What has fly fishing got to do with Sales? (hint – it’s not the fish…)

We give you 7 things to do to get more B2B sales. Discover how to prepare for sales in the same way that a successful fly-fisher does to catch lots of fish

What has fly fishing got to do with Sales? (hint – it’s not the fish…)

What has fly fishing got to do with Sales? (hint – it’s not the fish…) 939 693 Visible Pathway

Author: Ian Meharg  |  Reading Time: 6-7 minutes

 Let’s talk fly fishing…

You might not have been fly-fishing before, but you’ve probably got some mental image of it. Perhaps it’s a figure in tweeds and waders casting his line into a remote river in the Highlands of Scotland?

And you’re probably wondering how this can possibly be relevant to helping you understand sales. But as the title suggests, it isn’t really about the ‘fish’. It’s more about the ‘fly’…

Sales is a lot like fly fishing. 80% preparation, 20% execution.

© Atholl Estates

Now we’ve got you “hooked” let’s explain this a little

The role of the fly in fly fishing is to imitate the real bait used in traditional fishing. A fly is used to ‘lure’ the fish into thinking it is seeing a real live meal on the water surface. Flies are, however, artificial. Each fly is created to closely resemble either local insects in different stages of their life cycles, vegetation, small reptiles. Anything really that a fish in this river eats in its diet. The point is that you need to carefully select the fly you use to convince the fish it is real.

Sales is a lot like fly fishing. 80% preparation, 20% execution.

© Mike Cline

Fish where the fish are

You want to catch a fish so there’s no point in standing on dry land. Fish need water. But not all water contains fish. And where fish are present, they might not be the ones you want to catch. If you’re fishing for say, salmon, you probably won’t find many in a man-made lake. You will need to find a mountain river or stream.

Hopefully it is becoming clear that to be successful as a fly fisherman you need to know specifically which fish you are trying to catch, where they are ‘hanging out’ and what is the most effective way to catch them. And by now it should, hopefully, be obvious where this analogy is leading.

Which is, let’s tie this into sales!

The ‘fly’ and ‘fish’ ideas translate and can be applied to selling in the business to business or B2B world.

In an increasingly competitive market, the need to accurately identify and engage your prospective buyers is more important than ever. You simply cannot afford to waste precious sales cycles and company resources chasing the wrong buyers with the wrong offer in the wrong way, (and also missing really good opportunities) and hope to survive. Which is where you can learn from the canny fly-fisher.

Let’s say you have identified a specific type of customer (your fish) who needs to have a well-defined offering (your fly) presented to him at exactly the right time and place (on the correct river bank with the fly in the right part of the river) and in a way that will make it easy for a customer to recognise and accept it (casting technique).

Preparation is key to success

Put yourself in the waders of a fisherman who has chosen to fish for wild salmon. Leaving aside the requirements around getting permits and returning the fish to the river afterward, let’s look at how they would prepare. They know:

  • What salmon prefer to eat (which differs with the seasons as the food available changes too)
  • Which part of river salmon are in when feeding and at which time of year
  • Which weather conditions are more favourable to fish and at what time of day they typically feed
  • What types of food are available at that particular time, be it an insect larvae, actual fly, piece of vegetation or something in between.

The fisherman will have constructed a number of artificial ‘flies’ specifically designed to attract salmon. All this they have done and prepared before setting a foot anywhere near the stream.

So now their skill is to select the single fly (and they may have more than 30 to choose from) they believe will entice the salmon. Next, they skilfully cast it into the river at a point and time where the salmon is likely to be.  Once they get a “bite”, they reel in the fish carefully but steadily until they can land it in their keep net.

10 people fishing, but only 1 has a bag full of fish

Notice how a large amount of the effort, around 80%, has been expended in the preparation prior to any actual fishing? This is because they invested in understanding their customer (the fish) and the customers need (to be fed) before going anywhere near the river (the market). By the time they arrive at the riverbank they are already in tune with their customers’ needs and it now comes down to the last 20%, good execution (the casting technique and landing).

Compare this to someone who wakes up, decides they are going fly fishing today, arrives at the riverbank, sees the person with a bunch of fish in their net and sets up right beside him hoping to profit from all the prep done by the other person. They select the fly that looks most attractive to them and convince themselves it is the right one to use probably because it worked for them last time they went fishing in another stream on another day.

How likely is it that they will succeed and bag a bunch of fish? I will help you out, not very, in fact not at all! Even if they are the best caster in the village, using the wrong fly will not catch them any fish. Certainly not the fish they are wanting to catch. And, so it is in sales!

How do I prepare for sales like a successful fly-fisher?

Spending valuable time and finite resources with the wrong offering, the wrong tools or the wrong approach just frustrates customers and wastes your valuable time and energy. You need to be like the canny fly fisher and start by knowing your customer better then they know themselves.

Understand their habits, their needs, their problems, their business! Think the way they do. Be open and willing to try different variations on your “fly”. Too many people in B2B sales skip this prep stage because it’s not fun, it’s not sexy, it’s too hard or time consuming. They want the quick win – which can often be a quick (or even worse a slow) loss.

7 things to get more sales

To prepare like the successful fly fisher with the bag full of fish you need to:

  • Research your market thoroughly – it is so easy these days to get real data about markets and this really helps you get onto the right path straight away
  • Listen to your existing customers – ask them how they use your product and where they got value and then shut up while they tell you, don’t guess, KNOW
  • Understand the people in your customers really well – empathise with their challenges, ambitions
  • Know what problems they have – the ones that you can help solve for them
  • Be really clear on how your product solves that problem
  • Be clear on where your product is strong in comparison to your competitors
  • Then find more businesses like them and reach out to them – using whatever means are available to you
Sales is a lot like fly fishing. 80% preparation, 20% execution.

© Jock Monteith

How do I know if I am in the right spot?

So, the next time you are wondering why your customers aren’t biting, go back to this fly-fishing analogy and ask yourself the same questions you would if you had a rod in your hand.

Fly fisher

Sales person

Do I know what type of fish I want to catch?Do I know who my ideal customer is?
Am I in the right place to catch this type of fish?Do I know where they ‘hang out’?
Do I have the right fly to attract them?Do I have the messages and information they will respond to?
Have I got another fly I can try if nothing bites?Can I adjust my message and approach to suit this customer or the next?
Is it the right time of day, month or year?Do I understand their buying needs, timing and business cycles?
Can I get the fly in front of the fish when he is hungry?Am I speaking to the right people in the customer about the right thing at the right time? If not keep casting.
If I get a bite, can I land the fish?Do I have the right skills, knowledge, and experience to close the sale having succeeded in getting initial interest? If not, who can help?

And if all of that fails, and you can’t make a sale, there is always fly-fishing…