“He could sell ice to an Eskimo!”

Why is it a badge of honor for a sales professional to be so good at their craft that they could “sell ice to an Eskimo”? Instead of wording it in such a creative and non-threatening way, let’s call it what it is…

“He’s so good at manipulating other people, in an effort to line his own pockets, that he can actually convince people to make terrible decisions that are in no way in their best interests!”

Does that about sum it up?

So, the real question is…can someone be great at sales by looking out for the customer’s best interests? Can someone make a great living in sales and leave their integrity in tact?

In short, the answer is ABSOLUTELY!

Here are the 5 main issues with selling ice to Eskimos…

  1. Its unethical. Period.
  2. In all likelihood, your customer will eventually come to the realization that they have been buying something they don’t need (or paying way to much for something they do need). Once that epiphany hits, you won’t be able to sell them a bucket in a sinking boat. Just remember, you can shear a sheep forever but you can only skin him once.
  3. Your competitor will eventually stumble across the account and they will use your greed/dishonesty to leverage their way into the account. “They are charging you HOW MUCH for that service?! Let me show you how much WE charge!”
  4. You will eventually find yourself trading dollars. With the compounded customer attrition that most deceptive sales reps experience, you will have to constantly close new business simply to offset the business you are losing. From my experience, there are two things that great reps do better than their competitors. They place great value on retention and penetration within their current book of business.
  5. The statistics vary some but the rule of thumb is clear. A happy customer will tell 3 people how good of a job you did, while an upset customer will tell 10 people that you are a “liar”, “thief”, “crook”, etc. I was not an MIT grad but simple math tells me that chronic deception can go viral quickly!

So, how can you sell anything without having to sell your soul?

  1. Take a genuine interest in people. Make a deliberate effort to learn about their business and understand the problems they face. The better you understand the customer’s daily and strategic challenges, the higher margin you can command for your product/service.
  2. Read, Digest, Adopt, and Practice the following definition. Personal Accountability is “I will do what I said I would do…because I said I would.” While this would appear obvious, it has become a differentiator for great reps and great companies.
  3. Focus on getting better, personally. I’ll slightly adjust Brian Tracy’s famous quote and say that “The business gets better when you get better!” Great reps have a detailed plan for personal/professional improvement. If you think “On-the-Job” training is sufficient, you are leaving money on the table. If you think your “years of experience” will pay your bills, get ready for a continuous learner in their mid-20s to swoop in and pull the commission check right out of your hands. Passive improvement is simply not good enough.
  4. Make an effort to ask more questions and learn to ask better questions. Great reps spend much more time asking questions than making statements. They key to this step is to be genuinely interested in the answer. Too many reps listen to answer vs listening to understand. Ultimately, how can you offer a solution to a problem that you don’t fully understand?
  5. Learn to walk away from bad business. “Bad business” is defined as any business that is bad for you and/or the customer. If sales organizations gave out belts as they do in karate, the final test for the black belt would be to walk away from a piece of business that would have been profitable for you but detrimental to the customer.

So, is the true test of salesmanship the ability to sell ice to an Eskimo?