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Monday, June 11, 2007

Understanding Sales with a Metaphor

I love the Metaphor Minute newsletter from Anne Miller, author of Metaphorically Selling. Each issue comes with a short example of how to use metaphors in business and presentations. The latest issue shows how someone finally got her point across using fishing as the metaphor:

Corporate executives who cling to the old “dialing for dollars paradigm drive me crazy – especially if they want their reps to crack into corporate accounts. In today’s business environment, it doesn’t work. But for some strange reason, my repeated attempts to correct their errors in judgment falls on deaf ears. It’s like they have a total blind spot in their brain about this matter.

How can I make these idiots understand? I’d ask myself. Clearly logic wasn’t working. It took some serious thinking, but I finally figured out how to get it through their thick heads that new sales strategies were needed.

But first, a bit of background: I live in Minnesota - “Land of 10,000 Lakes.” Fishing is a hugely popular sport here, even in the dead of winter. Our hardy outdoorsmen drill holes in the ice and sit in little shacks in the middle of the lake for hours on end. If you’ve seen the Grumpy Old Men movies, you know what I mean.

The decision makers I was talking to understood fishing. So I created a metaphor that helped them understand why their salespeople were struggling. Here’s essentially what I said:

Bob, you’re telling me that you want your sales reps to reel in the big ones, right? But you also said you’re extremely frustrated by their lack of success. In fact, you’ve been unable to hire people who are capable of doing this.

(Bob nods his head, agreeing with me.)

Selling today is a lot like fishing. Every lake has its trophy fish and all the anglers are out to catch it. But my chances of catching this lunker are pretty slim if I’m not a savvy fisherman. As you know, here are so many things you need to take into account if you want to be successful:

For example, what kind of fish do you want to catch? Is it a catfish, walleye, muskie or sturgeon? Or perhaps you want to go dolphin fishing – in which case you should be on the ocean.

What about the bait? Should you be using minnows, worms, frogs or artificial lures? And what size should your bait be?

Then what about the appropriate equipment? Will you have access to a boat or not? If so, is it a canoe, yacht, bass boat or rowboat? How about your rod & reel? How thick should your line be? Will you be casting, trolling or sitting still? Do you have a depth finder?

What type of environment are you fishing in? Does your trophy fish prefer deep pools, shallow waters and lily pads or hiding under rock piles. Since we know that fish behave differently if its 80 degrees and sunny versus a frigid -10, what are the weather conditions?

Am I not right that you go through all this thinking just to try to catch a trophy fish? (He nods in agreement.)

Bob, like I said earlier, selling is a lot like fishing. You can’t expect your people to be successful reeling in the big ones if you just send them out to the lake and tell them to keep casting. It doesn’t work that way.

Bob finally got it! Why? Because I related selling to something he loved and understood.

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