Sales and the Art of Whale Hunting

Mark Godley, CRO HG Data

Editor’s Note: With the focus in today’s B2B environment on transactional and volume selling, the whale hunt is becoming a thing of the past. And yet, there are some lessons to be learned from the specialized sales practitioner who bags whales on a regular basis. In this three-part series, which will post on consecutive days, HG Data’s Chief Revenue Officer tells the stories of several whale hunters he has known and lessons to learn from them. 

Call me Ishmael…because this is a tale of modern-day whale hunters – that special breed of salespeople who build their numbers reeling in really big fish.

Now I realize whale hunting is out of fashion in a sales world that’s all about bottom trawling. “Sales velocity” is all the rage and transactional selling is becoming the norm. Obsession over workflow, process and the latest CRM-bolt-on tools are viewed to be the keys to increase bookings. With all of that, the slow, methodical sales approach of coaxing a leviathan up from the deep has become a lost art. 

As much as I’m transfixed by a beautiful dashboard in SFDC, and appreciative of algorithmically scored leads that identify the 20 best prospects for a BDR to dial tomorrow, there is nothing that compares to the awe I all feel when a huge deal closes. The admiration for the persistent whale stalker who has spent quarters, not days or weeks or months, getting a behemoth deal into the boat is a feeling like no other. So in honor of the fisherman of old toiling in oceans for a Goliath of the deep, let me share the methods of four salespeople – whale hunters all – who have influenced my own approach these past 20-plus years. 

Whale Hunter #1: The Engineer
On my second day out of college and my first day as a sales professional at ADP I met Jerry Hall. Even back then, Jerry looked as though he’d stepped out of “Glengarry Glen Ross.” He was unassuming, his suits were ill-fitting and out of fashion (in all fairness to Jerry, I’m now the guy in the office described this way). The outward appearance did not matter, because everyone in the sales pit knew one thing for sure – Jerry had it where it counted and that made him the alpha male.

I got my first glimpse of Jerry’s power on Tuesday of my first week. At 4 p.m., the ritual of Roll Call commenced. Before CRMs, before e-signature orders, hell, before email, this was the weekly “put up or shut up” meeting where reps announced sales for the week. We’d go around the room and Bill Mellon, our VP of sales, would call out names and each quota carrying replied with the dollar amount of sales. Let’s just say that public praise or embarrassment was (and still is) a big motivator to getting ink to paper.

At 4:20 Jerry enters the pit, strutting like LeBron James walking onto the court – despite the fact that Jerry was disheveled, soda in one hand and papers falling out of his briefcase in the other. Bill Mellon’s eyes lit up and thought, Is Jerry going to save my ass this week? “Alright, Jerry,” Bill said, “What d’ya got?”

Jerry was riffling through his paperwork, adding on the fly and saying, “Ah, put me down for $12k but it might be $18,000 by the time we’re done with this meeting.” While the dozen other reps were doing small-ball deals, Jerry’s slaying whales and closing deals five times the average.

With an urgency to refill my bank account that was days away from overdraft, having rented an apartment and bought two suits from Nordstrom’s in the 24-hours since graduating college that preceded my first day of work at ADP, I approached Jerry at the end of the first week asking, “Mind if I ride along with you on Monday?” Shockingly, he agreed. The following Monday I met him in the parking lot, climbed into his four-door, white Mercedes and thought, Whatever this guy is doing, I need to be doing the same. So began my tutelage under a whale hunter.

Jerry’s success doesn’t spring from any Jedi-mind trick of convincing buyers to part with tens of thousands of dollars, but rather, Jerry possesses incredible domain expertise combined with an engineering-level understanding of the product. Jerry understands the payroll space; even knows IRS code. He used his knowledge to do what we call the Challenger Sale today. His domain expertise enables him to speak with authority, expand the prospects’ view of the world and help them understand the risks they are exposing themselves to by managing payroll in-house, effectively making any decision other than outsourcing look absolutely insane. And why could Jerry speak with such authority? Because he knew the product he was selling better than the folks that built it and more deeply than those that implemented it. Jerry runs the product at redline. The sales engineers know that whatever he asks them to do can be done…they also know they’ll bust their asses doing it. But Jerry gets the deals, and you bet he delivers.

Read Part II: Whale Hunter #2: The Trusted Advisor

Mark Godley is chief revenue officer of HG Data, a global leader on competitive intelligence of installed technologies.