Business Development Insights: Gorillas in the Mist

Our customers are not animals, yet we all share some things in common. To get to know our customers we need to observe them in their own environment. It is one thing to speculate about their behaviors and it is entirely another to see it first hand. For example, when creating a proposal that introduces your products or new ideas, is it better to send it via email and hope the recipient understands the value or is it better to share it face to face in order to get immediate verbal and nonverbal feedback?

You may recall the story of Dian Fossey, a scientist who came to Africa to study the vanishing mountain gorillas and later fought to protect them. One thing Fossey understood is that regardless of her intentions unless she was trusted and accepted by the gorillas, all of her preparation, wisdom, and effort would be of little value. Sometimes our relationships with our customers can feel as if we are trying to be accepted by a gorilla, 500 pounds or otherwise.

While in the jungle, Fossey found that mimicking the actions of the gorillas assured them that she could be trusted. This, together with submissive behavior and eating of the local celery plant, she slowly was given more acceptance into their lives and families. She later attributed her success with habituating gorillas to her experiences working as an occupational therapist with autistic children; paying careful attention to the nuances of their behaviors and needs.

It seems to follow that we generally trust others that take the time to observe and demonstrate that they understand our social norms, customs, and habits. Whether animal or human, we sub-consciously process the feelings associated with like-mindedness. Perhaps this can be summarized by the cliche, “When in Rome do as the Romans”. Corollaries: 1) When in the jungle, do as the gorillas. 2) When in the marketplace, do as the customers.

It takes time and energy to adequately observe, but it will be well worth the effort when your customers trust you enough to accept your ideas and proposals.


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