We’re Here To Sell Fish

Several years ago I worked for a small software company. My job was
tech support. People would have questions, call a number, and my job
was supposed to have answers for them. This company offered this
support at no extra charge, setting itself aside from the rest of the
industry. But if it cost nothing for them, would they use it more than
they really needed it?

One of our competitors had an extensive online library that even some of
our tech support personnel used to research information. The thought
occurred to me – why shouldn’t we have our own library. By building a
resource to better educate ourselves, and our customers, we could
improve the quality of customer support. By raising the level of
customer knowledge, we could also reduce the amount of calls we received
for routine issues that customers could handle on their own.

I relayed this idea to a more senior associate in an email, ending it
with a modified version of the saying, “If you give a man a fish, you
feed him for a day; if you teach a man to fish, you feed him for a

The response back was, “We’re in the business of selling fish.”

When confronted by the possibility of change, is your first action to
defend the status quo? Is your business model designed to thrive on
your customer’s ignorance? Are you in the business of selling fish?

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Lauren Modeen

I think many people are for job security. The sad part is, over the long run, a company/organization protecting it’s secrets probably does worse than one that is confident, transparent…this company/organization knows it has many more innovations down the road so they aren’t worried about selling all their trade secrets.

Great post!

Darrell Hale

You Specific Job:

“My job was tech support…. This company offered this support at no extra charge.”

The Bosses View:

“We’re in the business of selling fish.”

If the company is giving away the support for free, then they are NOT in the business of selling the support in the first place.

From the response, it seems more like the company was in the business of selling the boat for someone to go fishing. But then when the customer catches the fish, they can bring them back to have them cleaned for free, in the hope they will buy more boats in the future. On more specifically in this case, it sounds less like selling fish, and more like free boat maintenance as part of selling boats.

I also wonder it it really is a matter of the boss figuring out a quick and easy “funny” comeback to the original metaphor, and not really seriously considering the actual offer to provide the alternate help resources in the first place. The use of a metaphor may have actually diverted the conversation, whereas a direct discussing on the support situation without a metaphor may have been more productive.