James Carbary

Founder at Sweet Fish Media

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How to Become a Team Member Instead of a Vendor

James Carbary

Founder at Sweet Fish Media

Full Profile »

Ever heard of “Feeding the Champion”? It’s the concept of driving referrals to your customer (or “Champion”) so that as their product or service grows, yours grows with it. Feeding the Champion is an alternative to simply trying to acquire new customers, which can be very difficult. Sounds simple: invest in your existing customers. We all know we need to do that. But Feeding the Champion is so much more.

Take the example of the medical supply company Kyphon. Kyphon was destroying a traditional business, Medtronic, because of Feeding the Champion. They would get clients to use the product but then go to the community around the client and educate them on the unique product they were using.

This completely flipped the industry on its head; no longer could people just sit back and accept orders for products that had been out for 10 years. Traditional companies didn’t know what hit them. Medtronic eventually bought Kyphon, and diminished the threat.

We heard that story in our interview with Brian Douglas, Vice President of Business Development for InDemand Interpreting. We learned a lot from him about Feeding the Champion and how it can help salespeople move from being vendors for their clients to team members with their clients.

Feeding the Champion

The concept of Feeding the Champion is not new: if you drive around where you live, you’ll see billboards for things like robotic surgery, showing that a hospital has adopted some million-dollar product that a manufacturer has made. That manufacturer is trying to drive referrals to the hospital, convincing you that they have the best device for you and your family.

That’s Feeding the Champion at a macro level, but we need to talk about the micro level. That is, how does a salesperson spend their time and get the most out of it? In Brian’s experience, a portion of their week should be spent on activities related to pumping up their base. Sure, it takes time away from them, but as we’ll see, it’s time well spent.

Let’s expand on the philosophy.

How to “Stake Your Territory”

In all likelihood, your sales team has always had a number quota, a threshold of sales they need to reach for their own company. But imagine that they also had an activity quota. This activity quota, determined at the beginning of each quarter, would break down what they will do to drive business to your base.

These are activities that strengthen your company at the “territory level.” They can be as simple as setting up a lunch-and-learn for your Champion after your team has explained to them that you’re going to help expand their business, then inviting all of their customers to it.

That’s one method. Another is literally taking a stack of business cards from your customer, getting a list of their customers, going out in front of the referral customers, and saying I’m here to tell you about a terrific new product/service that your client is using. (Yep, that would be yours.)

That face-to-face handshaking, combined with your business card and your Champion’s, is extremely powerful. Very few people use that method to promote someone else and create a referral network.

Painting a Picture of the Benefits

When you or your sales rep speaks to the referral, your efforts should be solely focused on your Champion’s service. And you’ve got to tie it all to benefits.

Let’s say we’re talking about medical, and the referral is a physician who can pass his clients along to others. You would tell the referral that if he sends his clients to your customer (Dr. Smith), they will have fewer readmissions, fewer follow-up requirements, be in better health, and have a shorter recovery period because Dr. Smith has adopted a certain procedure or piece of equipment (yours). That’s why he should send his customers to Dr. Smith instead of someone else because she’s doing something innovative.

Think about that conversation and your own product, and think about the benefit that the referral person will receive, whether it be faster service, better quality, a quid pro quo referral back to them, etc.

And absolutely go back to your Champion, because that changes your relationship not only with the end user (whoever you sell to), but also to all of their employees. You will become a team member of whatever business that you’re generating referrals for, instead of a vendor. You’ll be able to walk through the front door without a badge while your competitors nervously stand outside with their briefcase and tie.

Very few competitors are going to follow this blueprint. They’re going to sell the product, maybe do some service on it, and move on to the next target. Whereas, if you dig in and build your referral base, you’re going to get the maximum out of those customers, and it’ll promote your longevity.


Again, this is a piece of territory building and B2B sales, but it’s a significant piece that requires discipline.

In Brian’s opinion, your salespeople should devote one to two days a week (if they can afford it) to activities that Feed the Champion. Also, even if there isn’t a formal program within your company to do this, you can still encourage individuals to do it. When they report to you, it makes you look like a genius! Try something new. That’s exactly how innovation begins.


This post is based on an interview with Brian Douglas from InDemand Interpreting

You can find this interview, and many more, by subscribing to the B2B Growth Show on iTunes. If you don’t use iTunes, you can listen to every episode by clicking here.