White whale

What is a whale in business?

In business, a whale (or white whale) is a lead that has the potential to bring enormous sales revenue to a company. Whales are large, elusive, and very rare – and sales teams go above and beyond to capture one.

In B2B sales, a whale lead is often a business client that’s incomparably larger than your own company. In B2C, it might be a customer who buys your most expensive product or service option and does so repeatedly.

The term is a reference to Herman Melville’s novel Moby Dick, where the main character pursues a white whale named Moby Dick for a very long time, yet never manages to catch it. Everyone on the boat but the narrator dies in pursuit of the whale.

This story reflects the dangerous nature of relying on the whale as your only goal.

Finding a “whale” lead

How big are the whales exactly? For many companies, they represent a large piece of revenue. For example, take Zynga:

Whales vs ordinary clients
Source: Second Measure

For Zynga, the top 1% on average spends $4,260 – a whopping x49 more than the bottom 99%. This is an extreme example of the whales’ influence. An important point, however, lies in the number of such whales vs the number of usual customers.

Whale leads are out there in the ocean, but you’ll have to cover many a mile to find even one. In the meantime, you’ll be passing right over the shoals of smaller prospective leads and buyers. Don’t neglect them in pursuit of the white whale, especially when you’re just beginning your career in sales. Those small deals are your primary revenue source, so turn your primary attention to them. It’s good to keep an eye on the big leads on your horizon, but collect the easy targets along the way.

Once you’ve found one of those big whales, how you hunt them depends on their routines and habitat. In B2B sales, like in hunting, the idea remains the same: don’t swoop in blind. Being prepared is essential. Distinguish your prey and approach them with care and tact. Keep in mind – your lead is most likely being hunted by dozens of your competitors. You must be exceptionally impressive to bring the whale in as a client.

Closing the deal 

Making agreements with whales often demands far more energy and time than a standard business deal, but these contracts are much larger and more profitable – as we’ve seen from the example of Zynga, a single whale can be comparable to dozens of ordinary clients. This makes them extremely worthy of chase despite the extra difficulties. And if you manage to turn the white whale into a loyal customer, their value can only grow.

You can follow the same sales procedure that you practice for ordinary leads, but improved to fit the importance of the lead. If you usually study a lead by asking three personalized questions during the offer presentation, you’ll want to come up with 10 personalized questions for your whale. Be ready that this deal will be much tougher to close. Don’t save on personalized details like thank you letters or even tiny gifts that match the prospect’s interests.

If you successfully close the deal, give special care to your new white whale client. Get in touch regularly to be certain that they’re content and continue to purchase from you.

The dangers of pursuing whales

In the beginning, you don’t have many clients to boast about, but you want to chase the big fish anyway. You may want to follow the big lead for months, only to end up with a drained budget and strained relations with investors – and no sale.

If you’re comparatively new and unknown in your business niche, it’s near to impossible to land larger clients because you don’t have any track record. What’s worse, when you concentrate on a few long-shot leads, you miss the smaller opportunities to fill your sales funnel and build a revenue flow from minor, more reachable prospects.

You definitely want to have a few whales on your radar in the long run, but whale hunting entails the risk too serious to be a practical approach for most new companies. And if you fall short with these business titans, they presumably won’t consider you as a serious player in the future.

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