Whale-sized rejection must be much worse than not catching smaller fish. How did you and your team bounce back from losing a large proposal?
Early on in our Whale Hunting experience, we spent 1200 hours pursuing PetSmart only to be told that they could not choose us because we weren’t a national digital agency. Apparently, it was too risky to go with a small, local shop. The initial shock of losing was hard on all of us. We gave ourselves a couple of days to get used to the idea that we’d lost. How we got over it was to use it as a learning experience. We reached out to the team at PetSmart and asked them to participate in a post mortem. We spent time interviewing their team about what we did right, wrong and what the competition did to win them over. It was a very insightful and powerful learning and growth experience for the entire team. We turned our loss into a learning experience and that helped us bounce back quickly.
Whale hunting can be a valuable experience win or lose. How did the learning experience for your team differ after losing than after winning?
Losing is humbling and I believe it opens you up to greater learning than when you win. Winning makes you arrogant and you forget to reflect upon the good and bad of your performance.
Going on a whale hunt and losing is a tremendous risk. How should small companies mitigate that risk?
To mitigate the risk of losing, small companies must become incredibly disciplined about vetting new business opportunities against their target filter. The more selective you become about pursuing new business the greater your close rate will be. Don’t waste your time going after new business that isn’t a good fit and therefore you will have a low likelihood of winning.
What advice do you have for other small business owners to overcome the fear of whale hunting?
Whale hunting is a state of mind, a process and discipline. Whale hunting is defined by how strategically and methodically you approach new business development. Key to your success is having your entire team on board before you decide to Whale Hunt. Your whale is defined by your team and shouldn’t be intimidating if you approach it like it is just a bigger version of the best customer you currently have. The key is making sure that you are going after opportunities that fit your company best and thus, you will have the highest likelihood of winning. Know your unique selling proposition and separate your company from the pack through differentiation during the sales process.
What are the top three lessons you learned from being turned down? Or, what did you change for the next pitch?
1) You can never ask enough discovery questions about the buying process and decision makers.
2) That the deal isn’t done until the ink is dry on the contract – don’t celebrate without proof that you have won!
3) Always, always, always take the time to learn from both your wins and your losses, you’ll be a better company in the end.
Any other thoughts or advice for other small business owners?
Hire a coach to help you implement the Whale Hunting methodology and to lead your team through your first few new business opportunities to ensure that you have early success.