Dolphins, Whales and Sharks

One of the challenges of professional advisors is seeking out the right clients for our talents and business model. We often get seduced into chasing the big name or the bleeding-edge project, only to shake our heads in disbelief once we’re in the midst of the work.

Try thinking of your target clients as dolphins, whales or sharks.

Dolphins are highly intelligent, social (in small groups) and nimble. When the situation warrants, dolphins will merge their pod (about 12 dolphins) with others. Dolphin clients naturally collaborate and thrive in team situations. They will seek out advisors who are adaptable, nimble and smart. They aren’t cheap, but highly value conscious.

Whales are smart, but their sheer size makes them ungainly. They don’t maneuver easily, but when they do surface it is unforgettable. Like dolphins, they travel in pods, but do not routinely join larger groups. Whale clients tend to be large, entrenched organizations. Their functional leaders often don’t collaborate outside their team. Whales gravitate to advisors with big, complex project expertise and tend to pay accordingly.

Sharks are equally maligned and celebrated (Shark Week anyone?). They can be fascinating to watch and yet turn deadly on a dime. Some are highly social and others solitary hunters. Shark clients must be engaged very deliberately. True collaboration—even if you hold the key to their success—is not in their DNA. Sharks want to win and may well sacrifice you if it buys them their end goal. Not terribly price conscious, they are drawn to advisors who can draw a straight line to their prize.

Dolphins, whales and sharks. Who is your ideal client?


  • My Monday is complete because I received Rochelle’s blog.

    This is well presented. I have read this in differing ways before; but yours is so clear and well described. It gives you a concise way to determine who you want to do business with and why.

  • Thanks Ed! I do love those dolphins….

  • Rochelle,

    Great piece! I never looked at my clients this way but I definitely can see the resemblance once I think about them. I will add that it takes different approaches to each of these species as it does to each type of client in order to interact with them. I have found that sometimes clients move in and out of the different types of examples you have here, sometimes they will be a dolphin then a shark depending on the availability of food (investments) in the water (market) during the year. 🙂


  • Thanks Darren! I like what you did with it on Twitter too.

    Your point about moving in and out of species is spot on–sometimes challenging events create sharks out of dolphins 🙂

  • I knew I liked dolphins for a reason! Thanks for another insightful look at how to look a bit more pragmatically at business opportunities!

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