Would you Sell Ice to an Eskimo?

“He can sell ice to an Eskimo.” It’s a classic expression used to describe someone who can sell anything to anyone. It highlights the gift of persuasion.

Someone used it recently to describe one of my salespeople—and I cringed.

I understand it was meant to be a compliment and being persuasive is a crucial skill in business. However, selling ice (something an Eskimo clearly doesn’t need) reinforces the wrong behavior and typecasts sales people—that we are focused on our own interests.

If you possess this gift and you could sell ice to an Eskimo, please don’t!

I know we have quotas and commissions are at stake. Maybe you have a high-pressure boss. But selling something that a client doesn’t need is a short-term strategy. When a client eventually figures it out, you’ve not only created a bad experience for the buyer—you’ve set back our profession. Ever wonder why buying takes so long? It’s partially because of the buyer’s fear that they are being “sold” to.

This self-serving perception of sales people is something only we can change through our actions. Our longevity is predicated on being trusted by buyers and valued by our employers. Can you imagine what we could accomplish if a buyer preferred to engage with sales? If this is your ambition, as it is mine, it requires us to have the client’s interest at the core of our intentions.

If you want a very successful, long-term career, don’t sell. Rather, help clients buy. Let’s rewrite the narrative—“He could sell ice to an Eskimo, but he’s a sales professional so he wouldn’t.”