Are You Losing Business When You Hunt for Customers?

image of hunter aiming a shotgun

To listen to some people, you’d think marketing were a battle or bloodsport.

Think about all the military metaphors we use — identifying a target market, launching a campaign, and using strategy and tactics to crush competitors and win that desired customer.

Even such apparently innocuous business terms as staff, officer, headquarters, division, and operations are rooted in military terminology.

And of course, no self-respecting business leader’s library is complete without a dog-eared copy of Sun Tzu’s Art of War.

Hunting metaphors also tend to appeal to salespeople out to “land” a big deal (as if it were a whale) and in “shotgun vs. rifle” theories of direct marketing.

You may have even heard salespeople say (hopefully not while they’re selling to you) that “if they don’t kill, they don’t eat.”

Now, I won’t deny that these metaphors have their uses. And let’s be honest, they can make the whole process feel a little more heroic and exciting, especially on a wet Monday morning.

But do we really want to think about our customers as “targets” — to be attacked, overpowered, and killed?

And even if that appeals to us — do our customers want to feel like prey or military conquests?

Even when it comes to other businesses who provide similar products or services, is it really the smartest approach to think of them simply as competitors — to be outflanked and defeated?

Because that’s what we’re doing, subconsciously, every time we talk about our business in the language of war or hunting.

You don’t have to be “kumbaya”

Now maybe you’re not a kumbaya marketer, and you’re more interested in turning a profit than the warm-and-fuzzies of helping your customers.

But even in that case, surely you stand a better chance of repeat business if you don’t annihilate your customers and leave their butchered corpses lying on the battlefield?

This is what’s meant by the truism that customers “don’t want to be sold to.” No one wants to feel like they’ve been harpooned and bagged.

If you’re tired of the relentlessly macho tone of business-speak, you might like this alternative metaphor, suggested by Michael LeBoeuf in his book The Perfect Business:

Business isn’t hunting, it’s gardening.

Instead of the thrill of the chase or the blood-lust of war, LeBoeuf suggests we focus on “cultivating the relationships and forming the type of work habits that lead to long-term success”.

No, it doesn’t sound as glamorous as landing a big fish or crushing your enemy underfoot. But most of the time, business isn’t like that.

It’s not about quick wins and spectacular victories; it’s about slow and steady effort.

It’s not about killing; it’s about growing

Over the past few months, LeBoeuf’s words have taken on particular resonance for me. Last year, when the arrival of kids meant we’d outgrown our cozy city flat, we moved into a house with a large garden at the back.

It’s the first time I’ve lived in a house with a garden since I was a kid myself, and the more time I spend here, the more parallels I see between taking care of the garden and taking care of business.

Now before I go any further, I should say I don’t exactly have green fingers. My contribution to the gardening is mostly limited to mowing the lawn, cutting things down, and chopping them up to put on the compost.

My wife does all the creative stuff like planting flowers and coaxing fruit and vegetables from the earth. And we have a real gardener, Sean, who helps us out every few weeks by doing the skilled work and giving us the benefit of his expertise.

But I spend a lot of time in the garden.

Unless it is raining really hard, I start each day with half an hour’s walking meditation among the trees and shrubs. When the weather’s nice I love drafting new ideas in the sunshine, and the simple gardening chores I perform are a wonderful antidote to all those hours indoors on the computer.

So here are a few leaves entrepreneurs can take out of the gardeners’ Bible:

1. You are not in control

Yesterday we discovered our prized courgettes and some of our choice tomatoes had been eaten by slugs.

It’s not the first time, and it probably won’t be the last.

When you try to grow things — or stop them growing — you’re dealing with Mother Nature, and you have to do things her way. You have to contend with the soil, climate, weeds, predators, and freaks of nature.

It’s the same in business — everything looks so neat and orderly in your business plan, but it gets a lot messier when you have to deal with customers, suppliers, competitors, taxes, and technology. Not to mention the state of the economy.

Takeaway: Stop trying to control everything, embrace uncertainty, and focus on what you can influence.

2. Expect to be disappointed (and pleasantly surprised)

When we first arrived, we were thrilled to discover fruit trees at the top of the garden.

But when summer came, the apples didn’t. The pear tree did a little better — lots of juicy-looking fruit, but they were soon covered in brown welts, and Sean told us the tree must be diseased.

Finally, the plum tree came through — but only just. We realised that worms were eating the fruit when it became ripe, so we had to pick them early and let them ripen on the windowsill. But the plum jam made the effort worthwhile. :-)

The most exciting things turned out to be the ones we’d overlooked when we first saw the garden — blackberries, tomatoes, strawberries, an amazing herb garden, and even blisteringly hot chilies.

And guess what? This year the apple tree is groaning with fruit. So our table is groaning with blackberry and apple crumble.

Chances are you’ve had similar experiences with your business — big deals have slipped through your fingers, big product launches have flopped, but little experiments and side projects have turned out to be surprisingly successful. Sometimes it’s several years before your work bears fruit.

And sometimes a few small tweaks, or a little time and patience, are all it takes to turn failures into successes.

Takeaway: Give every project 100% — but be prepared for setbacks. Be alert for what you can learn from them — especially in feedback from your customers. And look out for the shoots of new growth in the most unpromising projects and ideas.

3. Deal with the weeds

There are only two things to be done with weeds: spot them and weed them out. (Without damaging your cherished plants.)

Whatever your line of business, you will encounter weeds: unreliable suppliers, nightmare customers, unscrupulous competitors, substandard tools, scrapers, scammers, spammers, and trolls.

Takeaway: Don’t let the weeds get a foothold in your business. Spot them and stop them. But avoid overkill — it’s all too easy to overreact to a spammer or troll and inadvertently make your cherished customers feel like weeds.

4. Death is not the end

One of the features we liked most about the garden when we moved in was a huge willow tree, overhanging from next door.

Its trailing leaves were a magnificent sight, and made the perfect backdrop to our lawns and flowers.

Then one day it was condemned. Its long roots were undermining the foundations of the house next door, so it had to be cut down. For days afterwards, every time we looked up we saw a willow-shaped hole in the sky. It just felt empty.

But we gradually got used to it, and came to appreciate the extra light in the garden. And a young elderberry tree that grew up in the willow’s shade is now coming into its own.

Maybe there’s a colossus in your business environment — a company, product, industry, or even a person — that you can’t imagine living without. But one day it will be gone. And while it might feel like the end of the world, there will be an opportunity there, for someone.

Takeaway: Think the unthinkable — What if the colossus vanished? Would it leave you exposed? Would it present you with an opportunity? Will you be prepared?

5. Persist

Given all the elements lined up against gardeners, the unpredictability of the outcome, and the brute hard work required, you could hardly blame them for giving up. Yet look around and you’ll notice many thriving gardens, large and small.

Next time you enjoy the sights and sounds of a beautiful garden, take a moment to reflect on the persistence of the gardeners who made it happen. If it’s pleasant for you to enjoy, how much more rewarding must it be for them?

When you run your own business, there will be many, many days when you are tested by adversity. Maybe even a few when you are tempted to quit. Often, the difference between success and failure comes down to sheer persistence.

Takeaway: Next time you have a bad day in your business and wonder why you bother, stop and think about the goal you’re trying to reach. Supposing what you’re dealing with today is the price of success — is it a price worth paying?

If so, persist.

Over to you …

How do things change when you think of business as gardening instead of hunting or fighting?

What other useful metaphors can you think of for business?

And do you have any tips for getting rid of slugs? :-)

Let us know in the comments.

About the Author: Mark McGuinness is a coach for creative entrepreneurs. For a free 26-week creative career guide sign up for Mark’s course The Creative Pathfinder. And for bite-sized inspiration, add Mark on Google+.

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Comments

  1. “Stop trying to control everything, embrace uncertainty, and focus on what you can influence.”

    Great point! I think we as marketers are so worried about proving ROI to our clients/bosses that we get bogged down in the little details and lose sight of the big picture. There are just some things we can’t control at every turn!

  2. Slugs — beer traps, coffee grounds and eggshells are old fashioned methods. Bug Geta Snail/Slug bait by Ortho is also said to be good. You’ll find tons more non-toxic remedies if you Google it. I was born on a farm and relate to “cultivating” a business. Nice article!

  3. Very interesting perspective and timely! I can relate in just about every single way. I love the metaphor of gardening and business, I have a small garden in my backyard and everything just made sense while reading your article.

    Also, plant basil next to your tomatoes, it keeps the bugs away. Learned that from a very kind woman at a local Farmer’s Market. Those people know everything!

  4. Hey Mark,

    I’m an avid surfer and so much of what you talk about here relates to the experience of catching and riding waves

    1) You’re not in Control: If there’s anything that the ocean teaches you it’s this. AT a moments notice you can find yourself under water hanging on for dear life. You’re only option is to go with the flow. But that’s exactly the beauty of the experience. It’s never the same and completely unpredictable. Every wave is different hence the addiction.

    2) Expect to be Dissappointed and Pleasantly Surprised: The last few weeks here in Southern California have been less than stellar in terms of surf conditions. But we’ve surfed anyways because that’s what it takes. To our pleasant surprise we caught a day when it was sunny, beautiful and the water was crystal clear. I think in our business we have to be ok with the same. Anything worth doing requires the courage to fail/

    3) Weeds+ Death is not the End: I think no matter what you’re doing, you’re going to run into obstacles. But the question is whether you let them destroy you or you learn from them and move on. As they say, when one door closes another one opens. It might take a bit of time, but if you get what you want, the payoff is worth anything you have to go through

    4) Persist: I couldn’t even stand up on a surfboard the first 15 times I went out. All it took was one wave and nowI surf everyday and my whole life is driven by it. Persistence is something that really is necessary for success in any endeavor.

    So there you have it, the business and life a perspective of beach bum ;)

  5. This is just what I needed on a hectic Monday morning with things not going as I planned. Thankfully, I’ve learned that perseverance and keeping the end results in mind while negotiating the ocassional minefield are what it takes to keep you going.
    The second point, that there will be surprises and that some of them will be good, including reaping the benefits of something done a while back, should be something everyone keeps in mind – even when things are going well. Again, this was a great article for me today. Thanks, Mark!

  6. Business isn’t hunting, it’s gardening

    I think that says it all! I am an affiliate marketer and though I certianly try to sell I would say I might be closer to the Kumbaya Blogger than a hard sell kill and eat type.

    I think the best relationships are symbiotic in nature. When both parties can leave the relationship feeling they got the better of the deal, or at least got something of value then the relationship will go on. You could end up having numerous relationships with this customer then, rather than burning them on a bad product and having them curse your name for eternity. (OK, the last was a bit melodramatic, but you get the point)

  7. Hi Mark,

    Super analogy and great point overall.

    Force negates. Chase someone, that person flees. No one likes to be hunted. Not animals, not people. Hunting marketers are sales people give off a desperate vibe, one which we feel and sprint from. Calm, confident people know that persistence, connection-building and sharing value are the cornerstones of a successful marketing campaign.

    Old-skool hard charging prospecting methods might put a few bucks in your wallet but you also turn off scores of people who might have bought your product or service if you were simple patient, and took the time to build relationships with these individuals.

    The formula to successful prospecting is simple if you can persistently apply it. Meet people. Connect with people over time. Help people with your usable content and interactions. This formula is timeless. It just takes a little bit of time to reap the reward. Sow. Reap. Just like your garden.

    Thanks for sharing your insight Mark!

    RB

  8. I worked as a fundraiser in the non profit sector for nearly 15 years and while that industry has much to learn from the corporate arena (they sing kumbaya naked with megaphones), the reverse is true as well. I’ve often likened fundraising to ‘sales’, and yet, fundraisers do indeed cultivate their donors(/prospects). They ‘steward’ them and ‘invest’ them. Donor cultivation is a veritable science and there is a much longer term approach to soliciting support.

  9. awesome piece !!! Thanks Mark !!!

  10. In my niche (Real Estate), I like to say that “maintaining a website is like maintaining a house.” Once a week you have to mow the lawn and trim the hedges. If you don’t do any of things, things become over-grown and there’s not much to look at.

    If that happens, you’re going to lose site visitors to your competitors.

    Combine that thinking with each of your takeaways and I think I’m on the right track ;-)

  11. Good analogy and having more experience at gardening than marketing, I can identify.

    For slugs hand picking them in the early morning works best. We used to pay our kids 5 cents a slug to clean them up. They’d go out with a bucket of salty, soapy water and surgical gloves to pick them off the plants, and from under the fallen leaves. It was more effective than beer traps, or poison. And in a wet year they could make a good hourly rate with some diligent work.

    And the bonus is that slugs reproduce in their second year so if you can get them when they’re little your next season will be better.

    Thanks for the inspiration, Mark.

  12. The gardening metaphor is quite apt because you need to nurture your team of customers and clients rather than winning them or making a sale. This is more applicable in the services industry (in my case, for instance, content writing) where it is a repeat business that holds the true value and not one-page or two-page assignments that may give you an instant high but don’t add value to your overall business growth. If you’re hunting clients you will always be hunting and then you will always be stressed out. On the other hand, if you nurture your clients like you nurture plants in your garden, you establish long-term relationships and then one day you realize you don’t need to run helter-skelter in order to get more work.

    • I hadn’t thought about it in product v service terms, there could be something in that. I’ve got more experience as a service provider but I’d still want to be the kind of business where people want the complete set of my products, not just the odd one.

  13. Love the metaphor of growing a business like you would a garden! And as Chris said above, the best way to get rid of slugs is to squish them. That is more effective than beer traps, poison or salt.

  14. Oh my, I feel like everyone’s already said what I would say! Slugs – beer or eggshells (my mum has boxes full of ‘em – eggshells not slugs). Beer works wonders for wasps as well ;)

    I was gonna make the surfing analogy (srini got in first with that one!) – I did it this summer and it took quite a while for my old bones to get the hang but when I did it was exhilarating – sound familiar?? And there is nothing like being in the sea to reinforce the idea that “there is always another wave” – like there’s always another project or idea or something else you can do in business – so just slow down and enjoy the one you’re on.

    And hopefully I’m better at business than I am at gardening!

    Cathy

    • Yep, always another project on the horizon, land or sea…

    • Beer works for wasps as well? I don’t mind having a bunch of wasted slugs in my garden, but I imagine wasps are angry drunks. ;-) But thanks for the tip… too many wasps around my house and I’m always looking for nontoxic ways to deal with pests.

      I wonder how many people will find this article with such great advice about “growing” customers who were actually looking in search engines for ways to get rid of slugs.

      But ditto what others have said — excellent advice, Mark — and great comments!

  15. Hi Mark,

    Great post and just the inspiration I needed today. I am in the early stages of creating my own marketing communications business (since being laid off); but I am an avid gardener and have be mulling the “growing your business” analogy and how to tie my two passions together. You nailed it!

    Regarding slugs, ugh, all the suggestions posted are great – beer, organic traps, hand picking (yuck)…also try diatomaceous earth (food grade) from your local farm store. Sprinkle it around the plants – it cuts into their soft bellies.

    Thanks again for a great post!

    Candace

  16. Gardeners are patient, and I think I have to be patient as a salesperson as well. I’m laying the groundwork now for businesses who may not advertise with me until spring.

    Yes, beer is a good way to get rid of slugs, and cheap beer tends to work well. You can read about which brand of beer slugs prefer at this post:
    http://www.buffalo-niagaragardening.com/2011/08/30/garden-slugs-prefer-budweiser-to-other-american-canadian-beers/

    Thanks for this interesting article.

  17. Or you could be a safari guide and hunt (solutions) WITH your customers, stopping only to eat home-grown food from your collective garden. ;) #ThirdTribeHunting

  18. Great post Mark!
    I preach a similar philosophy.
    I hate the idea of closing a sale, it sounds like the relationship is dead before it starts.
    I preach the idea of converting a prospect into a client that goes under your care, guidance, and protection.
    Just like the philosophy and system of Duct Tape Marketing by John Jantsch.
    Keep up the great work!
    AJ

  19. Mark, love your analogy. As an organic farmer and natural health copywriter, I certainly see the connections first hand. I particularly like the point of appreciating what you may overlook.

    The other connection: Hard work and strategic work yields a good harvest. And good quality seeds, fertilizers, soil, etc. results in healthy plants. In other words, you get out of it what you put into it.

    I use a lot of analogies between farming, copywriting and marketing on my blog http://www.blog.healthymarketingideas.com

  20. he who can shovel the poop the fastest, bears the fruit the ripest!
    as a fairly avid gardener i appreciate this new way of business thinking.

    thanks for a great article!

    PS: also don’t over look the ability for each plant to not just bare fruit and veggies but seeds for the future as well.

  21. Nice analogy, Mark! And, as a point of information from this former anthropology student, did you know that among ancient hunter-gatherers, the tribe’s diet was about 80% from the gathering and only 20% from the hunting? So your garden analogy is actually much more appropriate than the fixation on hunting.

    • No, I had no idea the 80/20 rule applied to hunter-gatherers. It gets everywhere.

      And let me guess, 80% of the fireside stories were about hunting exploits, and less than 20% were about gathering trips. ;-)

  22. Where else can you get business and gardening advice all rolled into one? Now that’s value!

    I have learned lately that sometimes pruning something from my site (thank you Derek Halpern!) can open up an opportunity for something I never expected. And that’s a beautiful thing!

    As for slugs, Linda’s right, BugGeta works well. The problem is it attracts them. From at least a 50 mile radius. Yea, it’ll kill ‘em but then you are left with, well just take my word for it, it ain’t pretty!

  23. Great points conveyed with your garden analogy Mark.

    My business is built on that analogy. Cultivating good relationships is the key to future repeat business and a great reputation. Honoring customers as valued guests and encouraging them to a level of loyal advocates, they become your sales force.

    It just feels right to cultivate.

  24. Lovely piece! I feel somewhat vindicated, always secretly feeling a little overwhelmed by the ferocity of some of the language of marketing. And driven off by certain types of aggressive selling, yes indeed. I am a firm believer that one of the biggest things to share on a website – is bringing as much of your real self to the marketing process as possible. Starting there. Which is not to say cloying, touchy feeling over-sincerity – but rather stepping away from some of the formulas and simply offering – who you are and what you’ve got. I go for the idea of attracting – as powerfully as…attacking one’s target market. In some ways, it takes just as much skill if not more. It is important to get them to your product, but how do you keep them? That is where the gardening metaphor gets very cool…

    Very fine writing – and thinking! Thank you…

  25. “Oh, please…that’s completely lame,” was my first thought, almost strong enough to stop my reading. But as I kept reading, I thought about what it means to have a garden & the role a gardener plays in the whole thing. A garden is for providing the gardener (me) with great fresh food (no one can argue that, right?). But I dug a little deeper and thought through the fact that in order for a garden to provide me with tasty, fresh, and great food the plants have to be cared for. A gardeners plants have to be the healthiest & most well grown plants, because the health of those plants directly effects how large & well stocked the harvest is delivered.

    While it doesn’t sound so heroic in any way, business is much like growing a garden in the fact that if my customers are the healthiest & most well cared for people I walk away with the largest & greatest stocked profit. I really do have to work constantly to deliver to my customers the solutions they need to be strong & cared for in their own business in much the same way a gardener much deliver water, nutrients, and care for his plants.

    Still, the analogy is completely lame. Perhaps it’s one I’ll secretly remind myself with or forget after I hit “Post Comment”. Either way I agree 100%.

    • “almost strong enough to stop my reading”

      Excellent! I pushed it just far enough. ;-)

      No, it’s not so heroic. I doubt there will ever be ‘garden movies’ to rival the (ahem) legions of war movies… but sometimes truth is a little more mundane than fiction.

  26. Great article, people are definitely wise to being sold to these days, especially in the world of Social Media. You cannot take the harsh approach with Social Media as people do not have any patience for companies who try this. ‘Cultivating’ relationships via this channel is massively important for receiving quality, long term customers.

    • Yep, word gets round pretty quick if you unleash the dogs of war on Google+. ;-)

      • I’m pretty new to Google+ and haven’t really used it too much for cultivating relationships with clients. I have got quite a few clients via Twitter, Facebook and Forums (the original Social media platform).

        I always find these clients to be “better clients” after building a relationship and providing some free advice to them over social media first.

        :)

  27. If business is war, then your competitors are the enemy. Strategists get this. You say, it isn’t war, but get into a competitive bid and play friends. Please do. I personally look forward to beating you.

    • Jeff, Does it need to be so negative? How about if you play your game and I’ll play my game and we can both win? Afterall, winning, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.

    • Even assuming every competitor situation is zero-sum, which I don’t, you can still choose your metaphor. You could call it war, you could call it racquetball.

    • No question there’s a competitive intensity to the game. It’s a Darwinian world where the fittest and most adaptable thrive. But wouldn’t you agree the REAL competition is in the prospects mind? Why should they buy at all, and if they are willing to buy, why should they buy from you?

      Hunting is tactical, gardening is strategic. Both can put dinner on your table, but there’s a difference in sustainability. That’s why hunters are going hungry these days.

      Hunter-style sales has it’s place. The appliance section over at Best Buy for example. I don’t need a deep relationship with a salesperson to purchase my next gadget.

      Gardener-style sales requires more time and effort. It’s about earning the trust and attention for a consultative sales approach. It’s about attending to the needs of the prospect and reaping mutual benefit from that.

      I think the market demands what metaphor you choose. My particular business requires a gardener-style approach, so a gardener I must be.

      • That’s why I hate buying at Best Buy, I feel like prey. :)

        You make a great point — your “competitor” is not always a competitor. Often the most dangerous competition is the option for the prospect to do nothing at all.

      • Yes, I guess that’s why Ries and Trout subtitled their book on Positioning ‘the battle for your mind’.

        And I agree, your approach (some like to call it a strategy ;-) ) needs to be appropriate to your circumstances.

    • There’s a time and a place for head-to-head competition.

      But smart strategists don’t use the same strategy every time, in every place.

  28. I have to say this is one of my favorite Copyblogger posts! This past summer I started an urban garden and can completely relate to the nurturing gardening requires and the unexpected elements you encounter along the way. I prefer likening business to gardening vs. likening it to war. The way things are falling down around us leads me to believe that human perception needs to change and that change starts with the ways we relate one thing to another.

    Thanks Mark for making this beautiful connection!

  29. I think this is the first time I’ve ever commented at Copyblogger, but I wanted to let you know that I appreciated your development of this metaphor. It is, of course, a lot nicer than a military metaphor, but it also has a spiritual bent to it. My favorite part was the part about death. I hope people will learn to address their fear of death.

  30. Uisng the gardening analogy rather than a hunting one does rhyme more with me, thanks for writing the article.

    I suppose you could liken the weather to the economic climate. When the economy is booming( sun shining), things are easier. When it is slack (rain or cold), you have to adapt/expect a bit less.

    Steve

    PS I surround plants with ash from the wood bruner to keep the slugs away.

  31. Hi Mark, really enjoyed this piece and the comments too!
    I’d like to add that I think gardening (and good business) is a kind of ‘sharing’ . Gardeners create things that look beautiful, smell beautiful, taste beautiful – but not just for themselves. In fact, it’s all a bit wasted if it’s just for yourself! Like anyone who ever wrote music or cooked delicious food – it’s just not so satisfying if it’s solely for personal consumption.
    Personally, I consider that I ‘share’ my business and products with my customers. I look for their positive feedback and enjoyment, and would be truly disappointed with anything less. (It probably helps that I set out to create products that look, smell, feel fantastic to begin with)
    And, of course, sharing comes from generosity – the more you give out, the more you get back. Hopefully, that means the more you give to customers (good experience, value, quality etc) the more of them come back or bring others back.
    Now, I’ve strayed a bit from your garden theme, so I’ll sign off!

  32. Great analogy. I especially like number 2. Murphy and his law are alive and well. But if you give yourself time to fix things that can potentially go wrong, then you won’t be as surprised or unprepared.

  33. “The great uncertainty of all data in war is a peculiar difficulty, because all action must, to a certain extent, be planned in a mere twilight, which in addition not infrequently — like the effect of a fog or moonlight — gives to things exaggerated dimensions and unnatural appearance.” – Car von Clausewitz

    This quote — the source of the FOG OF WAR idea — is one of my all-time favourites when it comes to strategy. You’re getting at the same thing with the Point 1 about the slugs, “You Are Not in Control”.

    I’m not fundamentally opposed to military strategy or hunting as a reference for business strategy. Use whatever works for you!

    Gardening wouldn’t really stand up as my model (but I have a hard time keeping a cactus alive). Diplomacy and more modern politics are other great strategy models. Some people can achieve results through game theory. Some people take a kissy-kissy, schmoozy-schmoozy approach – which makes me want to vomit… but hey if it works for you, more power to you!

    Battle if it suits you. Tend your gardens if you can. Go head to head with competition; work with them; or carve out a completely new niche. There is no blanket approach that works well in all circumstance for everyone. If there were, we would all know about it by now!

    • Great quotation! Reminds me of that great scene in War and Peace when Andrei is charging around the battlefield on his horse, trying to deliver strategic orders, and realises that by the time he’s got to the troops meant to execute the order, they have either been defeated or moved or the situation has changed in some other way that makes the order redundant. So the idea of strategic control evaporates in to chaos and improvisation on the ground.

      Not hard to see the analogy with business there. :-)

      And yes, there are many metaphors we could use – I particularly like the diplomacy one, which would make a great post in itself.

  34. Mark,
    I love your article! It perfectly illustrates how we can use what happens in nature in our own businesses. I’ve found that this approach takes a lot of the stress out of the sales process. Just like in a garden, there are tools you can use to insure your success. There are many tools we can use to help us automate the nurturing process as well.

  35. Love your post, Mark! “Business as Gardening” Excellent metaphor, and on so many levels! The other day one or our competitors called to check-in and learn how we are doing. He is a real “The Art of War” type and he’s really struggling despite marshaling (war term) far greater resources (another war term). We started it this new business quite small just over a year ago. It was very slow going at first and we barely survived our first winter. But we did.. and persisted, nurturing our first few customers and weeding out a few, as well, along the way. We worked hard at perfecting our game, and although we have not yet started any formal marketing, and still plan to get our web site up-and-running (soon), we have more business than we can handle (all of it from client referral). We are really busting out at this point, setting sales and growth records, just on word of mouth. After reading your post I wanted to call the competitor back and share the “gardening” metaphor as a way to explain what it is that we are doing.. but being the type of guy he is, he wouldn’t get it. So onward and upward… and thanks for the good read!

  36. Love this post, I actually use this metaphor a lot when dealing with prospecting. When people cold call businesses or leads they expect to seal the deal right then and there. It’s more to it though, when I make the initial call I am “planting my seed” and I nurture the seed through follow ups, and once it has matured enough and I build the relationship, then can you “sow it”. I like how you applied the metaphor to describe a business.

  37. Some serious food for thought with the article and all the replies. I had moved away from the military metaphors a few months back, so this article was real refreshing. But like slugs – sometimes you have clients that are poisoning your business and you must find a non-toxic way of ridding them

  38. I’m not too certain it will prevent slugs, but I do know salt sprinkled on slugs will kill them. Actually, they sort of shrivel up and die.

    So appreciate the gardening as opposed to hunting idea of yours. Need to apply that more diligently. Thank you.