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.
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.”
MARK SUSTER is a two-time entrepreneur who has gone to "the dark side" of venture capital. He joined GRP Partners in 2007 as a general partner after selling his company to Salesforce.com. He focuses on early-stage technology companies. You can find him on Twitter @msuster.