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Low Hanging Fruit and Tough Times

Low Hanging Fruit and Tough Times

(This is my recent column in RainToday, which I’m reprinting here because of of its universal appeal, and because I like it a lot.)

There is a hackneyed and obnoxious phrase in the sales business called “low-hanging fruit.” The point, as I have understood it, is that you should pursue what is easily within your reach and not kill yourself trying to climb the tree.

But what if the low-hanging fruit isn’t very sweet? What if it’s inedible? What if it’s poisoned?

If No One Wanted You to Climb, There Wouldn’t Be Trees

Willy Sutton famously pointed out that he robbed banks because he knew they had money there. But he never specified that he chose banks that seemed to leave money in the lobby or placed it in the windows. In fact, one could readily infer, the banks with the most money probably had it most carefully protected and guarded.

We shall return to fruit and cabbage in due course…Here is my current point: In any economy, you should expect to do some hard work to get to the most lucrative business, the highest potential organizations, and the most promising buyers. Occasionally, an apple will fall on your head (and you may just discover gravity in the bargain) but the likelihood is that you’re going to have to do some climbing.

In olden days (as my son is fond of saying, to my irritation) you would have to scale the tree largely unaided, barking shins and breaking nails. But today, with the advent of the Internet and readily accessible information, there are many tools at our command to help us reach the top.

And the ripest, most delectable fruit is often way up top, having escaped being eaten far too early by wandering people and animals. And it’s often well within the tree, sheltered from the elements, with limited access.

So, Start Doing the Work

What you need to accomplish is breathtakingly simple: You must establish the value of your service (the need it fulfills); you must determine who, precisely, will most likely pay for that value; and then you must decide how to reach them and how to attract them to you.

It is not easy, but it is that blazingly simple.

There are always buyers if you have real value. There may be fewer buyers in tough times and those who are buying may be more particular and cautious. So what? If you’re not climbing the tree, someone else surely is.

Do your presentation skills need polishing? Is your website fascinating and of high value? Has your business acumen grown with the times? (Most people still can’t tell me what ROE means or what “sub prime” represents.) Do you have superb references and testimonials? Can you handle objections glibly? Can you circumvent gatekeepers and the entire constellation of human resource people?

At this moment, in this economy, the United States is the wealthiest and most powerful country in the history of the planet, including the Roman Empire and the conquests of Alexander the Great. It is a $14 trillion annual economy. People are buying boats, trains, skates, insurance, stocks, dating services, pet care, oil changes, coaching help, sailing lessons, and a kabillion other things.

Only You Can Leave the Field

No one is forcing you to abandon the field and leave the trees, still rich and filled with fruit up there in the tall branches: not the competition, not technology, not the economy, not globalization, not mad cow disease, not the election, not Madonna, not anything or anyone.

But if you allow yourself to believe that opportunity is limited, that others have beaten you to the goal, that your particular services can’t be adjusted and tailored to contemporary market conditions, then you will fail. You will deserve to fail because you haven’t understood your value and the crying need to help others improve through that value.

There’s a difference between saying, “Would you like to give us $5,000?” and “How would you like to help 100 students get the textbooks they need?” And there’s a difference between saying, “I’d like to see you to talk about your IT needs,” and “I’m calling to offer to improve your profitability through a strategic involvement of IT in enterprise planning.”

Stop looking for low hanging fruit. Search for ripe, attractive, and refreshing fruit that, by definition, is not going to be readily within reach.

Then start climbing.

© Alan Weiss 2008. All rights reserved.

Written by

Alan Weiss is a consultant, speaker, and author of over 60 books. His consulting firm, Summit Consulting Group, Inc., has attracted clients from over 500 leading organizations around the world.

Comments: 2

  • Mike Meikle

    August 25, 2008

    Mr. Weiss,

    Heh, looking at your post I’m in the process of hopefully adjusting my mindset to align with the points you made. I have made an intensive study of your books, as well as other leaders in the field.
    I’ve worked as a consultant for 12 years and I feel that it’s time I finally became serious.

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