Salespeople Make The Best Fly-Fishers

I didn't take up fly-fishing until I was 30 years old. The motivation to do so was to de-stress from the gruelling hours working in sales. It seemed to be the only thing that would distract from my blackberry and thoughts of winning more business. Four years later, as well as being the top sales performer for my company, I had just qualified for the national fly-fishing squad. It all seems a bit random, but actually the attributes to succeed in each are remarkably similar. All I did was apply the same mindset for selling, to fly-fishing. These are the three reasons why:

Both selling and fly-fishing success are based on probability

As much as we strive to quantify every aspect of selling, it is still a numbers game. We cast the net wide to find potential customers and filter them through the funnel to attain the most likely subscribers. Then, when competing against a similar product, we apply our best judgement to position ourselves advantageously. We leverage everything at our disposal to achieve a positive outcome, but we cannot force our prospects to say 'yes'. Somebody has to win and the victor is the person who is able to gain their customers trust.

Similarly, can we physically make a fish open its mouth and eat an artificial fly? No, but we can best position ourselves to succeed. It is the same mindset to make this the most likely outcome. First, you need to know where the fish are most likely to be (we say read the water), and decide the most effective strategy to cover every inch of river without scaring other fish (i.e. from the tail of the pool). The best fly-fishers are then able to gain the trust of the fish by selecting the most likely fly imitation and presenting it naturally (i.e. matching the hatch).

Both require rigorous preparation and a disciplined approach

Learning sales techniques: prospecting, negotiation, product presentation, closing techniques, don't typically differentiate you. They are easily understood and essential to getting the job done, but are assumptive skills. I never understood salespeople who enter a competitive pitch scenario without having over-prepared. I was always paranoid about not adding value so ensured I was crystal clear about every aspect of the positive impact my company offered. Adapting from failure and plugging the holes in your skill-sets are all essential to being a rounded sales professional, and this takes practice, continuous learning, self-reflection and discipline.

Similarly, being able to cast your fly rod in any situation, fly selection, equipment set-up, hook type, fly weight, rod length and weight, compensating for the flow of the water to best present your insect imitation, using the wind to help turn-over your fly. These are the skills of the craft that need constant practice and re-evaluation. I call these skills the "The Basics". Nobody can give you them, they take countless hours of practice.

It takes passion and understanding the nature of your subject

In a sales capacity, caring about your customers needs' and adding value to their business is at the core of sales competence. This requires engrossing yourself in their world and the challenges they face. Social media has broken the barriers to understanding this and we can use it not only to position our professional image, but also to deeply understand our clients. It is a matter of finding where they hang-out (which social platform) and using their public message to connect with them and tailor our approach accordingly. Then it is a matter of selling to them in the format of their choice.

There is a saying in fly-fishing: "Give a fish what they want to eat, not what you want them to eat". This refers to fly selection and often, as fly-fishers, we instinctively reach for our favourite fly pattern or method of presentation, when the fish clearly indicate their disinterest. If the aim is to catch as many fish as possible, then give them what they want, any way they want it. This takes understanding the minutiae of fish behaviour, or as we say, you must "think like a fish". Sound familiar sales friends?

So, what makes the difference?

In both selling and fly-fishing, when you have cracked the above, the top performers often do something differently. It is the micro adjustments to these techniques that make them stand out, win a mandate or catch 30 fish when someone else caught 1.

The two skills are not so different. If you want to learn the sales methodology that allowed me to consistently work myself to a top performer position in a variety of different roles, or understand the mindset that helped me fly-fish for my country, check out my new book "The No.1 Best Seller".

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Happy selling, or tight lines!