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Start Publishing: 07-17-2018
How to Sell More Effectively Using a Fisherman's Perspective

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How to Sell More Effectively Using a Fisherman's Perspective
by Gerhard Vierthaler
 

Coming to Alaska in the Nineties, I quickly was hooked on fishing the abundant salmon runs of our beautiful state. Being a complete Cheechako (Alaskan term for someone new to the state, a "greenhorn."), I often came home skunked (empty-handed) the first couple of years. Amazed by the success of fellow fishermen who could barely carry their booty, I was resolved to learn the ropes - and feed the family!

 

I have come a long way since and never get home with an empty cooler anymore. (OK, I have been caught at the local fish monger after a particularly bad day) Rain or shine, you'll find me out there perfecting my technique.

 

It has been a great experience to learn from skilled Alaskans, spending long hours at the river practicing that expert cast to catch that story book fish. After mastering the basic fundamentals of stringing the rod, tying the perfect knot, 'flipping' the line across the current, bouncing a perfect pattern on the river bottom and pulling the hook at just the right time, my confidence grew.

 

Along with enhanced confidence came peace and clarity while standing in the river, scanning the water for any signs of fish moving through and 'reading' the streams subtle nuances. Having time to think while waiting for the next school of fish to move through, the thought struck me how similar successful fishing is to successful selling. The parallels between the two are numerous!

 

Here are some of the secrets for sales representatives to learn what fishermen know and live by in order to be successful on the water:

 

  • Fishing: Select Your Ideal Fishing-Hole = (Selling: Prototype Your Ideal Prospect) 

In fishing, it is critical to select a fishing spot that matches your skill level and knowledge of what lies beneath the surface. I always avoid areas with known snags (branches, rocks that catch your hook) or excessively fast moving water. I also will never go into an area that is so popular that I'll either end up combat-fishing (huge crowds of eager fishermen shoulder to shoulder) or risk getting chased away by an overzealous bear. Fishermen know exactly the type of fish they are going after and only spend time at the fishing spots that they know will be productive. 

In sales, it may seem fundamental, but in order to maximize our time and effort, we must Prototype our ideal prospects by identifying those characteristics that increase our likelihood of closing a deal. Creating a "dart board" (aka prospect or target list) of ideal prospects based on Vertical, Geography, Revenues, and Sales Cycle duration is crucial to our success as a sales person. If we know specifically who we are going to target down to this level of granularity, our likelihood of obtaining our "ideal clients" goes up dramatically. Stop wasting time on prospects outside of this focus group.  

 

  • Fishing: Plan Your Fishing Trip =  (Selling: Create a Sales Plan) 

Alaskan anglers meticulously plan their fishing trips to coincide with historical salmon run charts, and, if available, sonar counts. They have a very good idea where the fish are most likely to be, the river / tributary, using local tide tables to best determine timing. Innate knowledge of fishing regulations and a license is a must, awareness of closed waters, species allowed to target, type of lure/bait admissible and daily bag limits. Alaskan anglers also need a plan on how to process their catch; storage and transportation is huge to preserve freshness of a 60 pound king salmon. 

Just like a fisherman, sales people need to have a strategy and plan that helps them know when they are on the right course or if they are getting off track. Preparing a Pre-Engagement Outline of all steps in the sales process is one way to outline a sales cycle. Having a step by step action plan of what it will take to move a prospect from cold call to a signed contract is critical. Managing and monitoring how long it takes to complete each step will provide you with tangible metrics to use and work to shrink the sales cycle.      

  

  • Fishing: Gun For The Biggest Fish In The School =  (Selling: Stop Selling Exclusively To Low-Hanging Fruit)

It is very tempting to bag that first fish you catch. When fishing with my buddies, we have a friendly competition on who bags the biggest fish. We smile at anglers who land, club and bag that herring-sized salmon moving through. We know that the 'hogs', the biggest and strongest fish are leading the schools first moving into the river, interspersed with smaller fish. These are the fish we are after - we got families to feed. We would stand in the stream and watch as 5 to 10 anglers attacked a wave of smallish fish because they were anxious. Some caught fish and some missed their chance by getting hooked on the river bed or with their fellow fisherman. They all were now out of position and could not catch any of the bigger fish moving through. Lost opportunity.

In sales, just because a lead was given to you doesn't necessarily make it a good deal for you or your company. Sales people often feel the urge to jump on any 'low-hanging fruit' opportunity and figure that it is better to have this deal rather than no deal. In reality, if you start to chase this deal and invest time, money, resources and effort on this deal, and it doesn't fit your 'Prototype Prospect', then you may have missed out on several other great deals behind it. Be selective and know what a good deal is for you!      

 

  • Fishing: When You Feel a Strike, Lift Up Your Rod Tip and Set The Hook!  =  (Selling: When Prospects Take Action Steps, Nurture The Deal) 

There is a split second in time when a fisherman feels resistance in the rod, sets the hook and starts reeling. This is the exact moment when the fisherman needs to lift up the rod and assume the fighting stance, adjust the reel and play the fish until it can be landed.

In sales, this same moment occurs when a prospect that we have been targeting starts to take steps with us in the sales cycle and aligns their buying cycle accordingly. Examples of this can be signing an NDA (non-disclosure agreement) or LOI (Letter of Intent), taking a meeting at our location or sending us documentation we have requested as the selling party. Actions the prospect takes to show interest in buying our product or service give us the signal that they are serious buyers, hooked, and moving us forward in the sales cycle. Nurture this opportunity! Remember, you can't trust what prospects say, only what prospects do!      

 

  • Fishing: Quickly Scan Around You To Avoid Collisions  = (Selling: Always Convey Value So You Don't Lose The Deal) 

Once the fish is on the end of the line and goes ballistic, it is very important to quickly scan to the right and left to see if there is anything that could possibly interfere with you landing your catch. Other anglers, submerged trees, rocks or the fish heading into fast water. All of the above will cause the fisherman to quickly change direction or back out of the water, give or take line and adjust the brake on the reel. Or, in my experience - quickly cut the line if you see a bear chasing your fish!

In sales, these obstacles could be expected or unexpected hurdles or roadblocks in the sales cycle. Examples could be a change in decision makers or decision making process, budgetary shifts and changes, competitive pressure or timing issues. To maintain a leadership position in the course of the sale, always qualify and re-qualify the decision making criteria and always communicate your business value upfront and continually through the sales cycle to avoid losing the deal to a competitor or another line-item in the budget. Value, value, value.        

 

  • Fishing and Selling: Share Success - Everyone gets excited to hear stories of success. 

Fishermen always like to talk about the biggest fish they caught or the most unique fishing experience they have ever had. While spinning yarn comes with the territory, the audience also loves to hear stories of bravery, challenge and victory as well. 

In sales, effective storytelling and the sharing of how your other prospects and clients have achieved significant benefit from the business value you provided is an advanced sales technique that will help you close more deals. Prospects like to hear how others have become successful using your products and services and it is human nature to want to be entertained by a well delivered story. Share your successes in a way that inspires others and you will close more business!  

 

If you follow these guidelines, you will become more efficient and effective in your day to day selling duties. 

 

Gerhard Vierthaler 

 

As CEO of the Value Strategy Group, Gerhard Vierthaler works with clients worldwide in complex B2B selling environments, helping organizations focus on pain management, value creation and customer outcomes to maximize growth. 


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