I have been defining large account selling in whale hunting terms since 2006. In January 2008, I co-authored Whale Hunting: How to Land Big Sales and Transform Your Company, a book now completing ten years of good sales and influence and heading into the next ten!
We’re not the only authors to use a hunting and fishing as sales metaphors or big game as a stand-in for a large account. But I have been developing an extended analogy around whale hunting for a long time, and I want you to know how it’s like—and especially how it is unlike—other treatments of a sale as a wild game hunt.
When I co-founded The Whale Hunters company in 2006, we had come upon a rich metaphor, the story of the Inuit whale hunters, that seemed to perfectly explain my philosophy of business-to-business sales.
You see, our clients are small and midsize companies exclusively in B2B environments, and they come to us to help them grow their business in a very specific way: by selling bigger deals to bigger customers. That’s not the only way to grow a business, of course. You can enter new markets, introduce new products and services, or take on a joint venture partner, make an acquisition, or even merge with a competitor.
But those three methods—new markets, new products, new business acquisitions—are expensive, long term, and somewhat risky. In contrast, our method—increase the size of your contracts by increasing the size and buying capacity of your customers—is a low cost, low risk, strategy with a shorter time frame to a predictable return on investment.
The Whale Hunters Story
Even on the surface, “whale hunting” is an interesting analogy because the whale hunters were ordinary people in small villages with rudimentary tools and few resources, who centuries ago pitted themselves in small sealskin boats against the largest mammal on earth.
But the more we learned about the Inuit people, the more powerful their story became and continues to inspire us today.
Watch this short video narration (or read The Whale Hunters Story™ ) and how it applies to modern business activity—maybe your own.
The Whale is Reborn
Now you know when large account selling is like whale hunting, and when it is not.
It’s like Inuit whale hunting, not 19th century European whale hunting that ravaged the international whale population and left many species endangered. Not the whale hunters who hunted whales for captivity in zoos and aquariums. Not the whale hunters who took only the meat or only the whale oil or only the precious ambergris and left the rest to rot. Not any of the whale hunters who left the whales dead at the end of the hunt.
Unlike all the other whale hunters, the Inuit use every part of the whale except its head. The head they return to the sea so the whale can be reborn in the next year.
When the Analogy to Large Account Selling Works
When we’re comparing large account selling to Inuit whale hunting, the analogy works beautifully. Whale hunting is not about the kill. It’s about the Inuit concept of the whale as a sacred gift, entrusted to them to give them life. When your company lands a whale, your job is to treat it so well that it is essentially reborn as a consequence of doing business with you!
It’s not only about that, either. The Inuit had a symbiotic relationship with the whale. The hunt was sacred, and they revered the whale. Their culture–their business model, if you will, provides food for thought to any business team. My clients observe qualities like these among the Inuit whale hunters:
- well-defined roles
- tradition–emphasis on learning successful methods
- hunger–highly motivated to land a whale
- mentorship and coaching of the young (newbies)
- care of tools
- appreciation of resources
These observations lead to lively discussions of how their own village may need some culture change in order to hunt more successfully!
The Whale Hunters Process™ for Large Account Selling
Based on our study of the Inuit whale hunt, and refining the processes through work with clients, we developed The Whale Hunters Process™, a cross-functional marketing and sales process for small and midsize companies that want to grow through bigger deals to bigger customers.
I call the process a Metaphor, Model, and Map. It’s a metaphor because it represents the three major stages and the nine phases of the actual Inuit whale hunt. It’s a model because it works for all B2B companies in all industries. It does not have to be customized or put into a different order or cannibalized in any way in order to work. And lastly it’s a map, because each company will develop its own versions of the phases depending on what they sell and to whom. Every company has different whales, different markets, different marketing and sales materials, different steps in their capture phase or their onboarding from “sew” to “beach,” for example. They have surface level differences, but they all operate under the same model.
The model begins in the Scout stage, in the Phase of “Know.” It rotates clockwise, somewhat like gears, through the nine phases as the stylized arrows indicate within the graphic.
STAGE ONE: SCOUT
- Know the Whale—Understand current market conditions and competitive environment (know your ocean). Know your company and identify your unique competitive advantages. Create your “target filter” to identify whales that would benefit most from your advantages. Test your target filter against current accounts.
- Seek the Whale—Identify the roles and responsibilities of all employees in your company. Complete profiles (dossiers) on the target whales. Define whale signs and metrics for the scout’s performance. Incorporate these tools into all your training.
- Set the Harpoon—Plan the process of proper initial contact with the whale. Manage how the whale views your company (aperture of perception). Ask great questions. Be prepared to “send the whale to Baja” if the timing is not right. Fish along the way.
STAGE TWO: HUNT
- Ride the Whale—Approach the whale (launch a boat) with the appropriate resources. Analyze the buyers’ table to understand whale fears and define fear busters. Equip subject matter experts to be involved. Prepare account plans and meeting plans. Create metrics for your team’s performance.
- Capture the Whale—Fine tune steps of progressive discovery and disclosure with your team. Manage the sales process according to your timetable and communicate it to your company. Know when to stop a hunt. Refine proposal processes to increase likelihood of wins. Complete proposals based on alleviating the whale’s fears fear and expressing your advantages as a value proposition.
- Sew the Mouth Shut—Stage the “big show” to demonstrate your company’s capacity. Anticipate spoilers. Use your “chief” to secure the deal. Stay in front of the whale to keep them interested.
STAGE THREE: HARVEST
- Beach the Whale—Prepare your company to begin working with the whale efficiently. Take steps to accelerate the speed and capacity of work. Complete maps for intake processes for seamless transition. Align reward systems within your company to match new roles and responsibilities. Communicate with the whale to allay fears.
- Honor the Whale—Engage your company to build a fast growth culture. Make and keep promises. Hold a pre-delivery summit with the whale to ensure smooth implementation. Keep your team on board to promote a positive experience.
- Celebrate the Whale—Conduct an assessment for continuous improvement. Communicate gratitude. Feed your “ravens” or supporters to ensure new business. Grow sales in existing whales. Complete the cycle of service to every whale.
So there you have the explanation of “why whale hunting?” And why it’s a great analogy, if we’re talking about Inuit whale hunting.
You may have noticed that I’ve not assigned “ownership” by titles, departments or functional areas to any stages or phases of the process. That’s by design. It’s always our hope that the company will use the whale hunting implementation as an opportunity to open the silo doors and encourage cross-functional teamwork towards the common goal of feeding the village. The process of putting this system into place often moves them in the direction of a faster-growth culture.
You should see as well that this model lends itself to account-based marketing and sales and has plenty of room for robust sales enablement activity. Technology tools fit in wherever they belong as each company decides. My personal technology bias about large account selling is that bigger deals and bigger customers require better tools with more scope and greater ease of use. When companies move up in the food chain, their technology needs change. I’ll address these issues in later posts.
Of course, none of this means anything to you unless it can bring value to your company. Otherwise it’s just noise.