What Is Low-Hanging Fruit?

The term "low-hanging fruit" is a commonly used metaphor for doing the simplest or easiest work first, or for a quick fix that produces ripe, delectable results. In sales, it means a target that is easy to achieve, a product or service that is easy to sell, or a prospective client who seems very likely to buy the product, especially compared with other, more reluctant prospects.

Understanding Low-Hanging Fruit

To illustrate the concept of low-hanging fruit, imagine a sales rep has been talking to several prospects, and one seems more likely to buy their product than the others. If the sales rep channels their effort toward the easiest sale, they are focusing on the low-hanging fruit. This is also referred to as cherry-picking clients or opportunities.

The term low-hanging fruit can also refer to a problem that is easy to solve.

Similarly, if a company implements a strategy to boost sales quickly, rather than enduring an arduous process that takes a long time to produce results, this is also called grabbing the low-hanging fruit.

Key Takeaways

  • "Low-hanging fruit" is a common metaphor in business that refers to doing the easiest task first.
  • In business, sometimes focusing on low-hanging fruit first as a strategy can lead to meeting targets quickly; sometimes it can lead to an accumulation of more difficult tasks. 
  • The term "low-hanging fruit" originated in the 17th century, but has been used in a business context since at least 1968, and has been very popular since the 1990s.

A Brief History of a Phrase

Phrases such as "fruit low hung" and "fruit hanging low" has been part of the English language since the 17th century, but the exact phrase "low-hanging fruit" likely first appeared in print in a 1968 article in the Guardian newspaper, and the phrase referenced something easily attainable.

Through the following decades, the phrase picked up steam, and by the early 1990s, it had become a staple in corporate management and sales lingo, referring to corporate gains that could be easily achieved.

During the first 15 years of the new millennium, the phrase became much more popular than similar phrases such as "easy pickings," "easy as pie," and "shooting fish in a barrel," and by 2015, "low-hanging fruit" was nine to 10 times more likely to appear in New York Times articles than were similar phrases. This upward trend also presumably mirrors the phrase's rise in business culture.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Low-Hanging Fruit

Businesses or sales professionals who opt to focus on low-hanging fruit are likely to meet their targets faster, close sales more easily, or accomplish their to-do lists sooner. From this perspective, focusing on low-hanging fruit can be an effective sales and business strategy.

However, in most cases, there are usually only so many low-hanging fruits, and once those have been "picked," the company has to put in more effort to achieve results.

Essentially, if a company or an individual decides to exclusively focus on low-hanging fruit, it pushes all of the more difficult tasks onto the metaphorical back burner, and putting those tasks on hold can make them harder to achieve in the long run.