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Fly Fishing for Salmon and B2B Sales – An Analogy for Success

I thought I would share an analogy I have been working on recently. I am not a salmon fly fisherman but after chatting to one recently, I thought about how similar salmon fishing is to the sales process, especially B2B. I then read a definitive book on the subject and what struck me was how different it was to other types of river fishing and sea angling (I have done a little of the latter). It is just a bit of fun and, of course, if you are a regular salmon angler, then I am sure you can shoot holes in it pretty easily. Before we get into it, be assured I only think of returning the fish to the river once caught, so it is about the dance and not a more final outcome.

Firstly, you must choose your patch. Where are you going to fish to catch a salmon? This is analogous to selecting the right target markets whether they be vertical or geographic. As is obvious, the more you know about your market, the better you will be and the more value you will add. And that is true of the salmon fisher – the best rivers are those you know well.

Before you even cast a line into the water, do your homework. Walk the river, see where the rises are, talk to the locals and those who know. Similarly, in business selling, discuss with other vendors, other partners and those in the ecosystem. Look at how your prospect fits into its supply chain, who are your prospective customer’s customers and how they drive your prospects business.

How is the river’s current today? Is it fast or slow flowing? Is it still? Or in the business world, is the company accelerating? Is it stagnant? (Of course, it could be going backwards, which doesn’t really apply to a river – see, I said you could shoot holes in this.)

Having decided on the general patch, you need to decide where exactly you are going to stand to cast your rod. This is analogous to deciding which use case you are going to lead with, and into which department. Then you must decide which type of flies you are going to use, what feathers, what colours – what is the attraction? In our B2B world this is really your opening gambit – what is the value proposition you are looking to put to the prospect? Simon Sinek has built a career off the acute observation that it all starts with “Why”.

Salmon are not hungry when they are swimming upstream and don’t take the fly because they think it is food, unlike other fish. So, an angler needs something really special to entice the salmon. Similarly, the prospect may not actually be hungry, he or she may not know there is a solution to a problem they have. So, as the vendor, you need to pique the prospects interest to entice him or her to engage.

Catching a salmon is like a hunt, and a dance ensues. Sometimes the salmon is doing the work, sometimes the fisherman. This is like the sales cycle. Who is leading the process? Who is following? Who is calling the shots?

Knowing when to pull is an art and differentiates the successful from the average fisherman. The salmon might make a small tug but if you reel at that point you might lose him for good. This is about qualification in the B2B world. Is your prospect really interested or are they merely shooting the breeze? Knowing when to take the tension is key. Landing the salmon is a combination of guile and leveraging the environment (e.g. using the current). The fisherman is negotiating with the fish, almost certain of the outcome but also cognisant of hindrances which could derail the landing. These might be stops in the river, hidden grass clumps, banks the salmon can hole up in. If the pre-work has been done properly then the hindrances will be minimized, and the vendor will be prepared to deal with them.

Fishermen treat the salmon with deep respect. The hunt can take many hours and like a respected foe, reverence is required. The fisherman knows that the fish was almost at its breeding ground after many thousand miles swim when he shows up and ruins his day. Not something to do lightly. Whilst this isn’t exactly like a B2B sales cycle, the vendor must certainly treat the prospect with deep respect. Once “landed”, the prospect becomes a customer and must be brought on board with a proper process and treated with great customer service.

Many salmon fishers follow a “catch and release” policy, thus preserving some of the fish stock. Obviously, this is an important part of this angling analogy, otherwise there would be no more customers to sell new use cases and technologies too!

Photo: Willy George, IFFF Certified Master Casting Instructor GGACC, San Francisco CA