4 Strategies for Building a Champion in a Remote World article by Greg Nishihira, Sales Director at Anaplan and Member of the Strategic Sales Network

4 Strategies for Building a Champion in a Remote World

Greg Nishihira

Building a champion in a remote-first world presents unique challenges. These four tactical strategies can give you an edge.

In today's sales landscape, online interactions dominate, making it essential to establish and maintain strong relationships remotely—particularly when it comes to cultivating your champion.

But in this era of nonstop virtual meetings and overflowing inboxes, how do you cut through the noise to build real credibility?

As a relationship sales professional, I know how vital it is to identify your champion and establish rapport early on. That’s why I’ve come up with a few creative and tactical strategies for achieving this objective in a more remote-forward selling environment.

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  • Greg is an accomplished sales professional with a proven track record of exceeding targets and cultivating strong client relationships. Currently, Greg is a Major Accounts Director at Anaplan, and has over two decades of experience as an individual contributor and sales leader at companies including Expressive, Astound, BMC Software, and more. Throughout his career, Greg has honed his expertise in identifying clients’ unique needs and tailoring innovative solutions to meet their Corporate Objectives while also mentoring sales professionals of all levels to achieve greatness.

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1 / Do a background check.

No—not that kind of background check. I’m talking about what’s visible behind your champion on your video calls.

The first thing I look for when meeting online is whether or not my identified champion is using a virtual background. If they are, I look to see if it’s company-related or personal. Business logos don’t offer a lot of info to work with, but if they’ve thrown an image of the Golden Gate Bridge or the Eiffel Tower up there, for example, that tells me enough about who this person is to start a conversation.

Likewise, if they’re not using a background, I quickly scan the room to see if there is anything I can relate to or ask a question about. Maybe there’s a lacrosse helmet or a great book on the shelf behind them. Maybe there’s a musical instrument or some golf clubs in the corner. Maybe they’re displaying sports pictures or other interesting photos. The important thing is that you’re catching a glimpse of your champion’s inner sanctum, full of clues about what matters to them on a personal level. You don’t get this kind of opportunity in a conference room.

As I take all this information in and get them talking about their hobbies, I will then try and open up subsequent meetings talking about an experience related to one of their interests. For example, I remember learning that one particular exec was a golfer and a big cyclist. During our initial conversation, I brought up these interests and also discovered he was participating in a big upcoming bike ride. I not only had good details to get dialogue flowing, but I now had a great follow-up opportunity as well. The point is: Your champion’s meeting background can be a gold mine of personal conversation points if you keep your eyes open.


2 / Make time for small talk and big objectives.

Of course, we can’t spend an entire meeting chatting about hobbies. But we also can’t cram too many agenda items into a brief call. I like to structure my virtual meetings so that we have time for small talk and rapport-building dialogue up front, while keeping the business side condensed and to the point.

Let’s say I have a 30-minute call booked. I might spend 10 minutes at the start talking about non-work-related things. That’s critical to building a relationship, and I never want to speed through that. As we transition to a business discussion, though, I don’t want to overwhelm them. So I use the remaining meeting time on just one objective. Depending on where we are in the sales cycle, I’ll likely focus on one of these topics:

  • What is this person’s personal win for giving me the business?
  • Do they have access to power (i.e., executive board)?
  • Do they have political clout?
  • Are they selling on my behalf?

Getting answers to all of these questions will help you quickly determine whether you’re actually building a champion or working with a coach. But if you balance your discovery process with your rapport-building time, you’ll have conversations that are both productive and personal.


3/ Send content with a purpose.

Not all communications with your champion will be in meetings. You’re likely going to continue outreach via email—but pay attention to what you send. Nowadays, our remote-first world means inboxes are flooded with senseless and irrelevant items. Make sure you send thought-provoking content, not marketing fluff.

As an example, I might send an email that says: “Just talked to a customer who is having this issue and thought of you. Are you experiencing the same thing?” or " I just read a WSJ article featuring your CFO [use their name] and he/she talked about [xyz thing]. Does this fall under you?"

You might be pushing beyond what the company can readily achieve, but you’re also moving the finish line out a bit and engaging your champion to learn or do more.


4/ Communicate value—not just ROI.

Ultimately, your relationship with your champion hinges on your ability to deliver them value. And make no mistake: Value is not the same thing as ROI. Software vendors who say they can provide a 300% ROI are a dime a dozen these days. For many execs, that’s just table stakes. Their response is, “So what?” They want real business results.

Instead of depending on ROI studies, consider leveraging a Business Value Assessment to identify areas of improvement, and then raising that to your champion. For example, you could say: “Through our assessment, we identified three key areas of low-hanging fruit where we believe we can make a significant impact to your [insert key business metric] (i.e., increase revenue by 30% YoY, increase profitability by 62%, etc.), and we believe we can get you up and running by [X timeframe] and will show improvements by [Y timeframe]. On average, our customers see [Z] benefits after the first [N] days of utilizing our solution.”

Concrete data aligned to the company’s specific strategic priorities and objectives helps your champion and other stakeholders see exactly how and where your solution can have an impact. That’s personal to them—sometimes impacting their own career goals or incentive packages. And that’s way more effective than general ROI numbers. Just remember to keep it real—you will need your champion to sign off and believe the story.



While in-person meetings aren’t completely a thing of the past, B2B sales relationships are now primarily forged online. That means taking on new and creative strategies for connecting with your champion to build the credible rapport necessary to win a deal.

If you’ve got interesting approaches to remote relationships, share them in the Strategic Sales Network here. I’m always open to new ideas.

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