Whale Hunting

By: Tom Searcy and Barbara Smith



Have you ever wondered how to scout, hunt and harvest the deal that would transform your company forever?

Hundreds of years ago, the ancient Inuit thought about a similar issue - how do we scout, hunt and harvest the meal that will feed our entire village for a year?

When spring was coming and the ice was breaking, the Inuit knew that the whales would be moving and that meant one thing and one thing only.

It was whale hunting time.

The ice is moving and large accounts are ripe for the hunt. In less than 10 minutes we’re going to show you how to get started landing whales accounts that are ten to twenty times that your average account.

Lesson #1: Know the whale

The first thing we need to do is to chart the waters. Just like there are other fish in the sea there are other boats in the ocean. So knowing the competitive environment and ensuring that you are differentiating your brand promise is the key.

This is really easy to understand intellectually but seemingly difficult to be put into practice.

Whale hunting by definition means that you will be chasing a very small portion of your market place. What you’ll need to make this work is a target filter. Your target filter might look something like a graph with revenue, budget, growth plan, and deal type on the ‘Y’ Axis, and your “A“ Opportunities and “C” opportunities on the X axis.

That way you’ll know what a whale looks like when they come to the surface.

Lesson #2: Send out the scouts

Next, you’ll be compiling a “whale chart” that is essentially a list of companies that fit the bill of your target filter.

Now you’ll want to start compiling information on them. Search information about the company, and the senior executives and board members in the company. There are numerous tools that will let you do this, and they are getting better and better all the time.

The key is this - when any information is published anywhere in the world about these people, you want it to come to your attention.

Then you’ll figure out how you are connected to each one of these key decision makers. The obvious place to start with this is LinkedIn.

Lesson #3: Setting the harpoon

By this point you will have identified your whales and gathered as much information about them as you possibly can. Now it's time to connect.

Remember it’s not who you are, it’s who they think who you are; so make sure you control what the authors call the “aperture of perception” throughout the entire process.

During your first contact you will be relying on your digital footprint, any sales collateral you’ve created, and your staff. Make sure that these things leave the impression that you intend them to.

Now when you’re in the door you want to be asking critical questions. The best introductory questions the authors note are the ones that help you understand the whale’s history.


Because they predict their future behavior and describe the way they operate. As these questions are being asked and the dance is beginning, make sure that you are paying attention to two critical things

First, make sure you are knocking on the right door. If you aren’t talking to the person who’d be making the decision, back up and start again.

Second, be aware of small nibbles with big promises. In the author’s experience, these little pieces of work rarely translate into the large account you are looking for.

Lesson #4: Launch the boat

Launching the boat means committing the attention and resources to pursue the whale actively and with a single minded intention to land the deal. But before you do this you need to able to say yes to three important questions:

  • Are the odds of landing this deal in our favour?
  • Can we commit adequate resources to ensure a successful hunt?
  • Can we harvest the whale if we land it?

If you can say yes to all of those? It’s time to Launch.

Now you’ll be showing up to make a pitch to a team of people at the whale. There are two types of buyers that are going to show up for this.

First is the financial buyer, the person who has the authority and the budget for your services. The second is specialised buyers, people from a variety of departments that may be effected by this purchase.

This second group of people are critical because they don’t have the power to say yes to you, but any one of them can throw you under the bus and nix the entire deal.

There is a key distinction to be made at this point. Most small companies assume that these people are there to ensure that their company gets the best possible supplier.

However, their actual purpose is to avoid making a bad decision. The nature of these whales as the author says is to seek safety over benefit. So fear trumps all other emotions in the process of making a decision.

So to learn how to hunt more effectively, you need to learn how to stop scaring whales.

There are four things whales fear the most. Change, conflict, additional work and failure. Make sure you address all four things in your pitch.

Lesson #5: Capture the whale

Whales aren’t caught over night so there needs to be a well defined process that you need control over if you’re going to finish the deal. There are 6 key criteria for each and every sales step. Here they are

  • Who owns the step?
  • The roles and responsibilities of the step
  • The resources required
  • The sub-process for the step if it necessary
  • The matrix and success criteria
  • The timeline

If the whale is ready to move forward make sure a lot of time and effort go into your proposal. Make a point to present it in person. If the buyers aren’t interested in hearing it in person, they probably aren’t serious about doing business with you.

Lesson #6: Sewing their mouth shut.

So you’ve made your proposal and the whale says they are leaning in your direction. Or you have the verbal go ahead, and maybe you even have a signed contract.

Have you ever lost a deal at this point? I know I have. So here’s what to do to minimise the chances of your whales swimming away after this point.

The whale is going to want to pay you visit at some point. This is where you need to pull out all the stops. The author says it better than I ever can, so here’s exactly what they say you need to do on the big day.

“When the company is coming do everything you can to meditate the fear. Prepare with precession, implement flawlessly and follow up with speed and care.”

There you have it - everything you need to start thinking about to create a whale hunting juggernaut in your company.