Connecting with Advocates: How to Find Your Champion on the Inside
It’s Q4 and you’re queuing up the pitch of your career. It’s that make-it-or-break it moment that puts you right in front of a client’s C-suite and the deal of a lifetime. The only problem? You might be talking to the wrong person.
Executives know they have to make key decisions–fast. As they page through potential solutions and vendor offers, they’re making split-second choices that, while small potatoes in their roles, can be devastating for the B2B businesses that stake their livelihoods on the pitch.
It’s only natural to default to the execs when you have a big pitch to make. After all, they usually make the final decision on vendors and products. But just because the C-suite has the final say doesn’t necessarily mean they have the most influence in what makes the grade for the organization. In some cases, the true advocates are those who are on the front lines, seeing employee pain points, managing procurement, and executing processes on a daily basis. Those champions are the ones that can bring vendors straight to the top, arguing the case and getting the ear and the attention of the decision-makers.
In fact, we’d argue that, in most cases, the best person to approach for a pitch–or to get a foot in the door–is a lot closer to ground level than you’d think. By identifying the key players and influencers in an organization, you can gain your own personal champion: someone who can argue your case with the C-suite and give you a better chance at closing the deal.
Your job, then, is to find out just who on the inside has the most influence. With some basic sleuthing skills and a little luck, you could locate the very person who can fast track you to the C-suite and a Q4 win.
The (Surprising) Chain of Command
In most cases, what you know about a business is only what they want you to know. You could check out a company page or scour LinkedIn and you might be able to piece together a chain of command, but in the end, it’s a carefully curated chain that the organization has chosen to present to the public.
In reality, a company’s ecosystem is much less linear than LinkedIn would have you believe. What looks like a straight line from entry level to the C-suite snakes and branches through every department, with surprising repercussions. A seemingly unimportant department head might have the ear of the CEO; an entry-level employee may have been hired as a millennial visionary.
Discard what you know about an organization’s chain of command and do more digging than a precursory pre-meeting glance at the company website. By spending the time to understand how the company culture really works, you’ll be able to locate the people who hold the most sway and who are most likely to connect with you.
Employees of Q’s Past
Not sure where to start in your quest for a B2B champion? You can find a wealth of cultural knowledge by reaching out to past employees of the organization. While current employees might default to the “official” chain of command, past employees can give you an inside scoop of which employees hold the most influence when it comes to making decisions.
Check out LinkedIn for professionals that list your target as their past employment and reach out. As long as you’re not digging for confidential information, most past employees would be more than happy to pass your name on to decision-makers; or at least point you in the right direction.
Instead of heading straight to the top, consider which department you could most benefit with your product or service. Dialing into the right department means you can tailor your pitch to speak to those specific pain points. Once you connect on a departmental level, you’re more likely to get a foot in the door in the C-suite. After all, pitches delivered by a trusted colleague are four times more likely to be successful, since decision-makers consider the vendor already vetted.
If you’re selling a product designed to help the sales team, you’d be better off pitching directly to the sales manager. That way, your laser-focused pitch not only reaches the right ears, but becomes a sticking point when it comes time for the sales manager to meet with the CMO. The CMO will get to make the ultimate decision, but the sales manager’s endorsement does most of the work for you.
Staying in Touch
The average decision-maker views five or more pieces of content from the winning vendor before giving the thumbs up, which means you’ll need more than just a persuasive email to seal the deal. If your first communication with an advocate seems to fall flat, don’t despair: plan to keep in touch by sending timely and specific communication to help keep you and your company in front of them. Sure, they say that you should ABC–always be closing–but an industry pro becomes your champion when you offer some value for free.
Maybe you tell your would-be advocate the why, but you withhold the how. Perhaps you send along a couple of articles that you stumbled on, or connect on social media. Your target converts to becoming your champion when your relationship becomes more than just surface deep. Play the long game and what takes a little finessing could mean the difference between a failed lead and a true champion.
The C-suite is faced with a near constant B2B barrage of vendors hoping to make their mark. When you’re already competing with a bevy of other businesses, your solution could simply become white noise. Instead of heading straight to the top, take another look at those in the trenches. Who better to become your ambassador than those who gain the most benefit from your solution? By gaining intel from past employees and tailoring your pitch to a department rather than an entire organization, you’re better poised to stand out and seal the deal.