At of the writing of this blog, Kevin VanDam is the winningest professional bass fisherman of all time. Known simply as “KVD,” he’s earned just over $6 million in the course of his storied career. I used to think spending the whole day fishing and getting paid to do it was just about the most perfect career imaginable. That is, until, I learned more about the cold, harsh reality of the sport. Grueling hours on very little sleep, driving hundreds of hours a week (typically in the dark of night), long days standing up flailing at the water in all kinds of weather, and sometimes working a “real job,” too, while you build up your skills. But, my time spent dreaming of and reading about waterfront glory provided me with some valuable wisdom. You see, in observing the ways of professional anglers, I learned an awful lot about being a better salesperson. So, for whatever it’s worth, here are five things I learned about sales from studying professional bass fishermen.
- Time is the most precious asset
In fishing tournaments, the amount of time each angler has to catch fish is very tightly controlled. There is a starting time and a deadline (weigh in). If you are late for weigh in, you are disqualified. In spite of almost everyone’s illusions to the contrary, time is finite. Fishermen and salespeople everywhere: ignore this truth to your peril! To maximize the amount of time spent fishing, bass boats are equipped with 300 horsepower engines that can exceed speeds of 90 mph. The idea is to not waste any time traveling from one fishing spot to the next, spending every available minute casting for bass. Professional salespeople approach their selling time in the same way. Time spent driving long distances between sales calls is a waste. Smart salespeople know how to concentrate their selling time into highly productive “pockets.” In fact, efficiency is one of their top priorities. The difference between a salesperson who makes average money and one who makes outstanding money has far more to do with efficiency and time management than it does their selling ability. Hashtag: TRUTH.
- Leave nothing to chance
The best and highest paid professionals, regardless of chosen field, know how to stack the deck in their favor. Observe, if you will, the deck of a bass boat and you’ll find an array of more than a dozen fishing rods in various weights and lengths matched with the perfect lure for each use. Even the fishing line has been carefully paired with the rod and lure to perform at an optimal level. Bass pros use a term to describe throwing the right lure at the right time in the right circumstances using the right tools: it’s called, “presentation.” Now, how ironic is that? Great sales people approach their work in a similar fashion. They never use a one-size-fits-all approach. The needs of each client is carefully considered and perfectly paired with just the right solutions. The highest paid salespeople leave nothing to chance. They stack the deck. Always.
- Preparation is the key to winning
Bass pros spend 5 days of practice for every two days of tournament time. Oh, if we could only embrace this winning formula in our sales approach! We’d find our success rates would skyrocket. Fishermen also spend countless hours studying critical success factors like water clarity, water temperature, solar-lunar tables, the contours and structures of both the lake shore and lake bottom. Likewise, professional salespeople spend time studying every facet of their territory and customer base in order to discover which accounts promise the highest results. They learn about each customer’s buying preferences and unmet needs so that, when they are in front of customers, they have exactly what they need to make the sale. Fishermen are there to please the fish, not the other way around. You might want to read that twice.
- Fish where the fish are
Professional fishermen know exactly where the big fish hang out and they spend all their time in only those locations on the lake. Yes it is true the action is much “slower” in these deep holes and the fish are far more difficult to catch. But, they stay there nevertheless because they know it will be worth their while if they persevere. These same principles apply to the world of professional selling. Stay in the deep, slow-moving water and let the amateurs cast about in the shallows, filling their nets with the small fry.
- Not all fish are equal
In bass fishing, there is a five-fish limit. The highest combined weight of the five fish in the “bag” wins the tournament. With a five-fish limit, you can be sure the fisherman will focus all of their efforts on catching only large fish. They are not interested in quantity but, rather, quality. They are constantly “culling” which is continuously replacing the smallest fish with bigger ones. Great salespeople, too, also focus only on the largest fish. Average, run-of-the-mill salespeople get their thrills by making lots of quick, small sales. It takes both discipline and courage to pass over dozens of easy-to-catch small fish and, instead, work long and hard to land the “lunkers.”
Any idiot can put a worm on a hook, toss it off a bridge and then hope and pray for some “fisherman’s luck.” But nobody earns $6 million dollars fishing without a tremendous amount of planning, practice, analysis, and sacrifice. Wherever you are in your selling game, resolve today to put in the “time on the water” to take your skills to the next level. We could all learn a thing or two from KVD.