Bag the Elephant

"The elephants are waiting."

- Bag the Elephant, page 21

With Bag the Elephant, Steve Kaplan offers a detailed look into his own groundbreaking strategy of acquiring big name customers that can make or break your business. But Kaplan goes beyond telling us how to hunt these elephants, he also offers tips on leveraging the red tape of big companies to your advantage and long-term relationship management tips.

Landing a big corporation as a client can seem like a miracle for many small-to-medium sized businesses: the increased revenue and notoriety seems like it would put your company over the top. However, there are a lot of pitfalls to avoid, such as going out of your way to please your clients and in turn ruining your profitability. By following Kaplan’s advice, you’ll be able to “bag your elephant” and do so profitably.


The Big Idea

The Big Idea: The biggest takeaway from the book

Bagging an Elephant

"Elephants need you, too."
- Bag the Elephant, page 10

Many small business owners are aware of how much an “elephant” can mean for a struggling business, but they are intimidated to approach those clients and feel it is a pipe dream. The fact of the matter is that every elephant relies on smaller companies.

“Bagging an elephant,” as Kaplan calls it, is difficult, especially if it is your first elephant. It requires a certain level of tenacity and grit. Kaplan recounts making hundreds of calls on a daily basis, noting that you have to treat hunting as an important activity, no matter what else is going on.

Not only do elephants need smaller businesses, if you handle your business right and follow the instructions in Bag the Elephant, your elephant may just come to rely on you.

Insight #1

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

The Secret Life of the Elephant

"There are many things you have to do in order to pursue, capture, and hold onto your Elephant. First among these is to get your mind right."
- Bag the Elephant, page 19

One of the first secrets to landing a big client is to think like an elephant. Doing so allows you to understand your target’s motivation and predict their moves. Kaplan says you need to know four things about your elephant prey:

1. Know who does what: It is not just about who is the buyer. You also need to know who influences the buyer. Can you get a champion for your company? Is there anyone who can kill a project that you need to be worried about?
2. Know how to get on the list: Many large companies have a preferred vendor list. If so, Kaplan suggests asking what steps need to be taken to get on that list and then doing everything you can to get on the list, separating yourself from your competition in the process.
3. Know the lingo: Understanding your elephant’s language distinguishes insiders from outsiders. When selling to an elephant, it is crucial to appear as an insider. Take note of any unusual terms, nicknames, or buzzwords and their meanings.
4. Know the budget season: Kaplan distinguishes the 5 phases of the budget cycle. It is crucial to time your proposal when your elephant makes decisions relevant to your product or service.

Insight #2

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

Courting an Elephant

"Every day at my company, I’d start at the top of the list and hit the phones, attempting to call each entry until I reached the last one on the last page. Then I’d start over. There were many days when I’d make five or six attempts before actually speaking with the prospect."
- Bag the Elephant, page 60

Most small business owners understand and acknowledge the importance of obtaining an elephant, but where should we start? Kaplan lays out a step-by-step plan for “making that first solid contact:”

1. Build your prospect database: Kaplan offers a variety of interesting methods of building your prospect database, from looking on company reports of publicly traded companies for the names and titles of likely decision makers, to calling the company’s main line and ask to be connected to the director of marketing (even though you will just be connected with an assistant, you can still get the information you are after).
2. Send an introductory mailing: This short cover letter should quickly introduce yourself and your business to your prospect. It should be clean and minimal, yet show off what you can do for the company.
3. Make the first phone call: After the prospect has likely received the first mailing, follow up with a brief phone call to gather information needed for future contacts or sales calls with buyers. Prepare a script and have goals for the conversation. Let the conversation flow naturally, but keep your goals in mind.
4. Send a detailed mailing: This mailing should give the prospect detailed information about your services, customized to the needs of each prospect based on what you learned in your initial phone call. Don’t send too much at this point, as you don’t want to burden the prospect.
5. Make the second phone call: After the mailing has been received, try to set up a meeting to present your services to the prospect and deepen your relationship. At this point, if you’re not able to set a meeting with your prospect, you can try some more creative ideas and do your best to remain top of mind.


Getting just one big client can help grow your business by generating revenue and by providing you with an insider’s view of the decision making process, brainstorming sessions, and other top-level strategy meetings that shed light into how elephants really work. Bagging your first elephant is the hardest, but bagging one will help you bag your second and continue a path of sustainable growth for your business.

Remember, “virtually every huge corporation needs smaller businesses as suppliers”. Someone is going to get these contracts, why not you?

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William Zahn

ABOUT William Zahn

WHO ARE YOU? I am a marketing professor and scholar who, in addition to education, is interested in writing and consulting. I am married with our first child on the way...
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