• November 1, 2013
  • By Marshall Lager, founder and managing principal, Third Idea Consulting; contributor, CRM magazine

Debunking the Lone Wolf Sales Myth

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An early draft of an article I'm writing looks at the concept of the lone wolf model of salesmanship. You know it: The salesperson has the self-image of a solitary hunter, stalking and bringing down prey to feed the hungry mouths back at the den. We've all heard this stereotype many times, and I've used it in my work as an example of what not to allow if you want true and lasting success in your customer-facing efforts. Yet it persists. Why?

I think a big part of it is that humans have an affinity for dogs. Wolves are where domestic dogs came from, and they look like really big dogs for the most part—they can even interbreed. Most dog owners have one dog, or a few at most, and those dogs don't have to work together for survival. As such, we see dogs as individuals, and dogs are just like wolves, right?

So dogs are individuals, therefore wolves are individuals. We see our own individualism reflected in our pets, and we know we can get things done by ourselves. A few twists of logic later, the lone wolf model makes sense.

The fact is a lone wolf is a dead wolf. Wolves and many other canines are pack hunters, and have evolved to work as a team. Chasing prey, turning it, and taking it down are all group efforts. Two wolves can tackle a much larger animal than one can, and wolves usually work in groups larger than two.

Now let's look at the wolf's distant cousin, the hyena. One hyena is useless as a hunter, except for stealing baby animals that wander off. Two hyenas are a match for a lioness, and three are enough to drive off an adult male lion, the heavy hitter of the pride. The lion knows that he can kill a hyena, but he will be badly injured by the other two while doing it. The hyenas know it, too, and use it to their advantage. If you want to bring it back to wolves (which, let's face it, are way more attractive than hyenas), replace the lion with a grizzly bear and you have a similar exchange.

But humans can hunt successfully by themselves, can't they? As various game hunting seasons open up in North America, we don't see a bunch of sign-up sheets for putting together teams to take down deer one at a time. One or two hunters head out into the wilderness with their rifles and shotguns to shoot their legal limit of game if they can find it.

Unlike other animals, we have advanced technology that flesh-and-bone animals can't defend against, and will kill with one good shot. But that's today.

Before we had guns, we used bows, and not the high-tech compound bows of today. They had a much lower success rate—it took a very good shot, from much closer range, to kill the target. Groups of shooters were more effective than singles. Before bows, we used spears, and hunting in teams was the only way to eat fresh meat. Humans, like wolves, evolved as pack hunters

Sales force automation, despite its promise of a coordinated effort, has typically assumed the solo salesperson as a basis and added teamwork and management functions later. CRM, on the other hand, assumes a team working for the greater good. Both can make the individual more effective, and even make teamwork a reality, but only if we realize the lone wolf is a dog that don't hunt.

Marshall Lager is the founder of social CRM advisory firm Third Idea Consulting, and would gladly hug a wolf, brown bear, or other large and dangerous mammal because they're so damn cute. Tell him how awesome that would be at marshall@3rd-idea.com, or www.twitter.com/Lager.

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