Fly Fishing For Sales

Fly Fishing for Sales Sample, by Jim Ure

 Catch and Release Means
High-Ticket Sales—Again and Again.

If You Learn the Axioms of Selling Sharp Steel Hooks to Fish, You Can Sell Anything.


 All is fish that cometh to the net.
-John Heywood, Proverbs, written in 1546

 Trout laugh. I hear them laugh every time I make a mistake when casting a fly. I imagine them deep in their runs chuckling to themselves and daring me to come and get them. On the days when I am wise, they teach me how to become a better fisher. And when I make note of what happened and apply it to my business, I become a better salesman.

Laughing trout have taught me well over 40 years of fishing and sales experience. I now share with you the lessons I have learned and the mistakes I have made. Apply these lessons and you will become a Sales Superstar. If you can sell sharp steel hooks to fish, you can sell anything.

Selling requires alertness, an agile and curious mind, exceptional knowledge of your product or service, and an awareness of the subtleties of change. Over the years I sold large and costly concepts to the shrewdest businesses in the United States, from Procter and Gamble to wily Hollywood film producers.

The toughest initial sale I ever made was to a group of skeptical bankers, who, like wary old trout, waited patiently, reticently. Once hooked, the bankers gave me their business for the next 20 years.

Another customer, a tough, bottom-line lawyer and owner of a bottled water business, patiently resisted my lovely casts for his business. I kept returning, stalking him with new concepts until I watched his face brighten at an idea I had selected. It was exactly like presenting the right fly at the right moment. I had matched the proposal to his needs. I have been selling to this bottled water company for 26 years.

The Catch and Release Factor: If you want repeat sales, I say, “Never eat your customer.” Like the trout I catch on dry flies, high ticket buyers of intangibles will come back to purchase from you again and again if you maintain a light but steady touch. As the great fly fisherman Lee Wulff once said, “Trout are too valuable to eat.” And so are your customers. That is why we Catch and Release.

Your word and the service you provide are tantamount to your success in sales.

If you are selling high ticket intangibles—stocks, insurance, phone service, advertising, software, or if you are raising money for an art gallery or private school—you are selling thin air, blue sky, selling a chimera.

It is very much like selling a tiny bit of artificial fluff, feathers and sharp steel to a trout.

In fly fishing for trout there are ¬¬¬¬33 basic Axioms you can learn, every one of them applicable to selling—especially to selling high ticket, expensive items. Learn them well and become the Sales Superstar that I know is within you.

One of my first jobs was as a copy boy at a daily newspaper. I sold my way from that position to being the paper’s campus correspondent at the university I was attending; then I sold the editor on my ability to move to a staff writing job.

Newspaper reporting is exciting, but publishers realize that for most news writers the rewards are psychic, not financial. I grew frustrated working for peanuts.

The following spring, immediately after graduation from college, I moved into the business world and quickly learned that sales are the heartbeat of every business, the engine that drives all enterprise.

From the junior account assistant to the president of the company, everybody is in sales.

Certain principles apply to every kind of selling, be it selling a refrigerator, selling a private jet or a selling $50 million dollar advertising campaign. A sales representative learns that the techniques for selling one product are much like selling another product.

Investment banker? Stock broker? Non-profit institution manager? You think you’re not in sales? Wrong. If you are in any kind of business, account management or fund raising position today, you are in sales. And your high-ticket sales prospect offers special challenges:

  1. In high ticket sales the prospects are fewer and hard to reach.
  2. The sales prospect is targeted by many salesmen and women and there may be a parity between the products or services that he or she is offered.
  3. The sales prospect is jaded and hardened by sales representatives who have flailed the waters time and again, often with noisy inefficiency, perhaps even repelling the prospect and leaving the waters muddied.

Your window of opportunity is tight and narrow in high ticket sales, and you must approach it with all the stealth and strategy of a dry fly fisherman.

It was one of those long waits between casts. I watched the morning breeze spangle the green water with dancing sunlight. I held my rod under my arm, enjoying the moment.

Fly fishing is a meditative art. The rhythm of casting serves as a pump to clear my mind of everything but the moment I’m in. Now I was still, and watching. I was waiting for a large trout to rise. Then I would stalk him to make my presentation.

As I waited, an awareness came over me. I knew instinctively that it was time to begin this book. Forty years was long enough to wait to create the allegories linking fly fishing with business success.

When you get to Axiom 15 you will read how I made a sales presentation to the wrong guy. The weekend following this debacle I went fishing. While on the river I thought about my mistake and later I wrote it in a note to myself and slipped it into a file marked “Fishing for Business.”

Most of these Axioms found their way to that file over all these years. They are all based on real situations. Some of the names and situations have been changed, for obvious reasons.

Share your sales rep and fishing stories with me? I want to hear them because I love being a salesman. Both of my grandfathers were salesmen and I wish they were here today so I could compare notes. Selling is a skill you can take anywhere. Even in the toughest of times there is a job for you somewhere. Salesmen and saleswomen are practical, tough and yet always dreaming of a better future. They are the ultimate in optimism about the human condition. And salesmen and women are the most fun people I know. Send your feedback to


Axiom One: Embrace Your Business.


Surrender to the invigorating pull of the river. Be dazzled by the spangles of sunlight as the water dances on its surface. See how it parts around rocks and branches, subtly muscling from bank-to-bank. Touch your fingers to the water and taste them. Marvel at the dimpled stillness where your trout rise to feed, wary, lovely and worthy. This river of business is ever-changing, constantly renewing, forever exciting. And so is your business. Fall in love with it.

To business that we love we rise betime
And go to’t with delight.
–William Shakespeare, Antony and Cleopatra


A Forty Year Fascination with His Business

If you are like me you have doubtless fallen in love with a certain stretch of trout water. I love the Henry’s Fork of the Snake River, for instance. It contains big fish. The landscape through which it flows is absolutely beautiful. It feels right. I go there again and again. A business should have that same hold on you.

Dr. Louis R. Curtis was retiring as president and CEO of a large and successful dairy products processing and packaging company with distribution throughout Western America. I invited him to lunch.

Why have you been successful, I asked the gray haired senior? (You should ask this question to every company executive you admire).

“It’s all about falling in love with your business,” he said.

I knew that in the 1940s this company had been a small group of dairy farmers battling for their economic survival. Dr. Curtis had graduated from Cornell and had brought his passion for dairy science to this group during the Great Depression.

“These dairymen were about to go under when I arrived,” he said to me as he sipped his soup. “They were providing home milk delivery in glass bottles, using antiquated processing equipment. Worse, they didn’t have a clue about modern dairy processing.

“The board of directors asked me if I would take a look at their business. The financial statements told me they were broke. Some of the farms were already in foreclosure. I wanted more than anything in the world to take this job, but I could not jeopardize my young family.

“Before making a decision I visited with their customers. The customers made one thing very clear: Milk was just milk. Price was everything. I went into the markets and looked at the coolers with row-after-row of glass bottles of milk.

“Then it came to me. While at Cornell I had seen a company demonstrate a new way to package milk–some genius had invented a paper carton that would hold the stuff.

“I called the packaging company. I told them that if they would put their equipment in our plant at no cost to my farmers, we would put all our milk production in paper cartons.

“Then I went to the farmers and told them what I had done. If they wanted me, they would have to do as I told them, and that included converting to paper cartons. There always is resistance in any company to innovation, and someone asked what good would it do?

“It will enable our customer to buy his quart of milk for a penny less than they pay for it now,” I told them. Finally, they agreed to go ahead with the paper carton idea.

“Three years later we had an astounding 50 per cent of the market. My farmers were making money. The competition tried to stop us by pricking pin holes in our cartons to turn them into leakers, but within another five years most dairies had converted to paper cartons. Then we had to deal with a new kind of competition.

“For the next 40 years it was like this. One moment success, another moment a challenge. Every moment was exciting for me. No two days were the same.”

In today’s market, some dairies are going back to glass bottles. Recycling now gives a dairy a point of superior exclusivity in a “green-minded” culture.

If you love your business, you tend it carefully and grow it like a garden.


Axiom Two: Observe With Detachment.


Balance your excitement with the clarity that comes with perspective and detachment. Walk in the river in high water and in low water. Lift its gravels. Sift it to know what grows in it. Mark its fluctuations. Find the places where the fish hold.

The most sensitive people… are men of business and of the world, who argue from what they see and know, instead of spinning cobweb distinctions of what things ought to be.
-William Hazlitt (1778-1830), “On the Ignorance of the Learned”


Mark the Fluctuations

Fishing may be good, but keep an eye out for thunderstorms. A graphite rod attracts lightning.

You may become emotionally involved in your sales work yet you must maintain the detachment in order to provide yourself with the perspective to make good sales decisions.

You need to always be alert to the realities of the market, as was illustrated to me when I worked at Procter and Gamble in the Foods Division.

Our P&G cake mix group wanted to know the future of our business. At the time P&G’s Duncan Hines Cake mixes had become the market leader. They had developed a formula that made the finished product moister than those of the competition.

The Food Products Division at P&G was supposedly the light of the future for the marketing giant.

What would the future for cake mixes be?

“You need to keep tabs on the fluctuations in the market, not just in your product,” said Robert Kingsmith, a P&G exec as we entered the board room one morning to receive a presentation of the results of an extensive study by a well-known and highly regarded research group, Simmons.

Out came the charts as our presenter cleared his throat.

“There is good news and bad news,” said the presenter. “We found that while Procter and Gamble’s market share of cake mixes has grown, we also found that the overall market for cake mixes is shrinking. There is a trend toward lighter desserts.” He walked us through pages of charts. They clearly demonstrated a declining market.

It was on that day that P&G got the word that it might not want to stay in the cake mix business forever, and it might want to focus on other products with a greater promise of expanding markets. Eventually P&G divested itself of the Duncan Hines label, partly to allow its sales reps to focus on brands with growth potential.

Todd Floyd, Executive Vice President WW Sales and Operations in Bellevue, Washington says it so succinctly: “Become too attached to a deal and you lose sight of the fact that it may not be profitable at all. Sometimes the risk of breaking off all of your bugs shooting for that little spot under the logjam is not worth it. Walk away.