How Business is Like Fishing…

January 1, 2022
7 min read

What follows is an excerpt from my book, “Zero Sales”. I left the majority of the content intact, but have expounded on certain areas. 

I’ve also included a video of me creating a wooden fishing lure in my wood shop. The point of this video is that in business, and lure-making, there is a required dedication to the craft. You must invest time and focus on the details to produce the right outcome.

When we train our team at Next League (@KnowWhatIsNext) on how to think about developing meaningful business relationships we start with the idea of creating value, but you need a strategic approach to finding those you can create value for. Clients typically do not just show up at your door with a checkbook.

As an avid fisherman, I’ve always been fascinated by the parallels between fishing and securing new business, but not in the way you’d expect.

It’s not about trickery.

Successful fishing, and business, is about creating the right offering and delivering it under the right conditions.

Of course, there’s one main difference between fishing and business. When you create the right value in business, both sides win. In fishing, only one side wins. Sometimes it’s the fish, and sometimes it’s the fisherman.

The parallels do, however, exist and are worth highlighting because they provide a simple illustration of what you need to consider when you are planning how you will approach growing your business, specifically; what you’ll offer, to whom you will offer it and why they may, or may not, buy it.

For those not familiar with fishing, especially saltwater fishing, there are a myriad of criteria that need to be addressed to ensure you are successful. I’m going to use saltwater fishing to highlight these dynamics because it most closely resembles business due to the aspect of tide (only very small tides exist in fresh water), which can heavily influence both fish and a buying audience.

(I believe that becoming successful at anything requires approaching it as a craft, and that details matter. Each winter I make a set of new lures for the coming season. Here’s a time lapse video of that process…)

There are four elements that must exist for you to catch fish and create value for those who need your products or services; You need to be in the right location, at the right time, during the right tide, using the right bait.

Right Location
Your target account list is the representation of the accounts you feel align with your offering, or your ideal customer. This should be a list of accounts and contacts that you can create value for, and in this example, your target account list is your “location.” Are there fish in the area you are fishing? There are some “fish” in almost every target account list, but do those fish eat what you are offering them? (Do they value what you are offering?) If not, you need to find a new place to fish.

Question: Does my target account list contain only contacts who buy the products/services I sell?

Right Time
In fishing, timing is really important. Most fish are agile, migratory animals, and they are looking for conditions they need to be successful. They must move around to live and can be found in different areas at different times of the year. They may return to predictable places under certain conditions, and as fishermen, we seek to understand those conditions and their habits as much as possible.

Fish are cold-blooded which means their surrounding environment largely regulates their body temperature. If the water begins to get too cold, they instinctively swim towards warmer water. Colder water can hold more dissolved oxygen than warm water though, so fish are faster and stronger when the water in not too warm. Where I live in the Northeast the sweet-spot for water temperature for inland predatory fish is between 50°F and 60°F. This means that spring and fall are the best times to fish.

The buyers within your target accounts are the same; they may be more receptive to discussing your offering at certain times of day or days of the week. Whether they acknowledge your offering and indicate they want or need it will often have to do with when you reach them.

At certain times of the year, many fish eat only at certain times of day. People who buy products and services are the same. The times of day, times of year, and/or days of the week you will have the most success are based on the nature of the buyer’s business. For example, if they put on events from Thursday through Sunday that run at night, early Monday mornings are likely not a good time to reach them.

Question: What times of day and/or days of the week should I have the most success with my ideal customer?

Right Tide
Most predatory saltwater fish like current (the movement of water) when they are feeding. Current pushes bait fish around, making them vulnerable, and drifts expose those bait fish to the fish to seek to make a meal of them. Both inbound and outbound tides create current as they push the water in and back out again and again.

Tides in business are the conditions or influences that create similar movement or opportunity. Retail has “markets” (back to school, holiday, etc.) and the buyers in those businesses have cycles that prepare for those influences. In some businesses, buying cycles may mean that they plan in the first two quarters of the year and execute and prepare in the second two quarters. Other tidal conditions of movement or opportunity are things like organizational change. When buyers move into new roles, they often look to “shake things up” by bringing in other staff that they trust, new partners or processes; effectively putting their “stamp on the business.”

Understanding the tides of business and how they influence your buyers can be critical for two reasons: (1) it will empower you to surface your offering under the right conditions, and (2) by illustrating that you understand their business, you increase the likelihood that buyers will identify you as a primary solutions provider.

Question: Do I understand (and am I monitoring) the “tides” of my prospect’s businesses?

Right Offering
Not all fish eat the same thing. To make things even more complicated, not all fish eat the same thing every day, and they may change their diets from one day (or year) to the next. If they eat herring one day, they may only eat squid the next.

The good news is that buyers of products and services are slightly more predictable. By analyzing the marketplace, doing research, and asking smart questions, we can design an offering that is attractive. The challenge is that even when we have established whether they “eat our bait” (buy what we offer), what we don’t know is if they need it at the moment we are offering it — which goes back to timing and tide.

Question: Do the contacts on my target account list buy all of my products and/or services? If not, which ones do they buy? How can I position what I offer in a way that creates the most value for my buyers?

Knowing what is important to your ideal customer gets you much closer to satisfying their needs, and you need to use all the data you have to understand those needs. Remember that nothing is guaranteed; think about all the elements that influence whether or not your efforts will be successful and put them into a plan to approach each buyer. You need to put in the work — sometimes success comes from simply not quitting.

As Geoffrey Chaucer said, “Time and tide wait for no man.”

By aligning an approach that connects all these elements, we give ourselves a much better chance to succeed. The more we know and the longer we fish, the more likely it is we will be successful.

Unfortunately, even when we do everything right, sometimes fish and buyers will decide to select an alternative offering (or even no offering at all, in some cases). In understanding our buying audience, what matters to them and their businesses and industries in the long term and what they seek in the short term, we give ourselves a much better chance to find a fit. If it sounds difficult, that’s because generating revenue is difficult.

In fishing, we say, “That’s why they call it ‘fishing’ not ‘catching’.”