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Whale Hunting – Proceed with Caution
Blog / For Sales Pros / May 23, 2021 / Posted by Brian Sullivan / 2221

Whale Hunting – Proceed with Caution


We’ve been talking about it for months now, haven’t we? The elusive light at the end of the COVID tunnel. Those certainly were some dark selling days in the midst of the pandemic maelstrom. Of course, challenges remain but all in all, pipelines are filling, deals are being won and most importantly, clients in need are getting real value delivered. Whether we’re in the oft-mentioned “new normal” or not, it’s heartening that many traditional selling activities are well underway after months of stagnation.

While we’ve always been excited about winning deals, the prospect of winning the “big deal” is capturing heightened focus these days. It’s selling human nature, actually. The scarcity of victories in the COVID period makes big wins much more attractive now. Yearning to make up for lost time and lost commissions is understandable. Makes sense. But as you bask in the light at the end of the tunnel, pay attention to that sign-up ahead. Proceed with caution.

The specter of a big win is certainly enticing. Tons of revenue, profit, and potential. But shifting your focus to large pursuits brings huge opportunity costs. At the end of the day, other things will be neglected. Things like your clients. Especially now, you must make sensible decisions about which opportunities to pursue. Reasons like “It’s a really big deal”, or “It’s ours to lose” prey on your post-pandemic emotions rather than your business sense. I’d love to see some research done about the percentage of “ours to lose” deals that end up lost. Especially in the post-pandemic light, the practicality of effective opportunity decision-making is huge. It’s the very definition of competitive advantage – being smart in taking actions to maximize your chances of success.

At Xerox, we used to refer to deals as breakfast, lunch, or dinner. You need them all for nourishment and of course, you can’t ignore breakfast and lunch by gorging at dinner. But most importantly, your clients need the value you deliver regardless of deal size. And deal size, like meal size, does not dictate value. It’s determined by the client. What may be a small revenue opportunity for you may deliver tremendous value to your customer. Always remember the four most important words in selling. It’s not about you.

Infatuation with pursuing big opportunities can also cause you to neglect deals where you already have an advantage and where you’ve identified a very high probability of winning – in the 80 or 90% range. Perhaps it’s an opportunity with a current account where you have valuable relationships and high confidence. Or a pursuit with a prospect organization where your solution addresses their pains perfectly. Or a deal where you’ve been recommended by a delighted current client. Your optimism is so compelling that you populate your pipeline with lofty probabilities, assured of successful outcomes. Yours to lose, perhaps?

In working with salespeople worldwide, I see that real strategies are often neglected for high-probability deals. Opportunities with 80-90% win probabilities are considered “done deals”, while focus, time, and effort are diverted to bigger opportunities. Whether your confidence in a high-percentage deal is based on a great account relationship, a perfect solution, or a strong client recommendation, you’re betting that deploying your assets elsewhere won’t affect your chances of winning. Losing “done deals” would be highly unlikely. Or would it?

High-probability deals are treasures. And they’re not about percentages at all, but about hard-earned goodwill that can be easily lost. While you’re diverting attention and resources to bigger deals, real people are on the other side of your probabilities – real clients and prospects depending on you but still weighing their options. Your high probabilities mean nothing to them. If they sense that they don’t have your focus or that you’re taking their business for granted, your real probabilities are much lower than you forecast. If you’re not giving your best, it’ll be evident. And you have competitors who are more than happy to step up. Count on it.

So, how do you strike a balance regarding opportunity sizes and high probability deals to maximize your selling effectiveness? First, follow your Go/No-Go qualification process to be certain you’re pursuing the right deals. Without practical Go/No-Go, you’re flying blind. And win probability is only one of the important qualification considerations. Regarding high probability deals, many effective selling organizations closely track their three highest percentage opportunities, regardless of size. For each, they craft customized four-step value propositions – the solution proposed, what it does, how it benefits, and how the benefit will be measured. And they identify the critical actions to maximize the chances of winning, utilizing RACI to ensure accountability. And the three opportunities are continuously refreshed. Win one and replace it with the next highest probability deal, continually working a trio of opportunities. Keen focus as opposed to dangerous neglect.

So, follow your Go/No-Go decision process. And rather than assuming them as wins, treat your opportunities with the highest probabilities as special, never neglecting them. Achieving those high probabilities took time and effort. Don’t do your organization or your client a disservice by taking your foot off the gas before you’ve reached the finish line. Focus on value and earn the right to deliver it. The benefits for you and for your client will be long-term.

About Author

Brian Sullivan is a best-selling author, consultant, and enterprise selling expert. He spent eight years at Sandler Training, developing and growing the Sandler Enterprise Selling Program on a worldwide basis. Prior to Sandler, Brian was in sales, sales management, and P&L management positions with The Capgemini Group for thirty years.

Author's Publications on Amazon

The comprehensive 6-stage selling program from Sandler Training-- "Top 20 Sales Training Company" by Selling Power Magazine Competitively pursuing large, complex accounts is perhaps the greatest challenge for selling teams. To keep treasured clients and gain new ones, you need a system to win business…
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