Chicago Sales Coaching Blog

EskimosOld World Selling

There was an old saying about the prototypical star salesperson.

He can sell ice cubes to Eskimos.

Considering the climate and lifestyle of Eskimos, does it makes sense to try to sell them ice cubes.  The essence of this saying is that the salesperson can induce people to buy something that they don’t need or want.

While that type of sales person could succeed in previous decades, the highly aggressive, persuasive sales people of the past can struggle in today’s new, highly informed world.

What is the #1 Reservation People Have About Meeting with a Salesperson?

The biggest fear is that the sales rep will pressure me to buy something I neither need nor want.

Despite that, companies still seek to hire those relentless ice cube salesmen types.

Sales Attribute Myths

We use an exercise in our sales development workshops to help our participants discover some myths about what makes a great sales person. We examine our feelings as buyers toward the sales people we experience. As our participants share their opinions and experiences, we build two lists. You might try this yourself.

From your experience as a buyer/consumer…

Ideal Sales personWhat are the attributes of the ideal sales person?

Bad Sales GuyWhat are some attributes of the sales person from hell?

Which attributes for the ideal sales person did you value in the exercise above? Traits that I typically hear are:

• good listener • understands my needs • caring

• knowledgeable • doesn’t try to sell me something I don’t want

• helps me make the right decision. • integrity

What do We Call a Sales Person that Exhibits all of These Desirable Traits?

Rare!” said one of my participants. These rare professionals expose the myth of superiority for the make a sale at all costs and always be closing approaches.

 Ice anyone?  The Dark Side

In the aforementioned acclamation about selling ice to Eskimos! The exercise above helps to expose the myth about the long-term value of a win-lose approach. Given a choice, is this the kind of person you choose to do business with? Frequently, we have no choice. In the absence of a rare professional, the most persistent or convenient ice cube salesperson prevails, makes quota, gets a raise and reinforces the validity of this approach.

We fuel the fervor for pursuing win-lose transactions to satisfy short-term quotas at the expense of long term prosperity.  But, are we selling hard or selling smart?

“How much software do you want to buy?”

Fear of exposure to an unstoppable pitchman is a common phobia as evidenced by a recent software TV commercial. It portrays a frightened prospect attempting to flee an aggressive software salesman. The innocent victim, after failing in his attempts to break through and jump out his office window, climbs into the drop ceiling to hide. A cardboard cutout of Mr. Unstoppable slips under the office door as he repeats his haunting question, How much software do you want to buy? We laugh. We’ve all been that victim.

As buyers, we’ve felt the terror. Yet somehow as sellers, we adopt some of the same traits we’ve identified from the sales person from hell.

Why is The Ideal Salesperson so Rare?

Lets’ look at what we have traditionally valued when hiring sales people: Aggressive, slick presenter, smooth talker, constant closer, money motivated, quota seeker, good debater are a few. We model and emulate these behaviors. When they succeed, habits are reinforced. We overlook that persistence is driving success more than the approach.

We fail to realize that with the wrong timing or intentions and weak sales skills…

 Selling is repelling!

 Quota Caveat

Was I suggesting that sales quotas should be avoided? As a purveyor of measurable goal achievement, that would be hypocritical and perhaps un-capitalistic. Don’t label me a communist just yet! I merely caution sales managers to ask:

Should we first improve selling skills and behaviors prior to setting aggressive quotas to avoid burning our bridges with future customers?

 The Golden Rule of Sales

Yes, a repelling approach can occasionally succeed with enough persistence. But are you selling hard? Or selling smart? What happens with your ice cube customers when they realize they could have had hot cocoa? How many remorseful buyers ever return? We know there is a more effective way. Isn’t it the way we, ourselves, would like to be treated?


For more on the evolution of selling style, I recommend Daniel Pinks’s book To Sell Is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others.

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