Remember the “good old days” when software came on a disk, and waiting for dial-up was exciting?


Ah, simpler times.


Back then, post-sale activities were managed by Account Management, “renewals” were new versions of the software, and buying roles were much simpler and easier to understand:  

  • VPs had the power to buy products,
  • Directors had influence in the buying decision, and
  • Individual contributors were the end users and didn’t have an important role.  


But as software transitioned to the cloud and as product-led growth became en vogue, these definitions fell short. They failed to capture new factors in buying processes like levels of authority, influence in decision making, and product usage.


What emerged were 3 new roles:

  • Buyers
  • Champions
  • Power Users 


These new names captured factors in modern buying processes, but for those of us that didn’t grow our careers through Account Management, they made it harder to understand what each role means. 


This piece is written to re-capture some of the simplicity of earlier models, and to provide a framework for determining the right amount of relationship coverage for each segment in your business. Here are three things you can do today to start building stronger relationships with customers. 

Part 1: Define Champion, Power User, and Buyer

To get a better understanding of what these terms mean, it’s helpful to compare them to each other. The graphic below helps visualize how the Champion, Buyer, and Power User roles are different by looking at their Influence or Authority, and their Product Importance



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Influence defined (x-axis) 

Influence is the weight of a person’s opinion in the mind of the decision maker. Influence often comes from a small number of high ranking people, or a large number of low ranking people. 


Authority defined 

Authority is the power to make final decisions without approval from someone else.


Product Importance defined (y-axis)

This measures how critical the product is to accomplish the user’s job. If the product is of low importance, the user can replace or work around the product. If the product is of high importance, the user requires the product to perform their core job.


This quadrant does not include...: 

We don’t use common attributes like Advocacy, Budget, and Volume of Usage as factors for this quadrant because they don’t help determine the difference between user types. 

    1. Advocacy is a measurement of endorsement, so it could apply to any user type. It doesn’t help differentiate a Power User from a Champion, for example. 
    2. Only the Buyer has budget, so it’s irrelevant for other user types.
    3. Any role could have a high or low volume of usage, so it doesn’t help differentiate the user types.

Part 2: Track the strength of the relationship

Next we must determine which contacts are most engaged with us and focus on those relationships. For example, Champions who respond to emails regularly, ask questions, and make feature requests are more engaged (and valuable!) than Champions who frequently ghost you.


Many Success teams start by visualizing their engagement model in a single slide, and defining when they expect CSM and Customer engagement to increase or decrease.



Shout out to Ziv Peled for the graphic and inspiration on this topic. 


The highest performing Success teams then develop a scoring model to determine which relationships are the most influential. One of the best ways to score relationship strength comes from Jay Nathan and Jeff Breunsbach of Customer Imperative. Here’s the scorecard they use:




Now that we’ve defined 1) relationship roles and 2) relationship depth, we can move onto the final step of determining how many of each relationship we need to reduce churn risk. 

Part 3: Reduce churn risk with the right relationship coverage

When we spoke to companies about their champion coverage strategy, we heard consistent problem trends:

    1. The influence that Power Users have on Champions is undervalued
    2. The number of Champions required is insufficient to reduce risk
    3. The named Champion in the sales cycle isn’t acting like a Champion post-sale
    4. Unclear definitions of user types (Influencers, Important Contacts, Advocates, etc) leads to poor/incomplete tracking


Here, we’ll review a model for relationship coverage that addresses these problems and will enable any company to adopt a coverage plan that will significantly reduce churn risk. Here’s how to read the model below:

  • Product Breadth is shown vertically—it divides products into 3 categories based on who the primary users will be: a workgroup, the whole department, or the entire company
  • Segment is shown horizontally—it divides target buyers into company size (SMB, Mid Market, and Enterprise)


Then in each of the 9 cross-sections, we show how many buyers, champions, and power users you need to reduce customer churn risk. As you'll see, buyers are further broken out into three types:

  • An Advocate buyer is someone who endorses the product. This is the most valuable kind of buyer.
  • If you can’t get an Advocate buyer, get the head of the department you’re selling to (in the graph, we call this the Department Leader buyer). 
  • A Check-signer is a buyer who isn’t in the department you’re selling to, but they’re in a budget approval role (e.g., CFO, COO, Procurement).



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If a company-wide product (Slack, Gmail, Zoom, Box) is trying to sell into SMBs, they’ll likely focus on a large number of influential Power Users to reduce churn risk. But if a Workgroup product (Tableau, UserTesting, Qualtrics, Google Analytics) is trying to sell into the Enterprise, they’ll instead develop strong champions in other departments who are consumers of the Workgroup’s output.


A framework for building the right relationships within each account helps CSMs in their daily work, and it can help Directors and VPs of Success detect when certain accounts are at risk from not having the right amount of relationships with power users, champions, and buyers. 


Here’s a quick summary on how to create a relationship coverage framework: 

    1. Define Champion, Power User, and Buyer. 
      1. A Champion is a person who is an Advocate, that has Influence in the purchasing decision and Authority over the business process decision.
        1. Advocacy is a measurement of a person’s engagement with the product. 
        2. Influence is the weight of someone’s opinion in the mind of the decision maker. 
        3. Authority is the ability to make a final decision about the process or the budget. 
      2. A Power User is a person who 1. needs the product to get their core job done, and 2. frequently uses the product. They can Influence business process decisions but have minimal influence in buying decisions as individuals.
      3. A Buyer is the only person who can make a purchasing decision without getting approval from someone else. They have Authority over the buying decision and can Influence the business process decision. 
    2. Understand and track the relationship depth needed from each role. 
    3. Determine the right number of Champions and Power Users needed in each account. 
      1. Consider the company size you’re selling into and the expected number of people that will be using the product (is the product designed for a group, a department, or the entire company?).  




Thanks to Ziv Peled, Kristina Valkanoff, Jeff Breunsbach, Jay Nathan, Emilia D'Anzica, Kristi Faltorusso, and David Ginsburg for your feedback and contributions to this piece.