3 Things I Learned from Marketing and Selling a $10,000 Fish

What I Learned Marketing and Selling a $10,000 Fish

By Kevin Raheja, Business Development and Affiliate Manager for LeadPages

This is a true story. Like many stories worth telling, this all started with a bet.

As a young man trying to find his calling in life, I decided I wanted some adventure.

Up until that point, I had always been utterly fascinated by the ocean. Coincidentally, I was also deeply saturated by fear at the thought of going anywhere near the ocean. I knew this needed to change. So I packed up my things and ventured out to a remote Island in the Aleutian chain.

For several years, I made a living as a commercial fisherman in Alaska. I spent my days hauling salmon, crab, halibut and cod into a boat.

I had no idea at the time, but I was actually picking up many useful marketing and sales principles, while I was wearing my orange Grundens.

I’ll share some of those in this post. First, I need to tell you the whole story.

A look at the inside of my fishing boat.
From 2006: A look inside of my fishing boat in Alaska.

Yes, This Started With a Bet

It was the beginning of halibut season when I made the bet with my captain.

I looked him square in the eye and announced: “I bet I can sell our biggest fish for twice the valued rate.” (At the time, the going rate for halibut was about $4.80 per lb.)

Of course, my captain laughed in my face. But he boldly agreed.

At that moment, I knew I’d do whatever it took to win this bet. So before we even began fishing, I started strategizing exactly how I was going to manage this.

Under normal circumstances, you sell halibut to processing plants, so they can ship your newly caught halibut as food.

But, that wasn’t going to cut it in this case. I had to figure out a different way to sell this fish.

Creating Demand for My Non-Existent Halibut

One thing I knew I had to do was sell this fish before I caught it. Seafood has an inconveniently short shelf life. Selling fresh fish demands an expedited process.

So before I started fishing, I contacted the captains of four sports fishing boats nearby. The conversation with each captain went like this…

“I want you to have our boat’s largest halibut of the season. I’m going to catch one so big, that if you buy it and use it in your marketing, it will drive customers to you because they’ll want to catch one with you, just like it.”

As far as I know, no one had tried doing this before.

All four captains were open to the proposal. From my perspective, I was just happy they knew who I was — and would be prepared to buy my product the next time they saw me.

So I left the conversation there, and went fishing.

I was pretty confident that we would catch this fish because we had pulled in huge catches before, like this crab I'm holding up here.
I was pretty confident that we would catch this fish because we had pulled in huge catches before, like the crab I’m holding here.

Finding the Supply for My New Buyers

After weeks of fishing I had what I needed.

We caught a 408 lb halibut. It was the biggest fish I’ve ever caught, and frankly the biggest I’ve ever seen. It was a miraculous specimen.

“This one, we’re not selling to a processor,” I told my captain.

When we got back to shore, I quickly contacted the four fishing captains that I had hopefully enticed into buying my up-until-then theoretical halibut.

All four captains were very impressed with the size of the fish that I had for them. I don’t think any of them thought I’d come back with a beast that large.

None of these four captains wanted the others to have the prize, because they thought it would actually hurt their business if their competitors had it.

There was a bidding war, and the final price of the sale was $10,000. At the time, that was almost 5x the going rate for halibut — even one as rare as this.

The bet was won. My prize – the proceeds.

In hindsight, this experience taught me a great deal about the way business works and about successful marketing. Here are few things I learned in Alaska…

1. Market Before You Sell.

Marketing the halibut to the buyers before it was even available was critical.

I learned the value of getting pre-sale customer feedback. This allowed me to confidently proceed with my plan and positioned myself at top-of-mind with my buyers.

If you have ever noticed, we do this at LeadPages all the time.

As affiliate manager, it’s part of my job to schedule webinars with our joint venture partners.

With every passing day, I help set up the pre-sales events that introduce so many business owners to what we have to offer here at LeadPages — while of course, providing incredible value.

This is a form of marketing before selling, that you may want to borrow for your own business.

2. Try a Nontraditional Approach.

This is the path least traveled by your competitors. It’s also a unique enough proposition where you capture people’s attention.

I’m a huge proponent of this. If it wasn’t for my own nontraditional approach, I would never had had this story to tell you in the first place.

Here at LeadPages, we’re constantly trying things that no one else does.

Just this week, we introduced you to a new pre-populating feature that allows you to automatically fill in a new subscribers’ contact details on all your lead generation pages, if that subscriber has ever opted in for another LeadPages client’s list.

That’s huge. It makes it easier than ever for subscribers to join your lists, and we’re doing it first.

We also did this in December when we were the first in our industry to introduce LeadBoxes. You can see an example of a LeadBox in action from our site below.

Since we released LeadBoxes in December, our clients have been using lead capture boxes like this one to boost their opt-in rates.

Later this month, we’ll be doing this once again when we introduce you to our ConversionCast podcast. (Stay tuned for more details on that.)

3. This Is All About Connections.

Finally, I need to mention that the really big wins in businesses are all about relationships.

This story would never have happened if I had not reached out to the four most successful fishing captains in the area.

It wouldn’t have happened if I didn’t know who to contact — or I was too nervous or shy to reach out to them.

In the years since, I’ve used those exact same networking skills to build up affiliate partnerships at some of the biggest and most recognizable companies in the world. That’s what I continue to do here at LeadPages to this very day.

Now It’s Your Turn. 

Look at your own business right now.

  • What ways can you be marketing before you ask for the sale?
  • What non-traditional approaches can you try that would leave your competitors in the dust?
  • What connections do you need to make in your industry to make 2014 your best year yet?

While you’re thinking, if those “connections” include LeadPages, I’d be happy to speak with you.

Kevin resizedAbout the Author: Kevin Raheja has worked on Strategic Partnerships and Business Development at Cox Media, the Star Tribune, Groupon and has consulted for many fortune 500 companies. He’s created partnerships with Coca-Cola, Uber, Target Corp, Whole Foods, Delta, Petco and others. He also sits on the advisory boards of several emerging startups. You can follow him on Twitter at @crabfisher.

If you’re already an affiliate of LeadPages or you’re interested in becoming an affiliate, you can contact Kevin at kevin@ave81.com.

  • Ben Ganje

    Great post Kevin! Contrarian wisdom from a sage!

    • Kevin

      Hi Ben! Thanks so much. Great to see you here 🙂

  • Trevor Lambert

    Stop littering my in tray with your incessant emails. I made the mistake of signing up for one of your “webinars” (as blatant a sales pitch as I’ve ever encountered) and ever since I’ve received an unending stream of sales drivel.

    Your product looked okay but your marketing stinks.

    • Carl E Chapman

      Trevor, I’m pretty sure their emails all have an ‘unsubscribe’ link at the bottom.

      • Trevor Lambert

        Ahead of you on that one matey.

        Carl – I’m equally sure there wasn’t an opt in button when I accepted an invitation from a third party I trust to a webinar that happened to feature some sales guy from this lot showing me “the amazing features of Leadpages” for an hour. Since then, in less than a week, I’ve had 22 emails non of which include quality “content” or “great shit” (well maybe that’s 50% right). Hubspot get this sort of thing spot on. These guys don’t.

        The only grip I want to get Jay is around the throat of the bloke who wasted an hour of my life giving me a sales pitch instead of the promised educational content. ; )

        As for “overreached” – I don’t think that word means what you think it means Kevin. The word you’re looking for is spammed.

    • Kevin

      Hi Trevor, I’m sincerely sorry that you feel like you receive too much content. You can unsubscribe, and we can find another way to reach you. I’m totally kidding. Thanks for joining the webinar, and I’m sorry you feel we overreached!
      Kind Regards,
      Kevin

    • Haha – all these guys do is give out content and create great shit for members. Get a grip

      • Kevin

        🙂
        Jay. You’re awesome.

  • Ian Usher

    Brilliant stuff. $10,000 for a fish.
    Great marketing so often comes from unique “outside the box” thinking.
    I discovered this almost by accident when I listed my “entire life” for sale on eBay in 2008. The publicity was enormous, and ultimately led to me selling the movie rights to the story to Walt Disney Pictures.
    As Kevin says, try walking the road less traveled to stand out from the crowd.
    http://IanUsher.com

    • Kevin

      Ian, that’s a great summary. Thanks so much!

      I checked out your website btw… Wow! You have some amazing stories yourself!

      • Thanks Kevin. Yes, it’s all been quite an adventure since then. A list of 100 goals and 100 weeks to try to achieve them all, and ultimately on to life on a little private Caribbean island bought with Disney’s money.
        Quite a journey.

    • Kevin

      Hi Ian, great summary. Thanks for writing!
      I just checked out your website, btw… wow! You have some amazing stories yourself!

  • Patrick

    I am impressed – never would I have guessed how you sold that halibut…

    • Kevin

      Thanks for reading, Patrick!

  • Gerald

    “I’m going to catch one so big, that if you buy it and advertise that you caught it, ”
    So his marketing idea was he got them to lie. How does that help honest people like me?

    • Kevin

      Hi Gerald, thanks for your question! So, definitely don’t lie. The intent here was that the halibut was to be used promotionally to help market their small business. Those guys needed help with marketing, so an opportunity presented itself. It’s like when you watch a Burger King commercial. What you’re seeing isn’t actually a burger, but a photoshopped representation or model of the food. There is certainly a lot of “deception” in this sense in advertising, yes. Anyway, thanks for writing in.

      • Kevin, read again your own writing, especially the last part:

        “I want you to have our boat’s largest halibut of the season. I’m going to catch one so big, that if you buy it and advertise that you caught it, it will drive customers to you because they’ll want to catch one with you, just like it.”

        Then you say…

        “All four captains were open to the proposal, because they knew we could catch a bigger halibut than they could.”

        You participated with the ship captains in deceiving the end customer. The end customer can’t get a halibut that big from these ship captains–you said that yourself. It’s false advertising. Then you conned the ship captains by eliciting their own greed.

        It’s a brilliant con…but it is a con.

        • Kevin

          It’s a good point. The reality is/was back then, that they COULD catch a fish that size, it would just take much longer because they didn’t have the commercial operation we did. So, it wasn’t really deceptive to the end user because, in reality, that product was attainable to them. I just proposed making it easier to showcase that product for the smaller operation. I hope that makes sense. It would have helped be a bit more clear in the article. So, again, the intent of course, wasn’t to deceive the customer, it was to provide promotional material, in this case, the fish, to the fisherman who had a harder time finding it.
          Thanks for your comment. I really appreciate it!

          • “you buy it and advertise that you caught it”

            Lie #1.

            “they’ll want to catch one with you, just like it”

            Lie #2.

            You conned them. You conned them brilliantly, but it was a con.

          • Kevin

            I guess the purpose of the quoted text in the article, was to provide flow to the relevant context. That wasn’t a literal dialogue. Which is certainly my mistake, as I used quotes.
            There was no conning involved. The fisherman got a nice trophy to represent what his business does, and the customers had amazing fishing trips. That is pretty traditional advertising.
            Thanks

          • I realize Alaskan fishing boats are not exactly bastions of virtue and decency and within that context, conning people probably felt natural.

            However, for those of us who try to be honest and only do win-win deals, your recommendations do not fit.

            Have you seen The Wolf of Wall Street yet? Some good “marketing” tips in there too.

          • Kevin

            It’s kind of like when you see an ad at the gym- where someone loses 100lb. Those are fairly atypical results, but they’re certainly possible. There was no deception. The fish was a marketing tool for them, and the article is simply meant to show the benefit of pre sales.

          • Let’s for a moment grant that “results not typical” is morally and legally acceptable (pre-FTC guidelines on testimonials), and that you “accidentally” wrote lies in this article but didn’t lie or encourage lying in the real situation. Given that, is it a win for all parties involved?

            I’ve been suckered into a bidding war before, on early eBay. I think just about everyone has a story of buying something for much more than they intended to pay on eBay at the last minute. Do most of these people feel good about it?

            Putting myself into the shoes of one of these captains, do I feel good about having bought a fish for 5x the market rate? Or how about the ones that lost–do I feel good about having lost?

            Now putting myself into the shoes of one of the end-customers: do I feel good about seeing that huge fish, getting my hopes up, and then comparing that fish with the fish I actually catch?

            How about you, Kevin? When you imagine being these other individuals, are you satisfied with the interaction?

          • Kevin

            That could be applicable to virtually every advertisement. 🙂

            But yes, all offers should come with that disclaimer, really. In this instance all parties were happy. People love sports fishing even if they don’t catch anything (those result atypical).
            Anyway, I love your website, Duff, and think you’re doing great things at Scientific Goals, promoting kindness to others, personal development amongst other fine things. Please don’t mind me. I wasn’t trying to “pull a fast one” on anyone, truly.

            Kevin

          • Whether you were or weren’t trying to pull a fast one, you did, and brilliantly. It’s just that I don’t think this is a good example at all for most businesses except for scams, maybe the ad industry itself (which is largely a den of thieves in any case), or Wall Street.

            How would engineering a bidding war (with or without lying and “results not typical” testimonials) help a psychotherapist get clients, or a plumber, or anyone else offering relatively tangible services? I just don’t see it working out very well in a win-win manner.

            But best of luck, and stay safe out there.

          • “That wasn’t a literal dialogue”

            So you probably didn’t actually lie and encourage the other fishermen to lie in real life? 😉

            And they could have easily caught such a fish themselves? Then why didn’t they and save 10k, thus stealing your marketing idea?

            It’s sad when we get caught up in our own web (or should I say net) of lies.

      • Gerald asked how this could possibly help an honest person like him. I thought the same thing he did when I initially read the post. And, Kevin, you mention the deception used in advertising. So, Clay, instead of feeling regret over sharing the post, how about a reframe here? It gives us food for thought.

        After I thought about it, I realized those who were going to market the fish didn’t have to be deceptive at all to use your fish. They didn’t have to say “they” or any of their sport fishing clients caught the fish. They could simply tell the truth that they have a radar on the areas with the largest fish – “like this one!” (in some enticing, yet non-deceptive way). You did say they were in the area. And it’s up to them to be honest if someone asked if they caught it themselves (because we can’t police everyone else’s practices).

        Learning to use the power of our highest, most excellent selves to share all our stories always trumps deceptive practices. Always. I love to guide leaders to get beyond fear & judgment & into their true power & passion! That’s where unprecedented success happens. Boom! http://www.KimberlyCain.com

    • Gerald, I’m Clay Collins, the co-founder here at LeadPages. I agree that one should never ever do false advertising, or purposefully sell someone else the ability to do false advertising. I regret that LeadPages published this article. It was our mistake. I am sorry.

      Warm regards,
      Clay

  • Serendipity…This morning I came across a spectacular opportunity to go to Australia and connect with a brilliant author/marketer. I’ll be funding the trip by pre-selling the product I’m creating.

    • Kevin

      Ingenious, Doug. This is great!
      Have a great time in AU!

  • Great story and example, Kevin! Thank you. ♥

    • Kevin

      Thank you, Kelly! Glad you enjoyed.

  • Nasir

    This is a very inspiring post. I dream of one day having that $10,000 fish sale, but how do I create such a demand as an instructor of a entry level medical training course? Anyone have any ideas.

    • Kevin

      Hi Nasir! I’m not an expert in this field, but I’ll tell you a quick story.

      A very successful man I met recently, started a business selling candle wicks. He bought them from China at a low cost, and sold them for the same cost he bought them for.
      How did he make money if he sold them for the same price he bought them for?
      Soon, he had EVERY candle maker coming to him to buy wicks, because he had to lowest prices. When they called him, he would ask “could I interest you in candle oil as well?” (Candle oil is the highest margin item in the candle business.) He made millions of dollars doing that. He found an ingenious way to get “leads” then he up-sold them.
      So, he found a really smart way to get the demographic he was looking for to come to him! Then he monetized that.
      If you can find a way to give a free resource to medical students, or recent medical school graduates, you may eventually be able to sell them your course, because you’ll be top of mind.
      I hope that makes sense. Sorry about the long answer.
      Sincerely,
      Kevin

  • This is fabulous. I’m not only sharing this with my team. I’m going to find a place for this story in the book I’m writing. Let me know how I can contact you off line to follow up on that. Thanks!

    • Kevin

      Hi Candis,
      Absolutely, contact me if you wish. kevin@ave81.com
      Thanks so much for reading!

  • Kevin, read again your own writing, especially the last part:

    “I want you to have our boat’s largest halibut of the season. I’m going to catch one so big, that if you buy it and advertise that you caught it, it will drive customers to you because they’ll want to catch one with you, just like it.”

    Then you say…

    “All four captains were open to the proposal, because they knew we could catch a bigger halibut than they could.”

    You participated with the ship captains in deceiving the end customer. The end customer can’t get a halibut that big from these ship captains–you said that yourself. It’s false advertising. Then you conned the ship captains by eliciting their own greed. Since you don’t have to stick around to deal with the buyer’s remorse from the end user (who doesn’t even know you exist), as far as you’re concerned it’s win-win (but really win-lose-lose).

    It’s straight out of conman “Neal Caffrey’s” playbook from the TV show White Collar. It’s a brilliant con…but it is a con. Which again, doesn’t help the rest of us much.

    p.s. Remind me to never buy from you.

    • Kevin

      The reality is/was back then, that they COULD catch a fish that size, it would just take much longer because they didn’t have the commercial operation we did. So, it wasn’t really deceptive to the end user because, in reality, that product was attainable to them. I just proposed making it easier to showcase that product for the smaller operation. I hope that makes sense. It would have helped be a bit more clear in the article. So, again, the intent of course, wasn’t to deceive the customer, it was to provide promotional material, in this case, the fish, to the fisherman who had a harder time finding it.
      Thanks for your comment. I really appreciate it!

    • Duff, as a co-founder here at LeadPages, I am sorry for this post and I regret that it was published. I agree that one should never ever do false advertising, or purposefully sell someone else the ability to do false advertising. I regret that LeadPages published this article. It was our mistake. I am sorry. We do not endorse false advertising or purposefully selling someone else the ability to do false advertising.

      Warm regards,
      Clay

      • Thanks for the apology, Clay. I haven’t seen any other endorsement of false advertising anywhere on LeadPages, so it did seem inconsistent.

  • BoomerMary

    Wow I thought it was a really great article and made me aware of how important it is to pre-sell and also to really think outside the box. You’re Captain was a pretty good guy not to want at least food price for a fish of that size.

    It was also proof that there were that kind of fish in those waters and could help each one of the captains if they approached it right; any one of them could say, “Sure the opportunity is there and maybe we can’t find one quite that big, but have you ever caught a 350 pound halibut? Let’s go! You could get that one”

    Thanks for sharing!

  • Great post bro!

    Remember… be a servant,

    Cory

  • Ellen Agius

    Great story..your belief brought you that big fish…something I need to work on ..I know I would be scared of selling because I would not believe I would get the big fish..thanks for your insights

  • Z’da

    superb strategy my dear chap 🙂

  • I thought this was a great post despite some of the negative feedback. The winning sports boat bidder could easily have just posted a photo of him holding the fish on the deck of his boat with a caption saying “this could be you”. Appeals to the emotion without any misrepresentation. As for win-win, if the perceived promotion value is more than the price paid for the fish, then that seems a fair deal. The point is that there is more value in what the size of the fish implies than just how many steaks the processing plant can sell from it. I spend a lot of my time helping my clients look for better ways to monetize their outputs and this is a great example.
    Sure, maybe it could have been presented in a more ethical way, but Clay has apologised for that so ’nuff said.
    I attended a webinar the other night and learnt a lot – I am a rookie when it comes to marketing my services and to me the best thing about being a LeadPages customer is access to cutting edge insight rather than just the tools.