Elephants are enormous–and enormously powerful–animals. Upon arriving at the elephant sanctuary in Johannesburg, South Africa, I was immediately informed of the ground rules.
The first rule is to understand that the elephants that I was about to interact with we’re not tame animals. They’re not domesticated, and they aren’t “pet” elephants. These elephants have only been trained, not tamed. The training is pretty limited, and the elephants, hopefully, will someday be returned to the wild (where they belong).
The second rule is to understand the foundation on which the relationship between man and elephant is based: food.
When I arrived at the sanctuary, one big, young, male elephant was running around trying to break the fence surrounding him and three other elephants. I asked the guide what he was doing. The guide said, “He’s hungry. Elephants are always hungry.” It’s true, too. Elephants eat about 400 pounds of vegetation daily.
Here’s the rule: As long as you are giving the elephant food, you can approach and touch the elephant. But as soon as there is no more food, the relationship has ended, and you must turn and walk away. If you don’t walk away, it’s likely that the elephant will smack you with his big trunk–something you may or may not survive (and you sign a release agreeing to this potentially very serious negative outcome).
The reasons the elephant in the picture above, Kumba, is tolerating me touching her is because she is being bribed by her handlers with food. As long as there is food, we’re all good. But if the food wasn’t there, I wouldn’t likely be there either. And that’s how it goes with elephants.
As you might expect, there’s analogy to sales relationships here. As long as you are feeding your elephant what it values, you have a relationship. That value is the foundation of your relationship. No more value, no more relationship. And I would add no new value, no relationship. Once you run out of value you can expect your elephant to take it’s big, muscular trunk and smack you out of the way.
What is the foundation the relationship you have with your elephants?
How do you ensure that you continually meet their enormous demands?