. We need to understand how that engineer thinks—what’s important to them. Is it, obviously, going to be performance, compliance with the specification, maybe ease of use? How do they define value? We’ve got to figure that out, understand that, so that when you’re meeting with that internal champion and you’re presenting your solution, you can present that solution in a way that they determine value. So, understand how they define value.
Next thing we want to do is we want to remember, although the internal champion does not have ultimate buying authority, they still deserve our respect. And salespeople will sometimes do things unknowingly that really tick off an internal champion. When you think about an internal champion, I’m reminded of a group I was working with one time, and they had a group of salespeople that went in to do like a sales-blitz type deal. If you’re not familiar with the sales blitz it’s, basically, you get a bunch of salespeople that go into a territory. They make a bunch of cold calls and all that. And, this one salesperson was telling me that, in general, the sales blitz was great, but there was one salesperson who made a mistake. They kind of peeved off one of the internal champions.
So, they went into a power plant facility. They were talking to a maintenance manager, and the salesperson said, “Hey, so, who really makes the decisions around here? I mean, you’re just the maintenance manager. Who’s the one that’s really making the decision?” And he said it something like that. You know, something like to the effect of, you’re just the maintenance manager. I mean, could you imagine. Imagine how bad that ticked off that maintenance manager. So, be aware of that. Be aware of your language. Make sure that you are treating those internal champions with respect. I mean, that’s just good business. You treat everyone with respect. You never know who you’re going to cross paths with again, so just treat people respectfully. Incorporate them in the process.
Also, when you’re working with internal champions, you’ve got to be honest and you’ve got to be transparent with them. Be open and honest about the capabilities of your solution. Be open and honest about some of the headaches that they might experience. Internal champions, these are salt-of-the-earth people. Again, the people that are going to be most impacted by the change, the people that can sabotage what you’re trying to accomplish, or, they can help create what you’re trying to accomplish. And they do that with their buy-in. But, they’re not going to buy in unless they trust you. So you’ve got to be open, you’ve got to be honest, you’ve got to be transparent. That means you deliver the good news just as quickly as you deliver the bad news. It means you’re just as honest about your capabilities and the shortcomings. That honesty piece is going to go a long way.
The final tip for today, when you’re trying to influence internal champions, you want to make the customer look like a hero. When you think of those internal champions, these could be operations managers, they could be supervisors. These individuals have people reporting to them. If you can make them look like a hero to their people, make them look good, they’re going to remember that. If you can make them look good to their boss, they’re going to remember that.
I remember one group we were working with, they sell industrial belting, you know, belting that runs on conveyor-type systems throughout big warehouses, things like that. Well, here’s what happened. The salesperson was working with, just a mid-level supervisor on gathering some cost data information, things like that. The salesperson actually ran a couple of calculations and told the mid-level manager, he said, “Look, if we’re able to switch out this belting, it’s going to last longer, and it’s actually going to reduce your overall cost.” And so, the salesperson generated this report.
They ended up going with the new solution. The higher-ups bought into it. Those were the ultimate decision makers. And a year later, when they were reviewing the progress and how it’s been working, they were able to show real cost savings. I mean, tens, 20 thousands of dollars that they were actually able to save. And during that review, the salesperson acknowledged and said, “Hey, a big part of the reason this worked is because of so-and-so (referring to that internal champion that mid-level manager). You know, he was the one that really was looking for ways to save on costs, that really helped.”
What happened is that all those higher-ups ended up looking and saying, “You know what? He’s been doing more and more of that.” That was one of the things that eventually led to his customer getting a promotion because of some of that effort. Now, you think about what that salesperson did. They took an internal champion that they’d been working with and they made that internal champion look like a hero to his bosses. And because of that, because of that, that customer ended up getting a promotion.
Now, it’s safe to say that he’s built a strong bond with that internal champion. And the good news is that internal champion is no longer just an internal champion, but they are also now a high-level decision maker. That’s the power of making people look like a hero.
So, again, just a quick recap of what we need to do when we’re creating internal champions. Number one, you’ve got to identify who those internal champions actually are. Our research shows that about five or six people are getting involved in any sort of big decisions. So be aware of that. Next, you’ve got to figure out how they define value. Define value in their terms. You’ve got to make sure you’re giving them respect—the respect that they deserve. You also have to be honest and transparent with them. And finally, you need to make them look like a hero.
Make it a big day.