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Sell Better: Fish Where the Fish Are

Sell Better: Fish Where the Fish Are

July 25, 2019

It’s that time of year again, when so many anglers take to the water in pursuit of the wily trout, bass, walleye or whatever variety it is that keeps a fishing fanatic awake at night trying to figure out where the big one will be tomorrow. Many nimrods then go out to flog the waters and invest a lot of time, energy and often fuel to land the prize; some might add alcohol to that list. Relatively few fish end up on the table.

As a wise friend once observed, there are fishermen, and then there are catchers of fish. Some are more successful than others, and it isn’t about who has the best technology; it’s how they use the gear they have and their local knowledge. There’s a combination of art and science involved.

Does that sound at all like your sales process (minus the alcohol component perhaps…)? Many traditional sales organizations define territories at a surface level where their frontline fishers should work, covering the same waters, without the knowledge of what the underlying market structure really looks like. The team essentially trolls the same waters – a known set of the same customers, prospects or territory. They hope the same old fish are hungry or a new one happens to swim by at precisely the right time and place and luck prevails.

I’m painting an exaggeration, of course, but it’s a lousy way to fish and an even worse way to manage a sales organization. How much time does your sales team spend in unproductive waters? And how much pressure is put on them when the yield is not as good as hoped? 

Many organizations that can relate to this frustration don’t put the right talent in the boat. Or they give the seller a boat (OK, maybe a car) and when they leave the dock have no idea where they go or what they do. They also don’t give their frontline sales people the right gear in terms of market strategy and data to prospect efficiently. They are effectively told to go out and flog a certain defined body of water. It’s what they can see at the surface and know well. 

This is first and foremost a strategy and management issue. The most effective selling organizations today align the right talent to specific roles and in some cases even customer segments. They give frontline sellers detailed training in the market opportunity, the habitat and behaviors of the prospects. And then they coach the team on the best practices in how to get the prospect in the boat.

There’s a final component to this analogy. Many companies and individual sales people focus on the big fish. It’s a natural tendency to go for the large-dollar sale versus more smaller wins. If you aren’t segmenting and focusing those sales efforts, there’s a high probability that you may be fishing for a whale with a fly rod. That’s a fish story that won’t likely have a good ending. 

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