What’s wrong with individual success? … A sales lesson from a big cat.

 

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I was born a Hunter. “Ian R. Hunter” if I am being literal but figuratively speaking, I have always been impatient with a farming approach, waiting for things to grow and would much rather just go out and hunt for success. I’ve also never been one for hunting in packs. I prefer to set my strategy, do it by myself and then bring something back to share with others. It has been a very successful approach for me and for the consulting companies I have worked for.

This approach however is sometimes deemed bad behavior in a team-centric organization. In the team world, everyone with revenue generating responsibilities is expected to hunt in packs. You need relationship managers, business development people, sales specialists, technology specialists, solution architects, quality assurance people, sales excellence people, governance people, public relations people, marketing people and of course with all those people involved you need managers too; sales managers, delivery managers, project managers and a project management office. It’s a big pack. It makes a lot of noise as it moves out for the hunt and your intended quarry and other hungry competitive predators can detect it from a very long distance away and worse yet can easily predict the pack’s every move.

However, after years of being told that my “team-player” attitude was sometimes lacking I finally made a very concerted effort to be a role-specific member of the pack this past year. I supported the other pack members, did my part to my best ability and all-in-all … it was not nearly as successful as it should have been. Why is that? Is there perhaps a problem with the pack model? Is it in fact synergistic or in fact does it actually result in a dilution of net sales effort?

I was recently told by one of our sales executives that we should all act more like Cheetahs. Point taken that more speed and agility are required for the hunt, but Cheetah’s have about a 50% catch ratio and also lose another 50% when they do catch their prey to bigger, stronger predators. (and apparently sometimes they are just disinterested… see below)

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So I think the Leopard may actually be a better emulation model for a consulting services sales. The leopard is almost as fast but its higher success in the wild is primarily due to its opportunistic  hunting behavior. It is also intelligent, elusive, stealthy, not very picky about what it hunts and last but not least, solitary.

Opportunistic Hunting Behavior

The leopard does not hunt by going into the wild doing a fixed search pattern looking only for unattended 1 year old antelopes. It looks for opportunity. To be successful at consulting sales do we need more people, more processes, more sales tools, more “packaged” services or do we need perhaps to just ask our clients what the opportunity is to help them? When we ask that basic question it implies that the person asking the question can do two things competently:

· Understand the problem sufficiently well to discern whether or not ( and not may be the correct answer) the consulting organization could add value to the resolution of the problem or challenge

· Understand who from the consulting organization needs to be at the table with the client to elucidate further and to craft any possible proposal that drives true value for the client.

Perhaps the best opportunities originate from client need versus a marketing program?

Intelligent

A leopard was walking the forest one day. He sees a lion heading rapidly in his direction with the obvious intention of a leopard lunch. The leopard thinks, “Boy, I’m in deep trouble now.” Then he noticed some bones on the ground close by, and immediately settles down to chew on the bones with his back to the approaching lion. Just as the lion is about to leap, the leopard exclaims loudly, “Man, that was one delicious lion. I wonder if there are any more around here?” Hearing this the lion halts his attack in mid stride, as a look of terror comes over him, and slinks away into the trees. “Whew”, says the lion. “That was close. That leopard nearly had me.” Meanwhile, a monkey who had been watching the whole scene from a nearby tree, figures he can put this knowledge to good use and trade it for protection from the lion. So, off he goes. But the leopard saw him heading after the lion with great speed, and figured that something must be up. The monkey soon catches up with the lion, spills the beans and strikes a deal for himself with the lion. The lion is furious at being made a fool of and says, “Here monkey, hop on my back and see what’s going to happen to that conniving leopard.” Now the leopard sees the lion coming with the monkey on his back, and thinks,” What am I going to do now?” But instead of running, the leopard sits down with his back to his attackers pretending he hasn’t seen them yet.
And just when they get close enough to hear, the leopard says, “Where’s that damn monkey? I just can never trust him. I sent him off half an hour ago to bring me another lion, and he’s still not back!!”
You don’t have to be the most powerful but you do have to be smart.

Elusive & Stealthy

Elusive does not imply anything sinister. Elusive simply means that you are difficult to catch. You can be faster than your competitors, you can also be more agile but the point being is that they either don’t know where you are or can’t catch up to you. Stealth again does not imply anything sinister. Stealth means that you are unobtrusive and you don’t make any more noise than is absolutely necessary. The only known natural predator of the (much larger) gorilla is the leopard and that is only possible because of the leopard’s stealth.

Two contrary examples may help explain.

You are responding to a public Request for Proposal (RFP). The process allows you to formally ask questions to the client and the questions and answers are provided to all RFP respondents.

Q: “Would you please tell us if we were to propose an upgrade to your PeopleSoft module X instead of a custom solution if it would be evaluated as compliant to section 12.4”

A: “Yes, it would be deemed compliant”

Now every other respondent knows one of your key strategies, can price it and compete or align with it.

You are engaged in selling a services contract for a competitive replacement of a new portal solution. You ensure that every user and stakeholder has a copy of your detailed business case and proposal for the solution to garner wide and deep support for your solution. However, there a people who are supporters of an upgrade to the current solution who can now provide alternate proposals and know exactly where that counter-proposal needs to be to be less costly.

You have not acted with stealth. It is important to communicate well to your client and is equally important to ensure that your client is working with you to determine what information is being communicated, to whom and when. The best rule of thumb is to take a lesson from the leopard and not make more noise than absolutely necessary.

Fast

For a pack hunt to be successful there is a lot of communication necessary between the members of the pack to keep it focused and coordinated. That takes time and consumes energy, both of which are in very finite supply. While these internal coordination activities take place, the distance between the pack and the intended quarry widens. Into that gap falls opportunity for other predators that are closer or faster, defensive maneuvers or perhaps they just become inaccessible.

A client only considers engaging a consultant when there is explicit business value in doing so and time to value realization will always be a major consideration. What we need to consider is that the time to value realization calculation does not start with the signing of a consulting contract, the calculation starts with the first pre-sales meeting with the client.

The leopard is not the fastest animal, but it is still very fast.

Not very picky

The leopard will not likely ever become an endangered species, unlike a services sales person that sells only a single narrow service to a market that may not need it today or even tomorrow… The leopard understands sustenance comes in many shapes and sizes and depending on the season being flexible in what you hunt can make the difference between vibrant health and starvation.

While it is true that the best margins in consulting are derived from providing a replicated service, specifically one where you have developed reusable IP, process and highly specific skills. It does not mean however that the client needs it. Sometimes the customer’s needs and our preferred services will align but it the overall health of consulting business depends on our ability to exploit the breadth and depth of our consulting resources experience and capabilities to provide business value for what our clients actually need today.

Solitary

When the pursuit is solitary, there is no danger of accidental collision, there is no energy tax from alliance management and there is no excuse for failure. Nothing brings a pursuit into focus better than 100% accountability to bring home dinner or else realize the hunger.

Want to increase sales? The lesson from the big cat is to be opportunistic, be smart, be stealthy, sell what the client wants to buy and don’t have more players involved in the pursuit than you really need.

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