You’re a good salesperson, perhaps even a great one. As the saying goes – “You’re so good at sales that you could sell ice to Eskimos”. But does that mean you should?

I’ve just searched a well-known New Zealand employment website, and entered the key words ‘sell ice eskimo’. There are four positions currently listed, searching for sales superstars who ‘can sell ice to Eskimos’.

It’s great to have a special skill at sales. We all love being recognised for things we’re good at.

But – is it good if we’re ‘selling ice to Eskimos’? Because what this saying actually means, is that the salesperson is selling stuff to some poor customer who doesn’t really need it.

There are a number of problems with selling like this. Here are seven reasons why you shouldn’t sell ice to Eskimos.

1) RESPECTING YOUR CUSTOMER

There’s so much literature in sales these days about building trusted relationships with your customer, about becoming their trusted advisor.

When you’re a trusted advisor, you’re in a position of power. You must act responsibly in that position. If you meet a very trusting customer, you are disrespecting that customer if you insist on flogging them something that you absolutely know they don’t need. Sooner or later, even extremely trusting customers will figure out the truth for themselves. They will then do three things:

  • no longer buy ‘ice’ from you;
  • no longer buy anything else from you as they have lost their trust in you;
  • tell everyone else how you sold them something they didn’t need.

2) RESPECTING YOURSELF

If we’re convincing trusting customers to buy stuff they have no use for, and we know it – what does that make us?

Put aside the need to make your sales quota, and take the time to consider the sort of person you want to be for your customers. We need to be that person, regardless of the quota pressures. If your manager is pressuring you, it’s time to have a hard conversation with them about the sort of sales you want to be creating. It may be time to leave.

We need to respect ourselves and our reputations enough to have long-term vision, and to hold out for the sales that will eventually come.

3) RESPECTING YOUR COMPANY

What sort of aftertaste will ‘selling ice to Eskimos’ leave in the mouths of the customers who realise they’ve bought something they don’t really need? Especially if we invoke legal clauses in our contracts and refuse to return their money, or at least credit them when they are unable to use the products and services as they had hoped. Even if the sales pressures are simply coming from within ourselves, and not from any unethical managers, we need to respect the company we work for enough to do the right thing by their customers.

We need to be confidently providing solutions, not just selling stuff. Check out Apple’s sales processes for more on this. If our company’s products and services are as good as we say they are, then the right customers will be interested. Let’s have faith in that.

4) LONG-TERM VISION

If, after reading this, you still think it’s okay to sell ice to Eskimos – when they clearly have no need for it – think about the long-term vision you have for your sales role. We are in the business of building relationships with our customers, whose loyalty will keep them coming back to us and prompt them to refer their family and friends to us for more new business. Selling ice to Eskimos is short-term gain.

All customers mistreated in this way will wise-up eventually. You will then have to work hard all the time to make quota, as you are constantly running in circles to gain new clients.

To achieve the full customer lifetime value, we need to understand the sort of customers our behaviour is creating for us. If you want to deal with happy customers who willingly buy from you time and time again, and who refer their friends, do the right thing!

5) CUSTOMER PROFILES

If you’re selling people things they don’t need, you will probably leave a long trail of unhappy customers in your wake. This means that fundamentally, your customer profiling needs help. Are you sure about your products and/or services, the customer needs they fill, and the ideal profile/s of the customers who want what you have to offer? It might be time to talk to a marketing consultant if you need some help on this one.

6) MAKING QUOTA

Build trust and they will come. That’s right – build trust with your customers and they will willingly come to buy from you.

Here’s an example from my own life. A few years ago, we had some work done around the house. My husband and I are not good at DIY, so we knew that we had to really trust the builder doing the work. Anything he recommended, we would probably say yes to. Even if it were not true, we did not have the skills to know; we were in a position of vulnerable trust.

The builder told us about some work that needed doing. He outlined a couple of options, and then told us that the cheaper option was all that we needed to fix the problem. Telling us the truth and saving us money increased our trust in his firm. Short-term, the builder made less money out of us. But long-term – we would confidently go back to him.

7) SOCIAL MEDIA

Yes, the power of online feedback! Selling ice to Eskimos is no longer ‘cool’ – the Internet has made it downright dangerous! Doing the wrong thing by our customers leaves us vulnerable to vicious and very public social media posts and complaints. Selling people things they don’t need is not just unethical, it’s potentially terminal for your brand! Far better to have good feedback online.

Our main role, as salespeople, is to develop positive and profitable customer relationships for the company we represent.

Build trust and they will come to buy. Again. And again. And again.


MARY CRAMPTON IS the Director and Founder of MAGNIFY CONSULTING.