Post by Barbara Weaver Smith, contributing Women On Business writer
Thanks to Susan for inviting me to join the team at Women on Business. I write about Whale Hunting—growing your business fast by selling bigger deals to bigger customers. And I’ve learned why women make exceptional whale hunters!
Whale hunting sounds like blood and guts, the law of the wild, kill or be killed. But to land a whale, the Inuit people built trustworthy teams, minimized risk, taught their children, and spent all year in patient preparation. They couldn’t overpower a whale—they had to outsmart and outmaneuver their target.
Women are socialized to excel at the traits that a whale hunting village requires–collaboration, teamwork, and mentoring. These so-called “soft skills” contrast with the hard-nosed traits of competition, do-it-yourself, and hoarding knowledge.
Closing big deals in today’s global business environment requires three gifts that women bring to the table: listening, aligning, and empathizing. Here’s why:
1. Listening. The old sales model was based on assertion: “my product or service is better, cheaper, easier, etc.” The pitch was often coupled with deal-making, discount brokering, and back-slapping relationships.
Today’s more sophisticated buying teams are charged to maintain a professional distance from their suppliers. Their bosses expect them to make buying decisions based on good process, unbiased judgment, and thorough research– or at least to present the appearance of these decision-making qualities. These requirements charge them to investigate all areas of the supplier’s company, not just the salesperson.
So to be successful, a sales team must listen and learn to assess carefully the whale’s buying team needs, resisting the temptation to talk more, to spar with the buyers, or to move too quickly towards closure. The salesperson shares the stage with subject matter experts whose contribution is critical to the sale. Whale hunting women know how to be still and listen to the prospect.
2. Aligning. Once you know what the buyer wants, you find a place where your interests and the whale’s interests. Does this whale need to have multiple suppliers in order to feel safe? If so, how can you become the broker on behalf of a powerfully aligned team of vendors? Does the whale need to feel safe regarding price, or feel clever in acquiring an innovative solution, or feel powerful in setting the contract terms?
Good whale hunting teams have uncanny abilities to align their deliverables with the whale’s interest. And Whale Hunting women know how to win by practicing their natural talent for alignment.
3. Empathizing. So you know the whale is big, you are smaller, they have all the advantage and you are an underdog. But think about the people who sit across from you at the Buyers’ Table. No matter how big and powerful the whale, each person on the buying team is vulnerable to the consequences of making a bad decision, or even a perceived bad decision.
Do you know how to put yourself in their position? Practice empathy. It’s more than saying to “I understand.” Literally, it means to feel what they are feeling. Once you learn the gift of empathy, you will have access to the power of connection with the individual people who populate the companies that you’d like to do business with. Empathy will give you wonderful ideas for how to better serve them, because you will feel as they feel. Whale hunting women were born with empathetic roots.
Bottom line for whale hunters: the rock star era of sales is over for serious companies who are doing big deals with whales. It’s the end of “all about me” and time for “we” and “they.” Whale hunting women will play well in this new world.
Read “The Whale Hunters Story” about the Inuit whale hunt and its application to modern business. Please follow me on Twitter!