Landing Clients: Lessons from Hunting and Fishing

I’m currently out of town on vacation with my family, and today I took my daughter fishing on the Chesapeake Bay. Our intended catch was cobia, but we had no luck in that department. Instead we ended up catching two sharks and about thirty fish of other species, and at one point my daughter even caught two fish (neither of which was cobia, unfortunately) on one line! The only member of my fishing party who had any cobia encounters was my father-in-law, who managed to hook a fairly large one (about four feet long) that escaped before he could get it into the boat.

During this outing, I found myself pondering the old comparisons of sales and marketing to hunting and fishing. Some people hold that this field should strive to resemble hunting, in which hunters stealthily track their game and then attack at just the right moment. Others hold that the sales and marketing field is better off emulating fishing, in which lures and bait are used to attract prey.

Both analogies are seriously flawed in their comparison of prospects to quarry. I doubt many clients would appreciate being compared to animals that are pursued and killed to be eaten or hung on the wall as trophies!

That said, however, I do think there’s some value in these analogies. Putting aside the goals of hunting and fishing and focusing only on their methods, we see that successful salespeople adopt elements of both approaches. “Feet on the street” salespeople, for example, identify their targets and go after them. Content marketers, on the other hand, use “bait” in the form of interesting and valuable content to draw their targets near. In this field, the most successful approaches to prospects balance the hunter’s active pursuit with the fisherman’s practice of attraction and enticement.

Perhaps the most useful lesson sales and marketing professionals can learn from hunters and fishermen, however, is the value of opportunity. Both hunters and fishermen seize—and sometimes even create—opportunities to achieve their goals. They travel to certain locations and search for (or make) conditions ideal for their tasks. Neither just stands around waiting for all the factors to fall into place—a tendency that plagues many people (regardless of profession).

As Normal Maclean pointed out in A River Runs Through It and Other Stories: “Many of us would probably be better fishermen if we did not spend so much time watching and waiting for the world to become perfect.” The best fishermen, he observed, are the ones who go out into the river, work with the conditions they have, and actively interact with the fish. Likewise, the best sales and marketing professionals are the ones who don’t just sit in their offices and wait for certain conditions but instead go out into the world and seize their opportunities—and find their clients.


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