2 years ago
Back in the day when I was a fully fledged, cards in wage slave, I was actually sacked from my first job. And if the mentor in my new job hadn’t been a keen match fisherman, I might easily have been sacked from this new one as well.
Here’s what happened…
In the mid 1980’s, I got a job as a glorified salesman with a company that published training materials. I’d just been made redundant on Christmas Eve from my previous company (and if truth be told, was quite pleased about it because of the redundancy payment!) and walked straight into this new job.
Richard my new mentor already worked for the company but was just about to leave. I was to take over from him, and his very last act in the job made my life incredibly easy and probably saved me from an inglorious sacking here too.
I was employed to sell publications to companies, health authorities, charities and other large organisations. And at the time, an average order was perhaps 2,000 books. If you got an order for 5,000 you were doing well and a ten or twenty thousand order was cause to crack open the champagne. In simple terms, I’d probably need to generate 100 orders of 3,000 books or more to hit my sales targets.
So what did Richard do to make life so easy?
Well as I say, Richard was a keen match fisherman, and he knew that matches weren’t necessarily won by the competitor who simply caught the most fish. He knew that you could sit there all day pulling out one fish after another, only to be beaten by the bloke with an empty keep net who pulls a out monster fish at the last minute…
One big ‘un makes up for a lot of little ‘un’s.
Richard had figured out that there was a massive parallel here with the business we were in. Yes, the big fish were scarcer, a little more elusive, a bit harder to land and might respond to somewhat different bait – but the effort would be repaid many many times over. And so he had set the wheels in motion (or started casting lines!) for catching some of the really big fish.
Among the appointments he’d set up for me when he left, was one with The Manpower Services Commission. This was a division of the Department of Employment at the time, and had previously been off the company radar because it was assumed that it had its own in-house department dealing with what we had to offer. And at the time, I’d have happily fallen in with that line of thinking, but I didn’t get the chance, because the appointment had already been made for me by Richard.
It was my first week in the job, and I set off for the appointment with very little enthusiasm or optimism. I feared I was about to come face to face with some high powered ogre (the bloke I was seeing controlled a budget of tens of millions of pounds) who would simply laugh in my face and show me the door very quickly. But it didn’t happen that way. What I actually got was a meeting with a pleasant, normal human being who was a lot more respectful and receptive than the ‘lower ranks’ I was accustomed to seeing.
Anyway, to cut a longish story short, 3 months after that first meeting, I ended up with an order for a quarter of a million books (Don’t forget that 10,000 books was an excellent order) which wiped out most of my sales target in one fell swoop. What’s more, it was an order that was to be repeated for the following three years.
Now I’d like to be able to say that this was all down to my own clever salesmanship, but it wasn’t. The truth is that I really didn’t enjoy selling stuff face to face one little bit, and I never got very good at it. But it didn’t matter because I’d had a big fish thrust in my path who just happened to be hungry enough for my bait.
So I got away with being not very good – although I have to say that I still accepted the Salesman Of The Year Award a few months later, if not a little sheepishly to say the least.
Without that big fish, I could easily have found myself looking for a new job instead.
So what can we take from this?
Well, to stay with the fishing analogy for a while, I think most of us go through life thinking that we can only ever catch small fish. We often don’t even realise that big fish exist, and even if we do, we don’t try to catch them for fear that it will be too difficult and time consuming, or most significantly, because of a fear that they will have no interest in our bait.
We even fear that the big fish may laugh at our pathetic bait before disappearing back under the water leaving us humiliated on the riverbank. Okay, I’ve taken this analogy too far now, but you get the point!
Avoiding or ignoring the big fish is a massive mistake. Just one big fish landed makes up for an awful lot of small ones. Granted, the big fish are rarer than small ones, but once located, they aren’t necessarily any more frightening, and here’s the thing – it’s not an either/or decision either. If you have two rods you can fish for both at the same time.
So, do you know where the big fish are in your business? Do you at least have part of your marketing effort dedicated to locating, catching and landing them? Or are you content to continue working like crazy hauling in a boat load of minnows, and leaving the big prize to someone else?
These are questions which I think most business people would do well to consider. I know for myself that just recalling and writing this has provided me personally with a timely reminder.
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