Whale hunting: landing a whopper account

March 18, 2015

Yes, account managers are sales people. Great! Now that we have removed that elephant from the room we can talk about sales more comfortably!

If you are the most fortunate of account managers, your sales role will be to simply extract as much revenue from your existing client base as possible. Your clients already know you and your services, and will (hopefully) continue to buy from you. The greater sales-challenge lies with new business development, and even more so if you are required to procure large, whale-sized accounts. You’ll need to learn how to go whale hunting (a.k.a cold calling on steroids).

Landing a whale account can be a turning point for your agency - one that can significantly expand your agency revenue and future prospects. However, hunting down the whale can be daunting. Where do you begin? Let’s break whale hunting into 14 key steps.

BEFORE WE BEGIN, PLEASE REMEMBER: the goal of your first phone call is NOT to close a sale, but to get an appointment to meet your prospect in person. Your “ask” is for a meeting only.


1. First things first

Before you make any approach to a whale-prospect, decide if your agency is equipped to take on a client of that size. Are you ready to deal at this level at all? Here are some questions to answer:

  • Will the demands and requirements of this client be within your agency’s scope and infrastructure?
  • Will you need to hire additional staff (full time or contract) to cope with the workload?
  • Will your existing (smaller) clients suffer as a result?
  • Have you established a solid group of suppliers who can handle the increased workload?

Also ponder what would happen if you lost your whale to a competitor - will you be putting all your eggs in one basket? It pays to limit your exposure from any one account to around 10% of your total business. That way, if your client leaves you for any reason (which could include going out of business, or reducing their activity due to the financial climate), you will still receive 90% of your client revenue as per normal.

If you are sure you can handle the ride, then we can start whale hunting!


2. Identify potential whales

Long before you pick up the phone, you’ll need to make a list of companies which are a really good fit for your agency, products and services.

Your list should include information such as private or public, annual turnover, employee numbers, nature of products or services, names and contact information.

Using this basic list, you can dig deeper and get more information about each of the companies by going through their balance sheets, industry reports, news items, Google search, company indexes, the whale’s own website, plus information from friends, colleagues, and even employees of the whale.

The ideal would be to find out if your whale has a particular need, and then target that "pain point".


3. Navigating the maze

You'll want to know exactly who the right person is to speak to or else you are wasting your time (and your nervous energy). The challenge is to identify a decision-maker who is empowered to accept your offer of a meeting. This person should also be able to make a purchasing decision for their company, or at least be a strong influencer.

Your whale-rep is likely to be a Marketing Manager or Procurement Manager. Depending on the size or type of company you are targeting, your whale could also be one of the “C-suite” (CEO, COO, CFO, CMO), General Manager or company owner.

Phone the company and speak with the receptionist or customer services. Ask who the best person would be to talk to and what their job title is. You can then ask for their contact phone number and/or email address. They may not want to give it to you, so you need to ask what the next step would be - maybe you'll need to talk first with a PA. That’s OK, you can start by playing the game and see where it takes you.


4. Get past the gatekeeper

By nature, whales are big beasts. The decision-makers in their ivory towers are usually very busy people. Many of them will have PAs or call centre staff whom you need to get through first (“I’m sorry, Mr Smith is…in a meeting, on the phone, out of town, unavailable”). These people are the “Gate Keepers”.

Gate Keepers are like loyal pit bulls. They will protect their Master from the regular onslaught of salespeople at any cost. You’ll need to be prepared to give a modified version of your sales pitch to the Gate Keeper, as she (or he) may be the one who deems whether your pitch is worthy to take to the next level.


5. Capturing a whale's attention

It’s guaranteed that your whale gets contacted by agencies just like yours, offering just the same services as you. It’s also 99% guaranteed that your prospect already has an established business relationship with an agency (or agencies). Therefore your offer needs to be tempting enough for your prospect not to put the phone down within the first minute of your call.

What is your agency’s USP (unique selling point/proposition)? Strong value propositions will capture attention and encourage continued conversation. When your prospect hears something of high value (or unique) they will want to learn more. Frankly, you need something compelling to stand out from the very, very competitive crowd.

STRONG HINT: statements about your agency and what it does are NOT value propositions. Will they entice your whale to change agencies when they are very comfortable just as they are? Not at all.


6. Poke a “pain point”

Think of your call from your whale’s point of view. They have to be in some degree of “pain” in order to consider changing agencies, right? Let’s think about some common company pain points:

  • wanting greater customer service/attention from their agency
  • wanting new innovation from their agency
  • experiencing errors or low quality agency output
  • wanting greater ROI
  • wanting more sales, market share or brand exposure
  • wanting greater efficiencies.
Once you decide what pain point to poke (or promote), you can tailor your pitch to suit.

      7. Talk results

      To capture attention within the first couple of sentences, you need to explain the results your whale can expect from using your services or solution.

      For example “We offer a system that will guarantee you a minimum of 60% open rate on every eDM campaign that you send. Your digital ROI will skyrocket!

      Even decision-makers who were not contemplating a change will want to find out more. Remember that decision-makers don’t care about your products and services. They care about their own career progression, and just maybe they also care about the success of their company. If they are the owner or GM, they will want to know how your offer will help their bottom line.


      8. Get real

      If possible, refer to real case scenarios and include statistics. Did you help another client to increase market share by 20%? That’s a compelling story! Your whale may just want to find out more.


      9. Make the call

      The worst thing that can happen is that your whale will say “no”, but they will never say “yes” unless you contact them! Although your hand may be shaking, make that call.

      Just by you picking up the phone, and stepping out of your comfort zone, you have done what most people are too fearful to do - and that alone gives you a huge advantage.


      10. Be naturally-scripted

      You don’t want to screw up your important call because nerves paralysed your mouth. Being prepared will help give you confidence.

      It’s OK to have a script outlining what you want to say. In fact, it’s vital - at least when you are starting out. You need to know that you can get your most salient points across within the first one or two sentences.

      The script MUST sound exactly like how you normally speak. Use simple words, and drop all jargon. The worst thing you can do is to sound like you are reading a prepared spiel - wise whales can sniff that out a mile away. Once you have your script, practise it until it sounds natural.


      11. Meeting the whale

      Your phone call was successful and you’ve arranged a meeting. Well done!

      Before your whale will seriously consider giving your agency a go, you will need to prove your agency’s ability to execute. You'll need to demonstrate that you have the staffing and resources required to support a large account in the long-term; and you’ll need to be able to prove you can walk as big as you talk!


          12: Open-ended questions

          At your first meeting you could try a couple of the following questions to get your whale to open up. Their answers will help you to gain insight into how you structure your offer, prepare for the next step in the process, or (lucky you) close the sale.

          • What changes can be made in your industry which will improve the profitability of your company?
          • How have the recent changes in the market affected your business?
          • What needs to happen for your company to establish a leading position in the industry?
          • On a scale of 1—5 (5 being the best), what rating would you give your company in the area of ______?
          • What is the procedure you currently use for selecting your suppliers? (e.g. a formal pitch process)


          13. The one that got away

          So this whale got away? Don’t despair. The easiest way to land a whale is via a personal referral, therefore the smartest question you can ask your former-prospect (before they put down the phone, or close the door) is "Do you know anyone else in your industry who might benefit from our product or service?" If the answer is yes, get as much information as you can about that person. (How do you know him or her? What is his or her function at that company?). That way your next call will be a “warm” one, rather than “cold”.


          14. Take courage

          Whale-sized companies are run by humans - just like you; humans who put their trousers on one leg at a time - just like you.

          The whale-representative may intimidate you by being highly professional, arrogant or impatient, but remember the "trousers" and take courage.

          Whale-reps want what we all want - to appear intelligent, look good, save time, be successful. If your offer meets a human or business need, then you’ll be able to push past any defence mechanism and have a greater chance at success.

          If you have more whale hunting tips or experiences, please let us know via a comment, below. Happy whaling!


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