On a recent family vacation, my son (11) saw people fishing in the pond at the resort. He decided he wanted to go fishing, too. While my children were having fun in the pool, I stopped by the activity desk. Fortunately, the resort offered a complete set of fishing gear: rod, reel, line, hooks, and lures.  They noted that they didn’t have bait, but that the pond was stocked pretty well with fish.

Sitting by the pond for hours without a bite would not be a good outcome. I wanted my son to have a great first fishing experience. I knew I had some time, so I quickly drove to the store. While outside the sporting goods store, I saw some experienced fishermen. I asked them what type of bait worked well for the locals. They said, “Either get live worms or spend some extra money and buy some shrimp – they love those suckers.” Wanting to have great success, I purchased a couple of pounds of shrimp (which is historically my definition of fishing).

What happened next?

I arrived back to the resort and my son had spotted the fishing gear, and was thrilled to give it a shot.  As we walked around the pond to an unoccupied fishing dock, we passed other father-son duos. I asked “How are they biting?”  The response was not encouraging: “Nothing yet.” I noticed, however, that they were using the “lures” from the activity desk.  They didn’t have the same bait we would be using.

I took out our bag of shrimp, and threaded one onto the hook. I showed my son how to cast his line.  After about 3 minutes he had a nibble. But, when we reeled in the line, all that was left was the hook. We realized that a) we let the shrimp dangle off the hook; and b) we needed to work on my son’s technique to let the fish have a little bit of line before gently reeling it in.

On the second cast, after making some adjustments, he had caught his first fish.  We reeled it in, released the fish back into the pond, and started the process over again. During the first hour, he caught five fish!  I shared the shrimp with the other fathers so they could also experience success.

What are the three lessons that apply to business?

  1. Be unpredictable: The lures provided by the resort are so predictable that even hungry fish have learned to avoid them. The same might be the case for your business. The old, tired tactics just don’t work anymore. Get creative.
  2. Cater to your market: Since we were near the coast, we learned that shrimp was the right bait. What messages are most likely to attract your clients? If your messaging is limited to telling your clients that you have smart people who really listen to them, then you need to do better. What is the equivalent of shrimp for your audience?
  3. Even the best bait needs some guidance: Recall that the first encounter needed some adjustment. By “coaching,” we were able to achieve success. Is it possible that you or your team could make better use of your bait? Do you try to reel in the deal prematurely?  How do you know when is the right time to reel in your deals?

Like many businesses, the other people on the dock just thought they had to live with poor results. Once they realized that they should use different bait, everyone enjoyed success.