7 Sales Skills Learned Stalking and Photographing Wildlife
Wrapped in a giant down jacket while I watch a polar bear on the frigid Arctic ice, the parallels between my wildlife photography and my sales career are, frankly, the furthest thing from my mind.
Instead, I’m focused on the moment -- capturing images of three yearling cubs, sprawled out against their watchful mother, or a curious loner, set against the backdrop of a glowing night sky. Back in the office, I’ve come to realize that the tools and tricks I use to make the perfect photograph are, in many ways, no different than what it takes to be successful in sales, especially for entrepreneurs.
As the leader of a team with dozens of salespeople and managers at a multinational company, I see the value of good sales skills for both the members of my team and the entrepreneurs they serve. Success in business, and some would argue in life, is all about good selling. What I’ve learned over years of training sales teams, however, is that sales ability doesn’t develop from just one way of selling or one discipline. It comes from the opposite: from thinking outside the box, from a willingness to explore and create, and from fearlessness.
This is why I use my experience as a wildlife photographer to train and inspire, most recently in Lake Tahoe, where I flew my entire sales team from CT Corporation for a retreat. Here are seven parallels between wildlife photography and sales.
Know how to use your tools.
You can’t tell a meerkat to stop and wait as you set up your camera and equipment. When I travel, I come prepared with the right gear that allows me to capture a sprinting jaguar or rambunctious cubs playing with their mother. And I’m always at the ready for those split seconds of beauty, knowing exactly how to take advantage of all my camera’s features and functions so I get the image that I’m after.
Salespeople and entrepreneurs aren’t juggling lenses or f-stops, but other tools, such as Salesforce or pipeline management software, are vital to their work. If you don’t understand the tools at your disposal, you’ll never uncover the opportunities that will lead to your success.
Practice, practice, practice
On a recent trip to Tanzania, my first few images of a fast-moving wildebeest were in focus. Those sharp pictures, however, didn't really capture his rapid speed. So I quickly adjusted, slowing down the shutter speed and panning to get an image that better documented the animal's movement. In the final picture, his background and nimble feet are a blur, but his head is in focus.
In that moment, those split-second adjustments were possible because I could rely on the muscle memory that I’ve developed at home, taking thousands of pictures of wild seabirds in flight at a local ecological reserve.
Practice makes perfect in sales as well. Practice your pitch, practice your presentation and ensure you know exactly what you’re selling, so that when a hurdle appears during the sales process, you have no problem clearing it.
When I travel to far-flung locations, I can’t expect the wildlife to find me. With the help of a trusted local guide, I must create the opportunities that put me within sight of these amazing creatures. In Patagonia, that meant hiking miles through mountains with 50 pounds of gear on our backs to find a prowling mountain lion, walking along a craggy ridge.
Sales requires that same level of research, preparation and hard work. You can’t just show up to a presentation and expect to sign a deal. You can’t sit back and expect a customer to come to you with money in hand. Leg work, customer visits and cold calls, even in today’s social-selling world, are still essential.
Engage in purposeful activity
In life, the only thing we can control is our schedule and our time. It’s up to us to make sure that we spend it purposefully. When I’m setting up a photo shoot, that means I research the best time of year to find the images I’m looking for - whether newborn mountain lion cubs in Patagonia or dozens of polar bears in the Arctic.
In sales, you have no control over whether the customer is ready to buy. Instead, you must decide how best to spend your time to keep the pipeline full, planning enough field time with customers to create opportunities or being prepared before you pick up the phone to make a customer call. There should be purpose behind everything you do.
Embrace your individuality
I could take every photo by the book, but it wouldn’t be interesting if we all shot pictures from exactly the same angle. Whether it’s through framing the picture or positioning the main subject, I look for ways to make my work unique.
It’s the same for sales. You can’t act like a robot. Individuality is important as you engage with a customer. It’s what sets you apart. Always look for new ways to reach clients where they are. One member of my sales team, for instance, creates podcasts to cover topics of interest for his clients.
Everybody wants to connect. Everybody wants to hear a great story. And those two things — connection and storytelling — are integral to any sale. You can’t be so focused on the deal that you forget you’re talking to people around the conference table.
So, be interesting. Find your passion. Mine just happens to take me to isolated spots around the world. CT's sales team includes the leader of a New York rock band, a Mount Rainier expedition guide, competitive athletes and painters.
To have a healthy enterprise — whether it’s launching a new business or leading a sales team — you have to have a healthy work-life balance.
So, no matter what you do, figure out what drives you and take charge. Only then will you find your way to a truly fulfilling personal life, which will, in turn, make your professional life even better.
Look and listen
It would have been easy to miss the jaguar hiding in the bushes as we floated down a murky river in Brazil. But, for one simple reason, we spotted the animal crouching along the river’s edge: We had our eyes and ears open.
That kind of awareness is important in sales, too. You need to listen to your customers and read all their verbal cues before launching into your sales pitch. Jumping to conclusions about a customer’s needs and making assumptions about what they want is a common mistake.