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QUIZ: Choose the Best Customer Champion

SCENARIO: You're in the early stages of selling an inventory system to a big firm. You'll need multiple decision-makers and stakeholders on board, so you want a customer "champion" to sponsor you (and your offering) to the rest of the company.

Pick the right person, and you'll probably get the deal. Pick the wrong person, and the deal will be dead-in-the-water. Here are your choices:

  • Director of Inventory. Fred has direct responsibility for inventory and his team would be the primary users of the system that you're selling. And he definitely has lots of connections inside the prospect's firm, since he's worked there for 35 years.
  • Chief Efficiency Officer. Jane has a roving brief to make recommendations to improve operational efficiency throughout the corporation. In fact, she brought you in the account and helped you qualify this as a real and substantial opportunity.
  • Vice President of Sales. Cordelia is constantly complaining that the inventory system doesn't support her sales team. She's not very interested in technology, but is widely respected inside the prospect's firm for being flexible and effective.
  • Chief Financial Officer. Alexander definitely holds the purse-strings inside this company and nothing gets into the budget, or actually spent, without his signature on the check. He's very concerned about ROI, especially for technology purchases.

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The best answer, IMHO, is The Vice President of Sales... if you can get her on board. Here's why.

The Director of Inventory is not going to put himself out to get your system in place. After all, he's close to retiring and probably comfortable with the way things are right now. In fact, much of your sales effort will probably be involved with overcoming his resistance. Make him your champion and you'll find the entire deal stuck in bureaucratic mud.

The Chief Efficiency Officer has one of those fake C-level titles (like "Chief Ethics Officer") that companies use to "prove" to investors that they're interested in doing something, when in fact they just want to look as if they're doing something. Chances are that most of the real decision-makers think she's an annoyance and a waste of office space.

The Chief Financial Officer has a real C-level title, but he's only interested in whether the project is going to save money. You'll need to get him on board, but he's not likely to be actively helping you to sell something. After all, his job is to say "NO" to stupid ideas, not try to find good ideas and implement them inside other groups.

By contrast, the Vice President of Sales is the most likely to be effective at building an effective consensus among all the stakeholders. She has enough seniority and credibility so that people will listen to her. And she's apparently got the kind of personality that's gets things done.

Remember: the most effective champion won't necessarily be the person with the most important job title, or the person who's directly responsible for using the product. What you need is somebody who can sell your ideas to the rest of the company.

The real question here is whether or not you can get the Sales VP to actively champion your product. She may simply be too busy to spend the time and effort necessary. But if you CAN get her involved and active, there's no question she'd do better job than the other three candidates.

If you can't get the VP of Sales, then it's a toss-up between the Chief Efficiency Officer or the Director of Inventory. The CFO is a non-starter.

However, Please note that the best choice is HIGHLY dependent upon the personalities of the people involved -- NOT THEIR JOB TITLES! In another company, the correct answer might be quite different.

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