Does “elephant hunting” have its place?

When it comes to pictures – yes.  When it comes to sales – yes, but in moderation.

I have had the wonderful privilege of working with many fine people over the years; coaching them in techniques, skill sets and philosophies of sales and the sale process.  Some of them went on to become great sales people. Some became great sales leaders.  And some left the sales industry completely.  I hope that honesty doesn’t bother you.  But the truth is that you cannot close every sale, and a sales leader cannot equip every sales person to become successful.  I am very proud of all of them – even those who decided that a sales career was not for them.  I enjoyed working with them.

Each new sales person that would join our team brought a specific skill set with them.  For some, they already had sales skills that were solid, and all I had to do was teach them how to succeed in our industry and market.  Others came on board without specific sales experience, but often had experience leading committees in the community or were successful at fund-raising at their children’s school.  Regardless of their skill set, I believed that if they were willing to work hard and follow my coaching, I could equip them in making a living in sales.

At times, I would bring in an experienced sales person whose background was in landing large accounts with their previous company.  Sometimes, they were the most difficult to coach.  Not because of their stubborn demeanor (although I had one or two of those); but because of their lack of willingness to adapt to a new industry.

Every industry has a client demographic from which their “bread and butter” accounts come.  In the industrial uniform business and in the voluntary employee benefit arena the “bread and butter” demographic was found in companies that employed less than 100 employees.  Over ninety percent of our new accounts fell into that demographic.  That should not be a surprise to anyone who follows statistics on businesses and employers in America.  Over ninety percent of them have fewer than 100 employees.

As a result, I taught my sales team to spend 80-85% of their time prospecting and developing account relationships in that primary demographic.  Then they should spend the other 15-20% of their time developing their “target accounts”.  Target accounts are those accounts that are outside of the primary demographics – in our case, larger than 100 employees.  We referred to that process of calling on larger accounts as “Elephant Hunting”.

My sales people who came from industries in which they landed large accounts, naturally wanted to continue to call on those large accounts.  I encouraged them to do exactly that; after all, it would be a mistake to fail to take advantage of your warm market.  However, I also coached them that they should spend the majority of their time developing their market in those smaller employers with less than 100 employees.  I would tell them, “Landing an Elephant is great – but it takes a lot of time in this industry.  You have to be able to hunt the “rabbits” (smaller accounts) along the way in order to feed your family.”

Some of them followed my coaching and were my most successful people.  Others allowed the dream of the big commissions generated in the Elephant accounts to foolishly consume all of their attention.  The result was not good.  They had good leads that needed time to come to fruition – but they had to get a different job because they could not make a consistent income in the meantime.

There were others who never worked to develop their large cases.  That was a mistake as well.  They would make a living, but never truly generate the kind of incomes that are inherent in becoming great in sales.

My advice to you: spend 80-85% of your time generating business in your industry’s primary demographic.  With the other 15-20% of your time, develop a list of 20-25 “target accounts” that you will call on consistently and regularly over time, add value for them even before you make the sale, build relationships and eventually bring them in as a client.  When you land one, add another to take its place. That way, you will make a living on the rabbits – and then occasionally land an elephant that will raise your numbers above the crowd.

PS: As far as the other type of elephant hunting – if I can’t eat it, I don’t hunt it.


What are the primary demographics for customers in your industry?

What are the characteristics of your elephants – your target accounts?

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