In The Whale Hunters Process, the last phase of the Hunt is called “sew the mouth shut.” After the whale was dead, the Inuit whale hunters sent someone overboard to sew the whale’s mouth closed so that the whale would not fill with water and sink to the bottom.
Clearly that’s a terrible task, and “sewing the mouth shut” is an unpleasant metaphor. But it represents the time in your sales process when you, the hunter, are at highest risk. This is the time between a contractual agreement with the whale and the actual onset of your work, and it’s often a most unpleasant time. Especially these days.
No matter how large your company is, doing business with a company much bigger than you has its challenges. One of those is that the signed agreement or initial “contract” is still subject to considerable review and revision. In the best of times, it has to make its way through legal, accounting, and other review steps. In the worst of times, budgets get cut, people get reassigned or laid off, and your contract is postponed or cancelled.
That leaves you with very little recourse, as a practical matter. So what should you do?
- Manage your internal handoff. Be sure there is no confusion about who is to manage the account once you have a deal. What is the role of the harpooner? Operations leader? Training and support? Have a solid internal protocol for all of the steps that your team takes. Know who is making the first call, to whom, and for what purpose—an impeccable methodology.
- Let no time pass. Often once you’ve signed a deal your team goes into preparation mode. You may be expending great amounts of time and personnel resources to get ready to bring this project on board. But does the whale’s team know what you are doing? Are you visible to them? Your protocol should include a series of contact points, each for a specific purpose, to ensure that all of the critical contacts understand that you are hard at work for them.
- Get paid. I like to see a deal that has some kind of upfront payment that allows you to submit an invoice and officially become to vendor to the whale. The process of moving that first invoice forward can be arduous, so it needs to start immediately. The sooner you are in the system as a vendor, the less vulnerable you are to any kind of across-the-board cuts, restrictions, or new policies.
- Document. Keep good internal records about the relationship, especially the work that your team is doing in preparation. If the deal get postponed or cancelled, have the basis for recovering your initial outlay costs. Not only does this protect you, but it facilitates a recurring progress report that you can be providing to your whale.
- Be prepared for delay. Most deals with most whales take longer than you expected. Your whale-hunting strategy should include a longer-than-usual cash recovery and contingency plans for worst-cases. If the whale has issues that cause delays, you want to be sure that the delay won’t take you down, or out.
Whether you’re a small business entrepreneur or a sales veteran, sew the mouth shut. Excellent, detailed planning for this phase of the whale hunting process will set your business apart from competitors, enable your team to perform at a high level, and mitigate your risk.