Why playing the sidekick can be a winning sales approach


It’s easy to see why salespeople get superhero syndrome. Sales departments often “bring home the bacon” or “land the big fish”. What more evidence do we need than the existence of ‘Sales Enablement’ and the fact that Sales gets an entire support function dedicated to their success?

While you might be the star of your own team, perhaps even the hero of your business, there’s a real danger that buying into this superhero mentality when it comes to customer engagement, could be detrimental.

Winning new business, and retaining it, means putting the customer at the centre of the sales process. It means making them the hero of their story, not you, or your product. Here’s what that looks like in practice, and why it works. This is how you can the Robin to their Batman and revel in your joint successes.

Mapping changes in the buyer journey

Research informs our lives and those of our customers. Whether it’s through white papers, online searches or analyst commentary, we’re always keen to stay informed to some degree. The impact on sales is well documented, with 62% of buyers believing they can develop selection criteria or finalise a vendor list based solely on digital content.

Customers are more than halfway through the buying journey before they want to speak to a salesperson. We use the ‘customer buying clock’ to turn our salespeople’s attention to the buying journey, which has helped us recognise that the way customers buy has changed over time, as has the role of a salesperson in supporting them.

This model serves as a commitment to put the customer at the centre of all activity, rather than the prioritising the vendor’s goals, or the sales processes. In short, it makes the customer the hero, so salespeople can see value in being seen as the trusted advisor, or sidekick. It also makes them recognise their role is to influence the hero’s speed and direction of travel, rather than trying to hijack pole position and squeeze the customer into a narrative that isn’t their own.

Navigating the dark forces of uncertainty

Despite the wealth of information available to customers, coming to a final purchase decision is still a challenge. A key role of being a sidekick is giving balance through perspective; helping the central hero make sense of the noise around them. Think Master Yoda to Luke Skywalker, or Mr Miyagi to the Karate Kid. The average B2B decision-making process now comprises seen people, with each at a different stage of the buying journey, and each with different motivators and fears that need to be addressed.

Adopting the role of sidekick, salespeople must help customers navigate the dark forces of uncertainty that might lead them to make the wrong purchase decision, from your perspective, or fail to make any decision at all. This is about being quietly influential, steering customers to overcome internal objections, and supporting them to gain group consensus to purchase. There is real value in the supportive work the sidekick does to make the customer, or the hero, look good, overcome adversity and ultimately make the right purchase decisions.

Using insight to chart the course to success

Every good superhero has a moment of self-realisation that ultimately leads to their moment of glory, often prompted by questions or guidance from their sidekick. In sales, we call this insight. Selling with insight relies on you as the sidekick bringing external knowledge about your market and product to the customer. It requires you to have enough understanding of the customer’s market, their business and associated risks and opportunities to demonstrate the relevance of this external information in shaping their business success.

These micro and macro details of the world, viewed through the lens of the customer will give them the insight they need to make the right purchase decision and chart their course to success. Your input will enable their successes. As your relationship develops, it then becomes this ongoing stream of insight that encourages them to stick with you, knowing that your external input is helping them to stay as heroic today as they were yesterday, to get their job done, and add value to their business and their role.

The next time you speak with a customer, remember they’re armed with information already, and that they’re on a mission to get their job done. Who they choose as their sidekick will largely depend on who’s best-equipped to help them make sense of all they’ve learnt, smooth their path to internal buying consensus and provide the insight and knowledge they need to be the hero of their own story. There really is business value in being more Robin.

Mark Savinson is CEO of Strategy to Revenue