Boastful salespeople are often quoted as saying “I could sell ice to an Eskimo”.
Variations of this timeless phrase include “I could sell oil to an Arab”, “I could sell hay to a farmer”, and, my personal favorite: “I could sell plastic surgery to an old celebrity” (although, by the looks of things, that probably wouldn’t be too much of a challenge).
While, on the face of it, all of these feats might sound relatively impressive, selling ice to an Eskimo isn’t necessarily something any salesperson worth their salt should be boasting about or, for that matter, trying to do in the first place.
“Why’s that?” Well I’ll tell ya.
1. Hit me baby one more time
Unlike Britney Spears’ first marriage, sales isn’t a short-term thing.
If you want to find true success, you need to see the process as a long-term relationship, throughout which your customers buy from you over and over again.
As many people don’t realize right away that they actually really need what you’re selling, it can take a long while to turn a genuine prospect into a loyal customer.
Where many salespeople fall down is at the first hurdle: the prospecting stage.
This is partly the fault of sales targets; as salespeople have people to see, places to go and numbers to hit, their eyes are easily drawn to the quick fire sale.
But just because there is a sales opportunity to be had doesn’t necessarily mean that you should chase it or push that sale on a prospect.
Working out whether or not they’re right for the product is far more important than working out if you can actually sell it to them, because the real money comes from repeat business over a long period of time, something that’s impossible to establish if the prospect isn’t right in the first place.
According to the White House Office of Consumer Affairs, the average loyal customer is worth up to 10 times as much as their first purchase, so it’s worth qualifying your prospect early. Doing so will ensure that you’re putting effort in with the right prospect, which will reap rewards in the future.
One of the best things you can do for your reputation is tell a prospect that they don’t need a specific product. By doing this, you show them that you have their best interests at heart and aren’t just trying to sell them whatever they’re willing to buy.
Selling to a perfect fit who’s stubborn, unaware of their needs or a combination of the two isn’t to be confused with selling something to someone that they don’t need.
All you’re doing is wasting a lot of your time and effort for a one-off sale. Instead, focus your energy on the prospects who have real, true potential to become monthly purchasers. If you don’t have any prospects like this, use your time and energy to find some, rather than just having a punt at and forcing a sale on any old sod who’ll listen.
2. Cold words
Eskimos love to talk. In fact, they never shut up.
Sell unnecessary ice to one of them before they can realize what they’re getting themselves into and you could fall victim to some harsh Inuit words.
They may even say some of these harsh Inuit words to passing travelers who, funnily enough, came to them in search of someone selling ice.
And guess who they won’t point the travelers in the direction of now?
It goes without saying that the above example isn’t too likely to happen any time soon and that Eskimos aren’t known for running their mouths. Nevertheless, the message is still the same: your customers talk to your prospects.
As we mentioned in one of our Slideshares recently, news of bad customer service reaches more than twice as many ears as praise for good service experience.
So while you may be desperate to make a sale, it’s not necessarily the best idea to force a sale on someone who doesn’t need that particular product.
While they might not say anything bad about the product itself, your name is likely to come up, and the things they say won’t be good. And no salesperson in the world needs that when they’re trying to build a reputation as the industry’s go-to supplier.
3. You sure this job’s for you?
It might sound a little harsh but, if you get to the point where you need to try to sell ice to an Eskimo, you’re probably in the wrong job.
By that I mean, if you’re trying to sell something to someone that they don’t really need, you probably don’t care too much about the two main things you should care about as a salesperson: the customer and the product.
If you don’t care about the customer or don’t get them then you’re selling the wrong product.
And, on the flip-side of the same coin, if you don’t care about the product or have an interest in it, you’ll come across that way, meaning you’re selling to the wrong people.
Overall, it’s possible/probable that you’re in the wrong job.
The best salespeople are usually those that fit the bill of prospect for the company they work for.
Prospect-like salespeople can understand the product naturally, and, in turn, get naturally enthusiastic about it, especially when it develops and has a new feature or is on offer. Enthusiasm is infectious, so this rubs off (giggidy) on prospects and customers in a big way.
The prospect-like salesperson is also incredibly easy to relate to for the average customer. Say the company’s typical end-user is a 20-something, single, Caucasian girl and the sales rep fits this description, chances are, when they’re talking to the prospect, they’ll have some similar interests which make it easier to build rapport, they’d use the product in the same way meaning they can offer good, real-life examples and stories and, as a result, they’ll trust each other.
If, however, you really feel the need to go out and sell ice to an Eskimo, you’re probably the opposite of the description above. (Unless of course you’re an Eskimo who sells ice, in which case carry on.)
4. You stay classy, San Diego
The main problem with selling is to an Eskimo is that it isn’t tasteful. It’s just not cool. Well, the ice is, but the act of selling it to someone who doesn’t need it isn’t.
The best salespeople are often those who I’ve described above: who could themselves be prospects. But the real, hard, nailed-on rule for being a great salesperson; sometimes someone couldn’t be a prospect at all and sell well.
The real rule is that the best salespeople are classy. Not in the sense that you should spend your weekends in the smoking room at The Savoy sipping whiskey before having Geoffrey pick you up in the Rolls.
The kind of class I’m talking about can’t be bought, it’s simply learned. It’s the kind of class that means you care about the people you’re selling to enough to tell them they don’t need a certain product. It means that you’re willing to listen more than you talk and, it also means that you’re not willing to be a pushy salesperson under any circumstances.
I’m not suggesting that you should be Mr. Nice Guy; being too nice won’t get you far in sales either. I’m merely suggesting that selling products to people who have no need for them is pretty sleazy, and sleazy salespeople tend to finish last in the long run.
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