I was asked to present my philosophy on sales to an executive leadership team including VC investors. I had been short-listed and was invited back for one more meeting, what I was assured was the final and deciding pitch.

Gulping at the unique hurdle, I did have a few days to prepare, and I went to my list of advisors for guidance. The KLT list, I call it. Those people, trusted advisors who I know, love and trust. Generally senior business leaders, “No BS” guys I have worked for and with, who know how I think. Men and women I have travelled with and know I can call on to bail me, my kid, or a friend out of a jam. The KLT list. Who can you call at 2 am? I hope you have a list. That is a story for another day.

Here it is boiled down to four points:

  • Do the things that make you uncomfortable
  • Three types of sales managers
  • A prophet in his hometown
  • Get the EDGE

Pulling all of this together while sitting in church on Sunday, I heard the sermon about the fishes and the loaves which brought to mind this adage: “If you give a man a fish, he eats for a day, but if you teach him to fish, he eats for a lifetime” There it is:  Sales is like fishing. Stay with me, it gets interesting.

Faced with a long week and a challenging presentation, I took some time to clear my mind. Steelhead were running, so I headed up north to get my thoughts in line. During that ride, I called my friend Bill, a ballsy fellow New Yorker. He reminded me, “In order to grow, you need to do the things that make you uncomfortable… And think out of the box”.

Standing in the river, changing baits and casting away, I thought back to something I learned in Scouting’s Executive Leadership program for Adults “Wood Badge”,  “Teach me and I forget, show me and I remember, involve me and I learn.”

Time on the river, KLT chats, “think out of the box”,  and “Teach me, show me” all came into play to create a pitch deck that I used to win the deal. My philosophy on sales was taking shape.

So what did I share? What is my philosophy? Quite simply,  Sales is like fishing.  To learn, you must do. Hands-on coaching is vital, hence “Do with”. How do you teach and coach? Use the EDGE Method. Who is the best teacher? Most often an outsider, “Hire the Pro from Dover”. Finally, “Practice makes perfect.”

Where is the connection between fishing and sales? Simple. You can’t learn to fish from a book. You must do and experience. Try and fail, but keep trying. Find a good coach.

First, I started with the 3 types of sales managers: “do for”, “do to”, and “do with”. I have worked for all three types. The “do with” is the person you will learn from the most. Coaching is essential to hone your craft. More on this in a bit.

What kind of fish do you want to catch? Targeting. Describe the fish you want to catch: minnows, whales, or 3-pound rainbows?

Where does it live? Freshwater, saltwater, ocean, pond, river, or stream?

What does it eat? Research. What does it need? Motivators? Drivers?  Live bait or artificial, flies, spinners, jigs, money, prestige, recognition, or power?

Why does it bite? How do you get it to bite? The psychology of the buyer. Aggressive, protective, greedy, pain or gain, ego or embarrassment?

Do you see the parallels? If you don’t understand this, call me and I will take you fishing to teach you!

First point is research. Know your fish! Sales is like fishing. Do your homework. Know the fish, where it lives, what it eats, and why it bites.

Next is sales leadership and coaching. Learning how to fish from a seasoned coach makes it much easier.

How do you teach and coach? Scout troops and sales organizations have strong similarities. There are Troops led by nurturing, care-giving adult “leaders”, where the moms and dads do everything for the scouts, including cooking for them under the guise of teaching them… Not the ideal. Some even have a very martial and dictatorial organizational structure with adults leading and weighing in on every decision. Micromanagement for sure, which is the worst for raising self-reliant individuals. Other troops are total chaos with disengaged uninvolved drive-by parents and a revolving door of leadership and scouts. They tend to flounder and fail. Finally, some troops (I like to think mine falls into this category) have collaborative structure with engaged parents/scout leaders and senior advisors who keep themselves trained and do their best to enable the scouts. The “do with” model.

Pretty simple: teach, show, do. This is how leaders are made. The way to get your sales people better at selling is to do all three. In Scouts, we use the EDGE method: explain, demonstrate, guide, and enable.

Sales is a team sport. You need a manager (or peer) to do “ride along”, real or virtual.  Similarly, you should not fish alone because you could fall in the swamp and need someone to pull you out.

Last item: “the prophet in his own town is often considered a fool.” It makes good sense to hire the expert from afar, the “pro from Dover”, to come in and teach your team. I use: the EDGE method, heavy role play, doing the things that make them uncomfortable, and teach, show, do. Finally, your scouts/reps remember, practice makes perfect.

Call me and we can go fishing, or I can teach your team how to fish.

It will be fun. You get the idea.