Teach a Man to SELL Fish | Five Ways to Learn to Sell Better

There is more to the fish parable than just giving and teaching.

Teach a man to sell fish

Don’t give a man to fish or teach him how. Teach him to *sell* fish & he’ll feed the world & enjoy a variety of foods. (Tweet That)

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You know the saying:

Give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and he’ll eat for a lifetime.

But there is more to it than that.

I say:

If you only teach a man to fish, he’ll soon grow tired of fish. Eventually he might grow so sick of it, that he will no longer eat. And he will die of starvation.


Teach a man to sell fish and he’ll feed the world and enjoy a variety of foods with the profit.

Yes, teach a person to sell and they can do nearly anything. And yet, our schools teach nothing of the sort. So it’s on you and me to teach these skills to the ones we care about.

Best-selling author

I am currently reading Eric Metaxes’ biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. On the cover, I noticed something that I have seen on countless books over the years and never paid close attention to. It’s a blue circle with the words, “New York Times Best-Selling Author.”

Not “Best Author” or even “Best Book.” Best-Selling author. Don’t get me wrong, the book is phenomenal and crappy books generally don’t sell very well, but there is so much more to being a best-selling author.

I heard Metaxes speak no less than three times at various gatherings before I decided to read the book. He toured the country exhaustively selling his product.

Someone taught him how to fish (to write) but more importantly someone taught him how to sell his fish (books) so that the whole world could benefit from his work.

Get sales training

Regardless of your profession or desired profession, get sales training. Read books on sales, attend seminars, take classes. Do whatever you can to learn how to be a better salesperson. You will need it in every aspect of life.

Here are five steps to becoming a better salesperson.

1. Books

I recommend Influence by Robert Cialdini, Selling 101 by Zig Ziglar, and The Sales Bible by Jeffrey Gitomer as starters. These are a great way to get an introduction to sales without all the pressure.

2. Intra-company training

If your company has a sales department, ask if it’s possible to attend their sales training. Yes, it will be more company-specific, but you will learn a ton of general stuff along the way…and it’s free.

3. Seminars and classes

These can be intimidating and often scammy, but many will pay huge dividends in time. I recommend the Dale Carnegie training since it is less salesperson-focused and more focused on helping you be an influential person in general.

4. A sales mentor

If you are able to, find a mentor specifically to help you learn to be a better salesperson. Some one-on-one time talking about your specific sales problems will go a long way. Often, you might be able to find this personal internally at your company (i.e. the sales manager).

5. Determination

Ultimately, all the books, seminars, mentors, and training in the world is useless if you don’t make a commitment to being a salesperson. You have to dedicate your time and energy to learning and practicing, over and over. And most of all, you have to get out of your comfort zone.

With sales comes rejection. Guess what? Rejection is possible with everything in life. Trying to sell a product, idea, or service just magnifies this possibility.

Selling as a profession or as a part of your career goals can be incredibly rewarding. Trust me, there are few greater natural highs than closing a big sale. I’d rate it right up there with finishing my first half-marathon. It’s exillerating!

You must learn sales. Otherwise, you’ll end up with a pile of fish, an empty stomach, and no one to buy them.

What are you doing to become a better salesperson? Whether it’s in your job, your marriage, your parenting, or in general.

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  • But what if the man fishes so much after building a giant fleet of boats that he takes all the fish out of greed to make more money?

    Good post, Matt. I’ve studied a bit of sales, but it’s not my strongest point. Someday I’d like to find someone to help sell and market my writing.

    • Good first point Dan. That has happened over the years. It’s the same problem as treating employees like crap…eventually it comes back to bite them.

      Being a good steward of the earth always takes precedent over personal greed.

  • brentmkelly

    Matt, really love this post. My entire passion is to “empower sales professionals.” I feel it is truly the most noble industry in the world…..when done correctly. No product or service, regardless of how great it is, will have an influence if it is not sold to someone first. I am a big fan of Zig and Gitomer, but have not read “Influence.’ I will have to check that out. I will make sure to share this post as I know it will help others.

    • Definitely read Influence and his follow-up, Yes!. Both are linked on the right side in my “Recommended Reading.”

      Influence is the one book I believe every businessperson MUST read.

      Thanks for sharing Brent!

  • Let’s Grow Leaders

    Selling is such an important skill, even if you’re not in sales. Early in my career the sales VP approached me and encouraged me to go into sales. I laughed, “what? I’m in HR.” Karin you’ve got us all buying into taking time away from the field to participate in your leadership programs … getting a sales person convinced it will help (which it does) is selling.

    Later I took her advice and took a sales leadership role. Yup… that worked 😉

    • What a good dude. He was right. You were already selling.

      Ironically I was listening to Rich Dad, Poor Dad for the umpeenth time this weekend and Kiyosaki talks about how his poor dad was an intellectual and looked down on salespeople. They were beneath him. Fair enough, but they were outearning him 5-to-1.

      I’d say it worked for you, too, indeed!

  • Great post Matt. Sales is weaved into our entire lives. We can ignore that fact our become better. I pick one thing everyday that scares the crap out of me. This helps me to become a better salesman slowly but surely.

    • I love that strategy Zech. Pick one thing everyday that scares you.

  • Bill | LeadershipHeartCoaching

    Although I support 1200 Type A personalities in a commercial real estate sales environment, selling has always been something outside my comfort zone. However, your post is a great reminder why it’s important to travel outside our comfort zones to grow

    • It’s way outside my comfort zone as well. I get butterflies before every call or meeting, but they usually go well.

      I keep learning and practicing and each time it does get a little easier.

  • OK Matt you have my interest. First time reader and I will be back again.

    You offer tremendous advice in this post, thank you. I’ll be sure to check out the books you recommended. I have listened to Zig’s “See you at the Top” many times and always get value from it. And Gitomer’s focus on attitude makes me feel like I can do anything but I have yet to read “The Sales Bible”.

    Determination is the key. I can read and think and write. But without determination it is all a waste. Determination is needed in any positive goal we wish to attain. Whether it be personal or for the sake of business, we must be determined to succeed in order to do so.

    Thanks Matt, I look forward to reading “The Power of Gratitude”.

    • Hey Keith. Welcome!

      Definitely read the Sales Bible. I suggest using it as a sort of “Sales devotional.” Read one or two pages a day and then immediately apply what you’ve learned. Very similar to his other books.

      Enjoy my book. I hope that it inspires you!

    • Keith! Welcome to the blog my friend!

      You are in for a treat. All of Matt’s posts are top notch and very informative!

      Plus all of the other commenters provide unique and beneficial insight as well!

      We look forward to getting to know you better on here!

      • Thanks Mark, I appreciate the welcome! I like what I see already. Thanks again.

        • We’re building a great community here with people like @marksieverkropp:disqus @zechnewman:disqus @brentmkelly:disqus and others! You all keep me inspired.

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