The Importance of a Champion in Closing Deals

by Robin Tinker, on Oct, 8, 2015

When you're hoping to get consideration from a major player in the industry, a champion can make all the difference in the deal cycle. Your champion can help you take your prospect to the close while still providing a win-win situation. From initial meetings to proposals, negotiations and acceptance, this invaluable resource can help steer the sales deal cycle to completion. Sales teams that successfully identify and support this champion stand to gain a major advantage and push through major deals.


Why Do You Need a Champion?

Champions are close enough to decision-makers to influence the deal cycle. They have the respect of their organization and can get you on the preliminary short-list of options. Their opinion, while not the only one in the room, receives its due share of consideration. Properly selecting the right candidate for the job is essential. James Altucher mentions this in The 10 worst things you can do in a negotiation. He recommends that at least one champion is needed on the other side to help with the negotiation.

Choosing the wrong person to speak with will help you go nowhere. Altucher writes about a personal experience where he had a billion dollar offer on the table for a company he was working with. The highest ranking person in the room for the other company made the billion dollar offer to buy and excitedly he returned with this news to his CEO. The CEO asked who he had spoken to and after his response replied, “100% chance this deal doesn’t happen.” Why was that? He was no fortune teller. How could he know what would happen with such certainty? The CEO responded:

“Trust me. No way. There’s no real champion for you on the other side who is close to being a decision maker. She is 5 rungs below the decision maker and she’s your only champion.”

He was right. The deal fell through.

A champion has insider information on the decision-makers and blockers. They possess knowledge about the motivations of prominent individuals and changes within the organization. Find out who you really need to speak with to get the process going. This is a major reason why the selection of at least one key individual in the organization can make all of the difference to your efforts. Imagine if they had someone there that could have helped them get in front of the right people. The outcome could have been entirely different.

How Do You Find Your Champion?

Expect an uphill struggle if like Sisyphus, you are tasked to rolling that boulder up the mountain alone. Your champion may not be the person with the most influence within the organization, but they have been there long enough to help you navigate the hierarchy and any possible pitfalls around your proposal. According to Paul V. Weinstein, Silicon Valley-based advisor to tech, entertainment and media companies, the qualities of a likely sales deal champion candidate include:

  • Credibility - The individual is well-respected in their company and has spent a considerable amount of their career within the company or the field itself.
  • Connections - The person knows how the company functions at a deeper level than what is known to the public. They have relationships with numerous people at different tiers within the organization.
  • Company Intelligence - They possess real intel. Is the organization restructuring? Have they had a previous experience with a particular service or product provider that you can use to modify your proposal? Who pulls the strings? Can they openly describe the decision-making process? They know enough to be able to separate the company gossip, the public PR, and internal happenings to give you a straight-shooting insider’s insight into the direction that the company is heading in.
  • Motivation - The individual wants more, but what could those factors be? It can be a mix of the following drives, according to Weinstein: innovation, advantage, advancement, respect, and order. Often, these individuals have some authority within their area but may have been passed over and feel underutilized by the company. They want to get noticed, implement better practices, and help the company and themselves advance. They have invested a good part of their energy into the company and want their own ROI.

Networking events, an innocent query, or connections on LinkedIn are only a few ways to come into contact with people passionate about what they do and willing to help you provide real value to their employer.

How Can You Best Support Your Champion?

Your champion, the person who is actively helping you through the process and putting their neck out on the line, deserves your full support. You are not financially subsidizing them so how can you best be there for them? Consider how you nurture the relationship.

  • Build trust - You must be a person who does what you say. This individual is willing to stake out a spot for your offer within their organization. Be honest about the offer, advantages and disadvantages and even happily consider the positive assets of the competition. Your information must be accurate, useful and timely. No one wants to look the fool. Make sure that all of the details that you provide can be located and supported with additional research.
  • Walk in their shoes - When we covered the motivators that champions possess, remember how the success or failure of the project may affect them. Help them with the small details and the overall picture that the collaboration will provide. Whether they want more order within their organization or to be seen as an innovator, help motivate them to achieve their personal goals and respond quickly and thoughtfully to both progress and setbacks.
  • Be genuine - People like other people who are real. We all have agendas. Who are we kidding? People do not go to networking events just for the pleasure of meeting new people. Just as champions have their motivators, so do you. Be upfront about what is going on to encourage them to feel comfortable being open to you. Make communications easy, supportive and fun. People help people who they like and who can help them in return.
  • Share resources - You might be seeking their assistance in this matter but with your wealth of knowledge and contacts, you can help them find new opportunities or develop another perspective of the industry. Share what you know and connect them with others that can help them meet their professional and personal needs.
  • Give credit - The close of the deal should benefit you both. Toot their horn. Let others know the valuable asset that your champion has been. Bring their name up to their organization and mention the expertise and vision shared by your champion. Point out how their contribution to the successful close of the deal supports growth and strengthens the foundation of the organization as a whole.

To support any relationship, people must believe that you have their back. Your transparent communications and the manner in which you respond to their needs will dictate the type of relationship that can form.

How Can You Become a Champion?

Perhaps you are the “egg-breaker” or have an a-ha moment that can help your organization grow and take advantage of new opportunities. How can you position yourself to get your ideas across to decision-makers within the organization?

  • Have the respect of your colleagues. Those that have spent significant time with the company and have made previous contributions are well placed to become a champion or to become a valuable ally. You need experience in the field and a network of individuals that can support your cause.
  • Value critique and be prepared to adjust your plan accordingly. As you talk the idea over with various interested parties, consider the points brought up and use it in preparation for framing your proposal.
  • Give information as needed. You will probably be the most well-informed person in the room as this is your pet project. Do not overwhelm listeners with unnecessary details. Detractors can also use the extra information to create a counter-argument or to try to derail your proposition. Be prepared for additional questions but do not give your audience more information than needed to get a good overview of the proposal and how it will meet the organization’s current challenges.
  • Build alliances. A champion on the field alone cannot win the war. Your battalion should be made up of enlisted help that share your vision and can flesh out the details. HR directors, advisory boards and retired executives in good standing can stand behind you and demonstrate the value behind the offered proposal.

A case study in Harvard Business Review illustrates these points. Matt Rady, head of Macquarie Global Investments at the time, had an idea for their company to expand into agriculture. His idea was to purchase farms and fatten cattle, but he had to convince key parties that this was the way to go. After an initially lukewarm presentation to the boss, he found the resources within the organization and tailored the pitch to address any concerns the company might have with the proposal. Brady said, “We knew there would be other skeptics. It’s about being prepared for the unexpected questions.” His success was not overnight. The process from beginning to end took 18 months. Brady’s persistence paid off with a product launch in 2008. The fund has raised over $750 million globally and inspired other initiatives within the company.

You can find them. You can become one. Champions push through ideas and help to develop their organizations. Whether for prestige, acknowledgment or a desire to see their company succeed in the marketplace, these individuals are willing to bet it all for that one-in-a-million idea that can make a difference. As said by theologian William H. Shedd, “A ship is safe in harbor, but that is not what a ship was built for.” Find the right crew to take your ideas and organization further.

Thoughts? Comment below or tweet us at @modusengagement.

New Call-to-action