There are many things in life that can be metaphors for the sales process, and fishing is definitely one of them. In this article, I share 15 of the most important tips that salespeople can learn from fishing.
The jargon and terms alone have been stolen by the sales industry… phrases such as “caught a big one”, “the one that got away,” “hooked ‘em”, “took the bait”, “they’re not biting today”, etc.
Fishing, as a sport, exercises one’s mindset more than one’s body. There are several learning lessons one can acquire from the literal practice of fishing. If you don’t read beyond this paragraph, the biggest lesson that fishing can teach high-performing salespeople is to have consistent patience.
I had the opportunity to go to the Appalachian Mountains in northern Pennsylvania recently and fishing was on the list of activities with my significant other, David, and his family. Besides wanting to show that I could hang with the boys, I also wanted to reconnect with my childhood memories of fishing with my dad.
My only requirement: someone else had to bait the hook for me if worms were to be involved.
Patience And Healthy Competition
As the fishing adventure unfolded, my sales mentality kicked into high gear the moment David said, “Babe, this requires patience”.
My inside know-it-all voice was saying, “Yeah, yeah, I know. I got this.” The reality is that I suck at patience. I’m a type-A personality that can’t sit still.
And then it sunk in as I stood there with my line in the water, my eyes glued to the bobber waiting for it to sink and for something to bite. At moments, it felt like hours had passed by without movement on my line. No nibbles. No line tug. Nothing.
Meanwhile, everyone else (all men) was hooting and hollering (in my perception) as they reeled in their catches, no matter how small. Early on, this was fine. But my competitive side was rearing its head, especially after being called a “city girl”. I wanted to prove (to myself) I could catch something.
Have a Coach to Show You Where and How to Fish
The second I took my eye away from the bobber is usually when something would bite. I’d get excited and yank the line quickly to reel it in.
One of two things happened: 1) the fish got away or 2) the fish got away with my bait. The latter was the worst.
It was totally frustrating to have my bait stolen because this fish (I was convinced that it was the same one every time) was wasting my time and resources. I felt as if he was mocking me and testing my patience, or lack thereof. So I could blame the worm thief, or I could change my approach.
David, now serving as my fishing coach, baited my hook differently, wrapped a bigger worm tighter on the hook, and recommended that I pull my line in closer to where the fish appeared to be biting. The other thing he pointed out was that I needed to wait for the bobber to actually go under the water before I started reeling in the line. Ah … “hook, line, sinker” – now I understood!
Another lesson for me was that I needed to learn how to bait my own hook and not be so afraid. Plus, maybe if I had done that, I would have had more appreciation for the process because then I would have truly been getting my hands dirty.
Persevere Through Obstacles
During our time fishing, we experienced heavy rain AND sunshine. I got wet and I got hot. And I got tired.
Tired of standing on my feet for a long time, tired of casting and re-casting my line, tired of everyone else’s victories, tired of waiting for someone to re-bait my hook, and tired of the roller-coaster emotions of almost catching a fish.
“Almost” doesn’t count at the end of the day! But I didn’t quit. Nor did I sit down when David offered me a chair. Sitting would have made me complacent and not ready for the big moment. I toughed it out, knowing that my chances of catching a fish that day were slim. The probability rate was about 10%.
Don’t Get Distracted By Decoys
At one point as I stood there paying attention to my bobber, I started watching the two ducks that were in the pond. I was having this peaceful moment of waiting and noticed how calm and still these ducks were. I turned to David and said, “Those are some chill ducks.” He laughed and said, “Babe, they’re not real.”
What?! I needed to know and understand why these decoys existed. My curious nature started to kick in. I started asking questions about the ducks, like “How do they stay so still in place?” and “Are they weighted?”
Regardless of why these decoys existed (to attract other ducks), I had become distracted by them. Once again, my eyes and brain had wandered off the bobber and goal. And of course, I lost another potential catch!
Belong To A Supportive Team
David’s son decided to move his line near me, and my next declaration was, “Don’t move into my territory.” I became protective of my turf because it was evident that there were fish in that spot since I clearly kept losing them. We all laughed. I think he wanted to join in on the coaching. Earlier, from a distance, he had shouted out what I was doing wrong when trying to reel in my fish and had given me some pointers.
Our day of fishing was coming to an end because it was time to go home for dinner. Everyone had accomplished their goal of catching at least one fish, except me. Someone asked when we were leaving and David said, “Gina still needs to catch one.” My first reaction was, “Thanks, no pressure.”
Cast Your Line One More Time
As I previously mentioned, I knew the probability of my success was about 10%. The metrics proved it based on the number of times I had cast my line. But I couldn’t walk away until I cast one more time before calling it a day. It wasn’t a day of defeat, but a day of exercising my mindset muscles, improving my fishing skills, and practicing appreciation.
I could have very easily faced my discomfort of baiting my own hook, but it was something I could delegate, thus freeing me up to focus on the more impactful task at hand. I’m now ready for my next fishing expedition on water AND land!
Many of the lessons I learned through fishing, I have also experienced in sales.
Here are 15 of the most important tips that salespeople can learn from fishing:
Be consistently patient, with the mental stamina to wait out the process—Remember that winning is not easy.
Do not give up on your pipeline process or prospects to try the next shiny thing.
Don’t allow yourself to feel defeated when others appear to have more success.
Pay vigilant attention to the “bobbers” in the sales process.
Don’t let the wrong “fish” occupy your time and resources or blame them instead of finding a new place or way to prospect and negotiate– know your numbers and do not be afraid to “cut bait” when the probability of closing is slim.
Be careful with the “hook” and “bait” you are using, especially if you’re selling a service. For example, don’t spend too much time consulting for free in the discovery stage and then lose the deal.
Get a coach or mentor who can observe and guide you, and be open to encouragement and coaching instead of feeling pressured.
Be willing to get your hands dirty and do the uncomfortable activities or continue to lean on others to do it for you.
Most of the time, “tired” is a state of mind. Find ways to exercise your mindset and choose your attitude.
Build up your obstacle immunity through consistent activities. Push through and don’t take shortcuts when you get tired.
Don’t allow distractions to pull you away from your plan and goal.
Stay curious about solutions for the task at hand and not irrelevant scenarios.
Align yourself with team allies who will offer you friendly competition to inspire you, not derail you.
Appreciate what you do well in your process, note what you’re not doing well, and make changes.
When you feel like giving up, cast your line one more time, even if the odds are against you.
In Gina Trimarco’s Book of Play, you will learn the fine art of sales improv: Knowing exactly what to say and how to handle any sales situation that is thrown at you. Download her FREE guide here.
About the author
Gina Trimarco is a Master Trainer and leadership strategist who helps organizations re-humanize relationships…