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Sitting in an entrepreneur’s workshop a few weeks before lockdown, I listened intently as the speaker was sharing their story of how they got their business off the ground and into profit, having begun as a startup. The story seemed strangely familiar even though I had not met the man before. A familiar script: no one believed he would make it, he had little to no funding, he had to work long hours and face the tough and often unforgiving challenges that a startup provides… all the challenges an entrepreneur knows all too well.
I listened as the speaker recounted their story; I could hear a familiar pain in his voice. So familiar his story sounded that my mind began to drift. I had heard this story so many times before, told in varied ways, but similar nonetheless. This was not to say the speaker was not interesting or that his story did not provide any learnings. The problem is that I had heard this story before, so many times, with a similar ending. The fact is, if the speaker is sharing his story in the workshop to ‘inspire’ the audience, one must assume that his story ends with a happy ending. That the proprietor went on to beat the odds and is now a successful businessman; that his late nights and never-give-up-attitude ensured he was a success.
I felt a little guilty as my mind drifted further away from his talk. We always get to hear the outcome and result of the efforts, but rarely the actual methods used. The lapse in concentration sent my mind back a few days before this workshop, reminding me of a book I had happened to read by Chris Widener called “The Art of Influence.” This is a book I will also now forever recommend to all those that knock on my door for advice on how to run a sustainable business.
The core learning I took from Widener is how he reminds us of the difference between the words “Persuasion” and “Influence.” I have often, incorrectly, used the terms interchangeably and I know I am not alone here. Put next to each other, one will be reminded that “persuasion” requires one to change a view from one thing to another, whereas “influence” speaks to the view that someone who has not made up their mind either way is coerced to go one way or the other by a third force.
In simple terms, persuasion is convincing a vegetarian to eat meat; influence is you choosing to eat veggies because everyone else is eating them. This influence could be due to wanting to fit in for fear of being different or maybe trying to impress the boss who is a vegetarian. Sounds like semantics? Let’s hold that thought for a second and let me introduce another element into this topic by asking the question “In business, is it better to be a hunter or a fisherman?” By being a hunter, we need to be influencers; to be a fisherman we need to be persuasive if we are to get anyone to take our bait.
A hunter chases down his pray; never relenting; never taking no for an answer, and always very persuasive, taking the shot the moment the opportunity presents itself. A hunter sets out to get their pray as quickly as possible; they are a ‘go getter’ that will not take no for an answer. A hunter does not offer the pray a choice in the matter. The pray will know it is being hunted and thus will spend as much time as it can hiding and finding ways to get away from the hunter.
Sounds like a hard salesman, right? You end up blocking the number from the sales guy as they call day and night and you just don’t know how to say “I don’t what your product” for fear of hurting their feelings. This must be part of the “sales” technique for the hunter, making you feel bad to “force you to buy.”
On the other side of the spectrum is the “fisherman.” The fisherman will focus all of their attention and energy on the product and not necessarily the customer first. They believe that the better the product, then more customers will be drawn to them. Like bait on a hook, the customers will be influenced to come on their own. They will not feel threatened and they will feel like they made the choice to buy the product or not.
The hunter uses the “push” approach and the fisherman the “pull” approach. Both, if done well, will result in you, the customer, buying their product or service. The question for the entrepreneur is which is the best technique for you? Which will help you be able to tell the best motivational story at a future workshop about how you got started out?
The lesson I would share if I was asked to choose hunter or fisherman is to ask a further question “Do you do repeat business or not?” A hunter will only get one chance to get their animal; if they miss, they will never see the target again (as they will be scared for life!); if they hit, they will kill they pray. The thing about a sale is that sometimes it is not that the customer does not want the services, but rather the timing is wrong and the buyer is not ready at that point to buy. The forceful hunter may scare the customer away for good. Like the scared impala being hunted in the Kgalagadi if he has been shot at once ,he will be afraid of people for good.
I would thus prefer the chances of a fisherman who will have many more opportunities to catch a fish as long as they have good bait and are persistent. You see, the fisherman is more patient, more ready to back away to fish another day. The fish will eventually come; that is the attitude. If they are not biting today, one will change bait, technique or location and try again. The day the fish does take the bait and take the hook, it is the choice of the fish to take it, not he fisherman hooking the fish. Even if the fish should escape from the hook, it is likely that the fish will return if the bait is returned to the hook.
By offering products and services that consumers love and appreciate, we ensure they will come back without one spending valuable advertising money hunting them down or without popping up on their Facebook pages or disturbing the flow of a good series on TV with yet another advert hunting for sales. A good product or service is the foundation to any successful business in the long run. This is my learning from a career of over 25 years in marketing and communications. I have come to the conclusion that a solid product will always stand a better chance of survival than the hard sell. This is the truth about business.
So, going back to the workshop and my drifting mind. Motivational speakers will always end with a happy and cool ending. Like the successful hunter. The fisherman’s story is not always as cool, but in the long run, it will always be more likely to survive the game.