New Business Fish – learn some poker #1


There are some poker terms that I think agencies could learn from, particularly those with tasked with business development.

Today’s word is ‘Fish’.

It is a term to describe a poker player that is clueless, sloppy, makes silly mistakes and losses money.  It is often said that if you don’t know who the fish is around the table it is probably you.

The term fish is used because the better players are looking for a fish to reel in, to get value from. Value is another poker term that roughly translates to money. Which I will return to in another post.

The phrase I like is ‘a fish is the last thing to know it is in water.’

A fish in poker is recognisable in a few ways. They tend to call a lot instead of raising or folding. They tend to play hands they shouldn’t especially out of position. Position is important in poker and I am not going to explain it here because it may confuse rather than enlighten. Another phrase to which I will return. Position can be important in new business.

Finally stronger poker players will try to keep the fish around for as long as possible.  They will never berate the play of the fish. If anything they will say they are just being unlucky or on a bad run.  Berating them will make them leave the table rather than re-buying and carrying on – what a fish! Don’t kill the fish for God’s sake.

I am about to compare some new business and agency folk to fish – before I do it is worth noting we are all fish sometimes.  Once you know how to recognise one you may well recognise it in yourself – I see it me. Anyway stage one is recognition then move to correction mode – stop being a fish! Even great pokers will berate themselves with “I’m such a fish today.” Most often it’s because they couldn’t resist calling a bet rather than folding their hand, they just had to get involved just like a fish. Be brave call yourself a fish now and then and importantly learn from it – don’t be a fish forever.

Okay, how do recognise a new business person who is a fish?  Well, like poker players they get involved in too many pots.

They play all their hands / leads. Rather than evaluation some over others.  They don’t find out sufficient information to help them do this. Poker players do this via betting. E.g. I bet £100 my hand is better than yours – that gives out info if that person raises you then they are answering you question – I doubt it buddy. And so on.  Good poker players muck most of their starting hands unlike fish.

New Business people who are fish can’t work out where they are in the sales / buying process.  In poker you are trying  to work out if you are ahead or not. Fish can’t do that – they guess – they make assumptions because they don’t ask great / tricky questions that get to the heart of the matter.

In new business we are so lucky we can ask questions, you can do this in live poker too but people may not answer and people lie in poker nearly as much as buyers do in new business.

That is why new business folk need to get brilliant at asking question that keep buyers straight. “How did you decide to come and meet us of all the agencies in the UK?” “What went wrong with your last agency then and how do you know that will not happen to you again?” You are, like in poker, looking for a way to fold your hand so you don’t waste your agencies time and money.

You can tell a fish in new business if they tell you they have loads and loads of short-term leads or RFIs, or briefs being answered.  But hasn’t won a piece of business for ages but got close loads of times – or so they think.

Buyers are like stronger poker players they will keep fish around them because they need them for various things.  Fish can be called upon to answer briefs and get prices from.  The agency that the fish works for goes into the buyers column C and D – these columns are used for price checking and keeping procurement happy – The buyers / marketer usually just buy from column A or B.

You can tell a fish because they think it is a good thing that prospects keep coming back for more stuff or congratulation them on coming second. Don’t kill the fish!

Finally new business fish fall in to the problem solver bracket or relationship builder bracket – they don’t challenge buyers and they cost agencies money and time.

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