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About Vickie Sullivan

Vickie Sullivan is internationally recognized as the top market strategist for thought leaders, professional speakers and B2B professional service firms. Specializing in brand and message strategies in crowded markets, she has helped thousands of talented people outsmart their competition since 1987.

Written by: Vickie Sullivan  |  April 01, 2011

Sales Safaris: How to Find Those Elusive Customers

Originally published for RainToday.com

Thursday, March 3: Kanha National Park, Central India

I woke up at dawn and spent six hours in an open-roof jeep, scouring the jungles for one thing: tigers. I saw a lot of deer, wild peacocks, and monkeys. All were beautiful, but I wanted to find a tiger. Why? Because they are the most powerful predator in the jungle — and the most elusive.

Many of our most profitable prospects are just like tigers. We know who they are — high-end visionary organizations with the means and the willingness to invest in our solutions — and we could easily find their main phone number or website. But the buyers in those organizations are hidden in the deep forests of assistants, committees, and purchasing departments. Before we can sell to them, we have to find them. Here are three things I learned from tracking elusive tigers in the jungles of India and how to apply those lessons in our “it’s a jungle out there” market environment.

Lesson 1: Follow the Food

Whether you are tracking tigers or prospects, timing is everything. Instead of searching in the middle of the day when the animals are resting, we left at dawn and dusk when the tigers are on the prowl for food. And instead of going to the tigers’ favorite water hole, we went first to where the deer were and we waited. Why? Tigers love to eat deer. If the white-spotted deer (their favorite item on the menu) were calmly hanging out and all of a sudden bolted, we knew tigers weren’t far behind. If things stayed too calm, we sought out another group of deer.

How to apply: industry communities and conferences are crawling with folks trying to sell to the principals. Instead, go where your clients’ favorite prospects are. Your customers will be there trying to eat. If you are active in that community, you are now a resource instead of a vendor. They will come to you, especially if you an help them with their customers.

Lesson 2: Check Out the Chatter

Because you couldn’t see far into the deep forest, sounds became more significant. The animals that tigers prey on — deer, monkeys, and birds — use distress calls as an early-warning system for the others. (The distress calls are very different from their normal chatter — you can sense the urgency.) Therefore, you could tell where the tigers were and where they were moving based on how the other animals behaved. When the jungle was quiet and comfortable, we knew tigers weren’t around. When the monkeys screeched, the wild peacocks honked, and the deer barked, we knew they had sighted the tigers and we’d move in the direction of the screams.

How to apply: on-the-ground intelligence can provide the best information about your prospects’ movements, agenda, and initiatives. And who knows them best? You guessed it: their clients. Customers of your customers know who is doing well and who isn’t. They also know what the key priorities are. Talk to them first, then use that information accordingly.

Lesson 3: Go With a Guide

Every jeep had two people: a driver and a guide. The guide was a tracker; he lives and breathes that jungle. He knows the favorite watering holes and where the tigers like to eat. He knows what’s out there — a 3-year-old female establishing her territory, and an older “mom” protecting her two cubs, etc. He knows the priorities (the tigers were more active after a rain) and even the personality (the just-independent female was bolder than her shyer brother and sister). Without this vital information, it would be too easy to get lost in the jungle. The trackers were also networked with other guides, who constantly shared the latest information about distress calls and fresh tracks. These people were vital to the experience.

How to apply: too many of us try to find customers on our own, armed only with limited information and assumptions. Join forces with someone who knows more about these buyers than you. The faster you find the customers, the faster you can market to them. Find a tracker you can trust and work together.

A Little Effort, Big Results

Crowded markets are a lot like jungles. Top-end buyers get tired of constant pitches, so they hide behind obscure bureaucratic structures and fearless gatekeepers. They are easy to miss. But if you make the effort to go to the right place at the right time — and with the right people — you can find these elusive (and profitable) opportunities. Happy hunting!

Filed Under: Experts, Market Strategy, Sales


About Vickie Sullivan

Vickie Sullivan is internationally recognized as the top market strategist for thought leaders, professional speakers and B2B professional service firms. Specializing in brand and message strategies in crowded markets, she has helped thousands of talented people outsmart their competition since 1987.