The One Key Person That Will Help You Improve Sales

Posted on Jun 30, 2013 | 49 comments

The One Key Person That Will Help You Improve Sales

This is part of a series that describes a sales methodology for technology companies or frankly many other types of companies, too.

This post is about finding your “champion.”

On-Being-A-Championthe overall methodology is described here.

The “P” stands for Pain or the reason your customer needs to implement a new product.

The “U” or Unique Selling Proposition (USP) or the unique attributes of your solution to solve their problems better than anybody else they could use..

The first “C” stands for Compelling Event.

This post is about the second “C” or Champion.

No product sells itself no matter what startup companies like to think.

In order for an organization to buy product it takes an individual who has a budget and is willing spent it on you or they have access to a group budget and are willing to fight for the resources to implement your solution.

This is especially true for products that involve more than an individual user.

Every company is inundated with products and technology so inertia takes over. It’s far easier to do nothing than to do something new.

Not everybody who is nice or helpful to you is your “champion.”

In order for somebody to be a champion they need to have both influence (in order to persuade others to take action) and “authority” to either make the decision or to get somebody who holds budget to make the decision.

I shorthand these two things – Influence and Authority – as IA.

I do this to contrast the opposite, which is NINA – no influence, no authority. Otherwise known as a time wasters.

In order for somebody with IA to be your champion he has to be actively helping you through the sales process. If he’s not then he may simply be an IA but he may not be a champion. Or worse – he may be somebody else’s champion.

Of course you have to develop and nurture champions. Obviously they need to be bought into your solution and feel compelled that it will solve a problem in their organization (the PUC).

He or she also need to trust you, personally. In order to spend money or access budgets and especially if other people need to use this product she is going to have to stick her neck out to implement you.

Understanding why an individual would buy something or why she should champion you deserves reflection. Is she managing a P&L and wants to reduce costs or improve sales? Is she a mid-level in an exec and wants to be seen as an innovator by embracing new, exciting technologies?

Most people never try to understand the psychology of the buyer but I think it’s tremendously important.

You need to find your champion and nurture the relationship.

Big deals that involve multiple people deciding seldom go your way without a champion so you need to be in search of yours to win the account and you need to constantly test whether somebody is your champion or not. But I’ll get to that in a moment.

The best kind of champions are what I call “egg breakers” and this again forms part of our sales teams shorthand nomenclature to figure out whether our process is going well as in, “OK, you said Susan is your champion, but is she an egg breaker?”

Egg breakers don’t mind making tough decisions. They’re willing to stick their necks out when others keep silent.

Imagine a room full of people who have convened a meeting to discuss whether to go ahead with your project (or maybe to select a vendor amongst many).

There might be somebody in the room who is most knowledgeable and/or most passionate about which solution to pick. But that person is irrelevant if he’s not willing to defend his position strongly when others advocate harder for a different answer.

Other people are “consensus driven” even if they’re willing to assert their point-of-view in a meeting. They want to wait until everybody is bought in and until every bit of information is considered.

With this kind of person advocating on your behalf you run the risk of your decisions being over-turned and or the decision process to be elongated.

You want IA Egg Breakers as champions.

A champion is somebody rooting for you. They typically are willing to be transparent about the most important factors you need to know in a sales campaign

  • Who else is involved in the decision?
  • Who makes the ultimate decision or is it made by group vote?
  • Who is for you and who is against?
  • Who are you competing against?
  • Who holds the budget for this project?
  • When is a decision likely?

You can often test whether somebody is a champion or not by asking some of these questions and finding out whether they’re willing to be open with you about the process.

Not open = not a champion. Period.

If a person is holding back on you need to go in search of a champion in order to win the campaign. Just because this person isn’t your champion doesn’t mean he’s against you, just that you can’t count on him to push hard for you at the moment of truth.

You need that champion in the decision-making process and in the room when the topic is debated.

And remember that just because a person is friendly with you and shares the information above doesn’t make him a champion. It makes him really useful (for sure!) but not necessarily a champion.

Because a champion has influence and authority.

Even if you’ve identified your champion your work isn’t done.

There are often many players involved in a decision for or against you and you need to meet or speak with all of them to understand the purchasing landscape.

And that is the subject of my next post, “Key Players.”


(no, this is not my kid. just a really cute picture I found on 500px ;-))

  • Pranay Srinivasan

    BTW, In Hindi (India), PUCCKA is phonetic for ‘Firm’. 😉 apt description for what you described as a champion sponsoring an Enterprise Sale.

  • msuster

    Yes, a few people mentioned that. Awesome unexpected tie-in! Thanks.

  • Fabian

    How do you execute that? Do you try to talk to multiple people in the target company and sort of interview them to be your champion?
    How do you treat people you didn’t select?
    Normally one has one contact at the target organization. How do you go from there?

  • Mutual Force

    Good one Mark. Often times, you can reach just one contact or deal with one contact. If he/ she turns out to be a champion, thats well and good. Otherwise, we move on?

  • William Mougayar

    Great post in this series. And it is good that you are raising the awareness for the need to have a strong Sales Culture in addition to a Product Culture (which most startups have by default). A sales culture is more of a given for B2B companies, but not always well appreciated by B2C companies that eventually need to get to revenues.

    Another factor is to understand that the Champion’s motivation might be career oriented, i.e. your project will help them get promoted or recognized. Or they could be just a Sponsor, i.e. owning the budget and wanting to spend it.

    Mark- btw. Another possible follow-on post idea is – What happens if your Champion leaves the company? How do you protect yourself so your product doesn’t die after they leave.

  • Mutual Force

    Also from our experience, we found that someone who just moved in a company 1 month – 1 year is more likely to be a champion as they want to show/ prove something to the management vs someone who is in the company for years together.
    Could this be one of the criteria to look for in a champion?
    -Mahesh Varavooru,
    Mutual Force

  • awaldstein

    Mark–this jives with my experiences selling into the enterprise and
    without a doubt selling into the studio system in Hollywood.

    It was also accurate 15+ years ago as well. The world has changed. The politics of the enterprise very little.

    has changed is less how you sell but more how you market. The enterprise is not locked in its own channels but are searching for solutions along with the rest of the market.

    Usually how you market and how you sell, touch each other. Not so it seems in this instance.

  • Scott Barnett

    First – you should always be talking with multiple people in the target company, even if you have a champion. It’s always good to get a 360 degree view of your potential account. Second – you can have multiple champions per account. Not typical, but it can happen. I treat everybody at my customer as a valued resource (you know the credo – keep your friends close and your enemies closer). If you only know one person at the account, you are almost guaranteed to be missing valuable information, and are likely being outsold by a competitor.

  • goldwerger

    The most dangerous are the INAs (Influence, but no authority). They’re the tease, or red herring, that tricks one most easily off track…

  • Abdallah Al-Hakim

    great article – loved this line “Every company is inundated with products and technology so inertia takes over. It’s far easier to do nothing than to do something new.” The other hidden advantage of having a champion is that this person could very will switch companies in the next 3-5 years which will almost certainly provide you with a foothold with a new client. So make sure you keep on cultivating the relationship with your champions so that they keep on advocating for you!

  • John’s Jobs

    When you’re selling to a BigCo as a startup, you have a chance to make your champion a hero and dramatically accelerate their career path within their organization.

    I saw this personally at a previous company (VMware back in 2003/2004) where many of the champions who helped get our foot in the door ended up moving on to be the next VP of infrastructure, CIO, CTO, etc at their company or elsewhere.

    I don’t think many startups get excited about this aspect of what they’re doing but I think they should.

    It’s pretty awesome to be able to make your company successful AND help your champion’s career prospects improve in the process.

  • Hemant Khandelwal

    Does this not mean every sale is a high touch point sale? How do you scale and how do you setup a process to achieve the same?

  • Philip Sugar

    You are right they should. And with that comes great responsibility, because startups that overpromise/don’t deliver get people fired.

  • John Hoskins

    Hey Mark
    Maybe you missed your calling? As a guy who has sold sales training for 30 years and sold 2 sales training companies – you have some good IP in these posts that you could be charging a license fee for! How about we package them up and making them available to every firm in Upfront’s portfolio? Install the skills and process and accelerate their top line growth. I’m just sayin……

  • Patrick Woods

    “No product sells itself no matter what startup companies like to think.”

    While not the crux of this post, it’s a common (and costly) startup myth. Glad to see you pointing it out here.

  • Darius Lahoutifard

    The series of blog posts on Sales Metholodolgies are very valuable. I used to coach sales teams in Enterprise Software, as a 2nd job and often reps had hard time identifying and qualifying a champion. Most of the time they confused coach and champion. Your blog made me look at my records and found this presentation i used to give in Sales Kick offs to help identifyl and develop a champion.

    Just uploaded it on slideshare, as I am sure it will serve. Maybe it will help your readers.

  • James Ferguson @kWIQly

    Mark – We just sold a big client today. After a one year sales cycle +/-.

    We have been following your Puccka posts eagerly in the run up to our upcoming meeting (as you have been writing) so during a pre-meeting coffee got out the laptop read this post and made clear notes about assessing our “potential” champion.

    We very deliberately asked your list of questions that ends with :
    Who holds the budget for this project?
    When is a decision likely?

    These were answered with “me” and “now” – Red Letter day !

    Thanks for making it feel far more conclusive than it might otherwise have been – it really helps to have qualified objectively :)

    We also asked why now?- and it turns out there was a “burning platform” we could not be aware of ! – This makes me wonder whether asking whether there is one (rather than selling say scarcity) could really help the process.

    As an after note – we are founder engineers not salespeople and what may be second nature to you is extremely valuable to us – thanks again

  • AMcIlwain

    I trained at P & G in the heyday of brand management when nearly 200 brand assistants started anew each summer and A. G. Lafley was a brand manager in my division. What you preach is exactly what I learned on my three month sales training. While I hardly consider myself expert at sales (and few are), I think this is very smart advice. Thank you for taking the time to write it up and I look forward to the rest of the series.

  • Hany Pham

    A couple of gems here: “Not everybody who is nice or helpful to you is your “champion”” and here: “They’re willing to stick their necks out when others keep silent.”

    I’ve traditionally thought that the top salespeople made for the best champions. They are usually well known/respected in the organisation, and are generally transparent and chatty enough to show you around. However, I’ve since learned that this doesn’t always translate into influence and authority over the key decision makers, as their strong desire to look good will test whether they are true “egg breakers” as you describe here.

    I’ve found it difficult at times to distinguish the people who have big egos and ostensibly represent themselves as having influence and authority, are very supportive of everything you do, but are afraid to stick their necks out for you when push comes to shove. It gets especially tricky because the excitement of progressing a deal can color our vision, and we actively “want” these people to be our champions when they actually should have fallen into the “really useful” category.

    All fun and games, and thank you for articulating this so clearly.

  • msuster

    Yes, you meet many people. And you don’t publish an official “you are my champion and YOU are not” paper 😉 So of course treat everybody well. But you need to know who is really your champion.

  • msuster

    Yes, yes, yes. and the topic of my next post – key players! 😉

  • msuster

    “Often times, you can reach just one contact or deal with one contact.”

    I don’t accept that premise.

    You need to call high and wide in important accounts.

  • msuster

    Yes, great topic. And also, how to follow champions when they change jobs to lead you to new customers! Also known as, pay attention to your customers even after the sale!

  • msuster


  • msuster

    it is an interesting observation, for sure. on the flip side, it is less clear if they really have power. but I like the thought and I’m sure there’s something to that

  • msuster

    yes, marketing has changed dramatically for enterprise. biggest difference in selling IMHO is that you sell more to the users in the enterperprise than you used to. You used to only sell to the buyer.

  • msuster

    I think they’re more important than readers of your comment may think. I’m going to talk about them in the next post and we can debate it there – k? My guess is you’ll agree with my conclusion.

  • msuster


  • msuster

    not every sale is high touch point. depends on your selling price and the size of organizations you target. I’m mostly talking about enterprise sales.

  • msuster


    I have an “Open source IP” perspective of these ideas. But anybody who wants to take and package would be welcome.

    And thank you!

  • msuster

    thanks. funny how strongly this myth is believed

  • msuster

    Great deck! I noticed MEDDIC, from which PUCCKA was derived! Did you know Franck Meudec? ex PTC

  • msuster

    “This makes me wonder whether asking whether there is one (rather than selling say scarcity) could really help the process.” … one of the biggest surprise to non sales people is that you can actually ask your champion (or other sympathetic people) questions to help you in the sales process. It is invaluable.

    And thank you for kind comments. I appreciate it and always love to hear when people are being helped. Continued success to you …

  • msuster

    thank you. it’s funny how applicable basic sales skills can be across industries. I wouldn’t have immediately realized it for P&G but that is reassuring

  • msuster

    by the way, one of the things I spend most time on is “triangulating” meaning I ask lots of people around the organization “who has the influence and power to get deals approved?” That way you can separate people who say they have IA from people who really do.

  • goldwerger

    Yes, I recognize often times you need to work the influence base. But I’ve seen entrepreneurs (and sales people) being often misled by those who claim to have authority but do not. It’s a tricky one.. I look forward to your post, I’m sure it will be excellent:)

  • Peter Mullen

    Great post Mark. It’s really nice to see some focused attention being paid to the enterprise selling process, long neglected in the startup community. Most of the enterprise selling methodology courses I’ve taken over my career are over a multi-day period and quite extensive (and expensive) but your posts give a Cliff Notes version and highly relevant.

  • AT

    Hey Mark,

    Really enjoyed the series and this blog on the whole – thank you. My question surrounds what to do when you have identified a contact at a business but feel they are not appropriate as a champion even though they may be the key decision maker or budget holder. Obviously you would want to open up conversations with our parties but this can some times alienate who you have previously been talking too. Certainly if you are pitching a smaller business…

  • Alan Warms

    Great one Mark. One of my mantras, and you will probably get to it if you haven’t already, is to overdeliver material to your champion to resell, position, and market you inside the organization. The issue is never with the people you can talk with, whose objections you can bring out of them and then overcome. The issues are with all the unknown people who deliberate on your solution. So proactively arm your champion with great looking whitepapers, faqs, pdfs that they can pass around. If they give you a whiff of the competition, do a chart. They may not use all of them – but they will know that you will work super hard to make them happy given the effort before the deal closes – and they will be able to react to your work so you can learn more.

    I find myself pushing my guys historically to do more work, leave better stuff behind, assume the next person knows nothing about the process.

  • Peter Mullen

    You don’t interview and select a Champion, they select you. Depending on the selling methodology, Champions can also be called Coaches or Sponsors and sometimes can be more than one person, depending on how complex your solution is, and whether it crosses organizational silos or business units. Champions are like gold and generally very difficult to find and can also take a long time to cultivate or develop. Don’t make the mistake of oversimplifying the process of turning a target contact into a Champion or somehow finding and developing a Champion from an initial contact. The concept, however simple, is a painstaking and often times challenging process and will require deft and skillful relationship elements that come with experience.

  • Mutual Force

    Darius, good deck! Presented nicely.

  • Mutual Force

    Depends on the selling price I assume.

  • Patrick Woods

    Hoping to do my part to dispel the myth in a recent blog post called “The Myth of the Product that Sells Itself.” It’s kind of the marketing companion to the sales POV in this piece.

  • Darius Lahoutifard

    Thanks Mark, Glad you like it. Yes MEDDIC is old and slightly different, but it’s really good qualifying prospects and deals.

    No his name doesn’t ring a bell. I was at PTC in the early days; I took Southern Europe from $4M to $27M (I left in 1995).

  • Darius Lahoutifard


  • William Mougayar

    Yesss! And sometimes the person that was below your champion leaves and becomes another prospect.

    Champions will breed other champions. Advocacy is contagious.

  • Fabian

    Thanks for the answers!

  • bernardlunn

    Years ago we referred to them as Angels, but means something else now

  • Mike

    Mark. Enjoyed this post. I’m looking forward to your Key Players post.

    Championing one individual is key to every deal – However, I’ve seen rockstar success when sales reps take it one step further making the “2nd Presentation” a top priority in the sales process. Top inside sales talent will take this dual approach.

    They strategically pull in the key decision makers into a second demonstration without relying on the Champion to sell for them.

    Here’s a post I wrote about Championing and the “2nd Demo” that may be interesting to you. We share a lot of the same opinions on Championing: