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Why do so many salespeople love to fish?

“The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.” - Walt Disney

There is little doubt in my mind that if you have been in sales for any period of time you have heard the analogies or metaphors relating “prospecting” and “selling” to the sport of “fishing.” What do we say to the timid salesperson that is unable to make a cold call, “You can’t catch a fish unless you get your hook wet.” And to the salesperson that only makes one presentation per week, “The more lines you have in the water, the better chance you have to catch a fish.” And what do we say to the salesperson that always seems to be following the competition in every sales opportunity that she is working? “If you’re fishing downstream from the competition, chances are you’ll only be pulling in the ones they don’t want to keep.”

What is my favorite sales fish metaphor? That’s an easy one. “Give a person a fish and they eat for a day. Teach them to fish and they eat for a lifetime.” In an effort to add to your sales education, with this article I’d like to add to your knowledge base so you can sell for a lifetime. Fishing, much like sales, is a unique combination of art and science. The science can be taught and then developed into skills through education and practice. The art comes later as the student has mastered the required skill set and the personality of the individual begins to show in their work. For what can be accomplished in one brief article, we will focus on key ingredients every salesperson needs in their skill set to be a successful fisherman.

Prospecting Skills

Much like fishing over the past 30 years, selling has come a long way too. One of the most obvious advances in fishing today is the ability to accurately predict where the fish will be. It stands to reason that if you fish in the right place, you can have your limit (quota) before the rest of the fisherman. There is no argument that fisherman today are much more technically equipped than their counterparts 30 years ago. The knowledge and capabilities allow them to drop their hooks in water that is much more likely to produce fish. As salespeople, we need to utilize a similar thought process to prospect in those areas most likely to produce qualified leads for our product or service. Contrary to belief, prospecting is not just a numbers game. Sure it stands to reason that if you make more phone calls you will make more sales. And if you put more hooks in the water, you should logically catch more fish. The problem arises when all of your hooks are in an area of water that doesn’t have any fish. Then it doesn’t really matter how many hooks you have in the water, you’re fishing in the wrong spot.

In sales, prospecting in the right location is just as important. If you sell paint products you might have more luck working a Home Improvement Trade Show than the Bridal Extravaganza. While that example may seem a bit obvious, it doesn’t make the point any less important. Fish in the right spots if you want to increase your sales success rate.

Qualifying Skills

The unskilled fisherman will have a tendency to pull on a line every time they feel the slightest nibble. This is poor technique and will lead to tremendous wastes of time and resources. Too many times, we as salespeople, also tend to chase every little “nibble” that we get. Chasing after business that is unlikely to ever become a closed sale will not only waste your time, but the time of others that support you. As with fishing, you don’t attempt to set the hook until you know that you have a qualified bite. The same goes with selling. With a properly qualified sales opportunity you will be able to answer the following questions:

  • Does this customer have a problem that my product or service can solve?
  • Does the customer realize that there is a viable solution to their problem?
  • Does this customer have the financing to purchase my product or service?
  • Does this customer already have a strong bias towards another provider?

Before you chase after any opportunity that looks like a prospect with dollars to spend, make sure that they are properly qualified. Searching for the right “hit” will save you time and increase your success ratio in the long run.

Presentation Skills

There are fishing courses that have entire books and training courses dedicated to Presentation Skills. In fishing, the presentation of a lure done improperly will not result in a fish striking. Sales presentation skills are just as important to gaining the proper rapport and trust to move your sales opportunities closer to closure. Too often, we as salespeople prefer the ever popular response, “I think better on my feet anyway. I’m just going to wing it.” These are the words of an unskilled and lazy salesperson. If you are not willing to learn how to present and communicate properly then you are not willing to invest in your own career. Presentations should be:

  • Organized
  • Compelling
  • Concise
  • Contain a call to action

Don’t expect to “feature” your customers to death and expect them to buy. Today’s buyers are looking for more than just the latest gadget. In addition to solving their immediate problem, they want to know that the relationship that they are entering into will be worth their investment in money and time. In fishing and in sales, the way that you present yourself and your company will determine your ultimate success.

Negotiating & Closing Skills

Once you have a qualified and interested prospect, they will want to enter the negotiating phase of the relationship. This is actually good news because it means that the actual “close” will be nothing more than the next logical step after the negotiations. Relating back to the fisherman, once they have a bite it becomes extremely difficult to actually bring the fish to the boat. The fish has a tendency to pull back at awkward times, as well as make unusual turns that may pull the line into areas out of the fisherman’s control. If the fisherman pulls too hard, the line may break completely. It is a delicate balance between give and take. In sales negotiating, both salesperson and buyer can have a tendency to pull on each other in different directions. If they are not careful, the entire project can end without either one knowing what just happened. When you are negotiating with a prospect, keep in mind that you should always be looking for a “win-win” outcome.

  • Buyer Wins – Seller Loses: This will lead to the buyer asking for the same type of deal in the future. You are setting a precedent that will cause a strain on the relationship going forward.
  • Buyer Loses – Seller Wins: This leads to the buyer feeling like they just got “sold.” Everyone loves to buy but no one likes feel sold. This Relationship won’t last to the next sale.
  • Buyer Loses – Seller Loses: While this may seem impossible, it can happen when both parties have negotiated to the point that neither one of them is going to get the outcome they need.
  • Buyer Wins – Seller Wins: These outcomes should always be sought out. It is possible to have a win – win every time. As the seller, the key is to know exactly how much you can offer and in what areas for it to still be a profitable deal to make.

I’m beginning to understand why so many salespeople (including me) enjoy the sport of fishing. In the proper context, fishing can teach us lessons about how we should properly approach our careers as salespeople. All of these analogies, metaphors and stories relating sales to fishing reminds me of yet one more, “Are you gonna start fishing or just cut bait.”

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