Fishing with Grandpa: 7 Sales Lessons from Family Wisdom

People fishing at sunset

Picture yourself at 7, 8, maybe 9 years old. Picture a perfect summer day: blue sky, gentle breeze, the cool morning warming as the hours pass. Picture a glassy lake, a rowboat, sandwiches and milk in a cooler. See your grandpa there. And hear the conversation. Nothing too heavy it seems at first, but looking back and hearing the words again you realize how much you learned in those quiet moments – lessons about life, love, business and sales success. Yeah, Grandpa was wise indeed when he said…

Teach a man to fish…

Naturally, one of the first topics seemed to be about fishing. “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” Grandpa was really teaching you! Teaching you to be helpful and supportive, to look for and provide long-term solutions that position you as a wise and trusted sales resource.

You can catch more flies…

Somehow, when Grandpa told you about the difference between fly fishing in a Western river and fishing with worms in a Midwestern lake, he also shared this: “You can catch more flies with honey than you can with vinegar.” The lesson for the sales professional is that you should treat customers and prospects with respect. But beyond this, it also means that you should focus on your product or service – on the features, benefits and solutions it provides – instead of trashing your competition.

Take the high road

Building on the “flies with honey” lesson, Grandpa probably went on to educate you on the importance of staying focused on the positive. He knew that by “taking the high road” you can avoid getting stuck in the proverbial mud that others might sling. Simply put, keeping yourself above the dirty tactics other salespeople might use will position you as the better person with the better solution. Such an approach can even help you command a higher price for your product or service.

The man in the mirror

Why is taking the high road so important personally? Because, as Grandpa probably said, you’ve got to face the man in the mirror every day. It is certainly tempting to throw stones, to trash talk, to “mix it up” with your competition. But Grandpa knew that such negative outward approaches only yielded negative internal feelings. And once you lose your self-respect, you lose your ability to command respect – and make sales – from your prospects and customers.

March to the beat of your own drum

You probably thought Grandpa had lost his marbles when he said this one. After all, you didn’t even have a drum set. But the more you thought about it, the more you knew what he meant: be authentic and don’t be in such a hurry to “fit in.” By encouraging you to shine as an individual, he was helping you in your sales career, too. If you don’t stand apart from the competition personally and with a clearly differentiated product or service, you won’t make the sale. Period.

Mistakes are lessons in disguise

Grandpa knew that screwing up is a blessing because it gives you the foundation for learning. The lesson for the sales professional is this: when you don’t make that sale, look back at the process and see what might have gone wrong. Sometimes a sale is lost due to factors beyond your control; other times you can identify clear missteps along the way. But rather than beating yourself up and dwelling on the error, you should focus on learning and applying a better way next time. Grandpa knew that it is far better when you make a mistake to recognize it, admit it, learn from it, correct it for the next time, and repeat this process again and again.

Grow up (but never lose the kid inside)

Yes, Grandpa was obviously a grown-up. But he was still someone who still clung to the kid inside. Grandpa knew it is important to see the wonders and the opportunities in a world that sometimes seems harsh and unfair. And he knew that when you approach a sales situation with the confidence and positive outlook of an unjaded child, you spread that good attitude to your prospects or clients. Ultimately, this approach breeds trust; and people buy from people that they know, like and trust.

The Bottom Line:

When you were young you probably thought Grandpa was weird. You probably thought the words coming out of his mouth were corny and old-fashioned. Indeed, much of what he said wasn’t necessarily original; but the adages he shared with you had been passed down through the generations. They were unimpeachable truths. They were words of wisdom. And they can help guide you in your daily challenges as you strive for success in life and in sales.