Selling ICE to Eskimos

This is a phrase most commonly used by sales people, or when describing sales people and their level of competence. The phrase can be used in the format of “He is such a good sales person, he can sell ice to Eskimos”. When I engage with older generation sales people they use this phrase to show their level of persuasion and ability to convince customers into buying anything. In 2020 this phrase has no place in the sales world !

What does it actually mean? The above mentioned phrase refers to the ability of a sales person to convince anyone to buy anything at any given time. This used to be the role of the sales person in previous years, where good sales people where ones who could manipulate, push and sell hard on the potential customers. It was all about getting the sale. By definition, “Selling ice to Eskimos” means that you are deliberately manipulating or persuading someone to make a decision that goes against their best interests.

With the new decade walking through our door, the modern era of sales has rejected this approach completely. To be frank, no Eskimo in their right mind would buy ice ! This is sales lesson 101. Selling a product must achieve a few fundamental goals, for example solving a problem, satisfying a need, or adding value to the customer. Here is a little example to simply see for yourself why “selling ice to Eskimos” wouldn’t work out:

  • DOES AN ESKIMO NEED ICE?
  • DOES AN ESKIMO WANT ICE?
  • CAN AN ESKIMO RUN OUT OF ICE?
  • WILL IT ADD VALUE TO THEIR LIVES?

Any sales person that still uses this phrase to show their level of competence, simply ask them the above questions and watch them go quiet. The goal today is not to pressure someone into that one sale! Instead by solving a problem, adding value, satisfying a need, we are looking for that long term relationship, repetitive sales and win-win scenarios.

Next time you are in a sales discussion, simply use the phrase “Wow, you are so good at this, you can sell ice to Eskimos”, and see who will smile and take pride. These are not the real sales people, nor do they have your best interest in mind. They are only aimed at selling to you. The real sales person will simply reply “Eskimos don’t need ice”.

I hope you have found this topic interesting and useful. What do you think about it? All feedback and comments are welcomed


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