What Is a Whale?

Definition & Examples of a Whale

Salespeople shake hands after closing a deal.

 Klaus Vedfelt / Getty Images

In sales, a whale is a prospect that is many times larger than your average prospect or client. Landing a whale is high risk, but it's also high reward.

Learn more about whales and the pros and cons of trying to land one.

What Is a Whale? 

A whale is a sales prospect so big that it could make a major difference to your company's business. A whale is much larger than your usual target, and the revenue it could bring in is much larger, too.

However, as with the white whale in Herman Melville's Moby Dick, the lure of landing such a prize can also distract you from easier wins.

With business-to-business (B2B) sales, a whale prospect is often a company that's far larger than your own. In business-to-consumer (B2C) sales, it might be a prospect who buys your priciest product option and does so regularly.

How a Whale Works

Closing deals with whales often takes far more time and effort than a typical sale, but that's because these deals are so much larger—a single whale can be the equivalent of a dozen other prospects. This makes whales very worthwhile to pursue despite the extra effort. You might even turn the whale into a repeat customer, making them even more valuable.

Some companies earn a huge percentage of their sales from just a few customers or clients. If you're familiar with the Pareto Principle, or the 80/20 rule, whales often work the same way. For example, a company may make roughly 80% of its sales to just 20% of its customers, who are big spenders.

The Pareto Principle states that input does not equal output: 80% of effects come from 20% of the causes.

And of course, some companies experience even greater value from their "whales"—these companies reported their top 10% of clients generated more than half of all revenue, and spent 15 times more, on average, than the bottom 90%.

To land a whale requires effort, strategy, and dedication. Use your network to secure access to the gatekeeper at the organization you're targeting, and plan on building up strong relationships with the contacts you encounter. Expect the sales process to take months and require a lot of attention on your part to diagnose problems, define solutions, and present your case.

Be sure to very carefully qualify your leads. Given the outsized effort required to close deals of this size, it's important that you're not wasting your time. Thoroughly research each prospect. Are you absolutely convinced you can help this potential client? Are you confident they have the resources to implement your product? Even at their larger size, whales should still match your ideal buyer.

Anticipate that the whale will be a harder sell. Don't skimp on personal touches, such as thank you notes.

Preparation is key. And remember, your prospect is probably being courted by a dozen of your competitors. You'll have to go the extra mile to outdo everyone else and bring the whale in as a customer. Find creative ways to be helpful in solving their problems during the process.

Advantages and Disadvantages of a Whale

  • Can greatly increase revenue

  • Can improve your company's reputation

  • Can take pressure off other areas of sales

  • Can tie up a large amount of resources

  • Not guaranteed to go through

  • May miss smaller opportunities in the meantime

Advantages Explained

  • Can greatly increase revenue: A huge client can be much more profitable than many smaller ones.
  • Can improve your company's reputation: Working with big names or enterprise companies can give your business a certain cache and lead to more clients in the future.
  • Can take pressure off other areas of sales: Landing a whale of a client can take the pressure off for a little while.

Disadvantages Explained

  • Can tie up a large amount of resources: It takes a lot of time, effort, and attention to court huge clients.
  • Not guaranteed to go through: The sales cycle is long, the stakes are high, and you likely have a lot of competition for this client's business.
  • May miss smaller opportunities: While focusing on your whale client, you may be missing out on steady stream of small clients that could create a foundation for your business.

Key Takeaways

  • A whale is a sales prospect much, much larger than your normal clients.
  • Landing a whale can take much more time, care, and attention, which is risky if you can't close the deal.
  • In many companies, 80% of their revenue comes from just 20% of their clients, so investing in courting these clients can pay off.