Long Shots (Issue 637)

In which we encourage balance in pursuing “long shot” sales opportunities.

“See that black dot up there on the church steeple?”

I looked up, squinting through the late afternoon Saturday sun at the bell tower of the First Congregational Church in Rockport, Massachusetts. I spotted the dot.

“Cannon ball,” came the explanation. “War of 1812…. The real one’s in the Church. That’s a replica.”

Rockport looks East across Sandy Bay from Cape Ann, north of Boston. Rockport is probably best known for a red fishing shack on Bearskin Neck known as “Motif Number 1.” Before the American Revolution, the surrounding waters were one of the best fishing grounds in New England and the Cape Ann forests were cut for pine, largely for ship building and construction.

199 years ago yesterday, on September 8, 1814, during the War of 1812, the British frigate, Nymphe, invaded Sandy Bay. She sent two barges to the town. The crew on the first captured the “Sea Fencibles,” townspeople manning a fort and barracks at the end of Bearskin Neck. The second, armed with a single cannon, entered the Old Harbor.

After one of the townspeople took to ringing the meeting house bell to alarm the town, the barge crew took aim at the bell, fired from a distance of approximately 500 yards, and missed… Rather, they hit the bell tower, the cannon ball lodging in the wooden frame, but missed the bell. Extremely close, given the smooth bore of early 19th century cannon.

But, upon firing the shot, however, the cannon broke through the bottom of the barge. The English crew of the barge were captured as they swam to shore. Long story short, prisoner exchange, English withdraw , never again to darken the town’s waters.

In our sales lives, there’s nothing wrong with taking similar “barge to bell tower” long shots from time to time, perhaps going after challenging-to-hit but particularly juicy targets – well placed senior executives or particularly large or prestigious or interesting accounts. The hunt can be fun and the lure of the big prize too strong to ignore.

Often, however, we get only one shot and the difficulty comes if we miss (hitting the bell tower does not silence the bell!) and if, by taking the long shot, we ignore or disrupt other sales efforts on which we count for income. More than once, we’ve seen sales people bet their sales years and even careers by taking long shots at low probability “big ones.”

From the Nymph’s soggy second barge crew, we learn the lesson: Make sure we do what’s needed to stay afloat with ALL of our sales efforts when we fire the long shot lest we sink after firing and fail in our sales missions, returning to our desks with nothing.


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