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Why You Need to Master the Art of Selling Ice to an Eskimo

An Igloo, or, the location of your next great e marketing sales pitch.

I used to think I could never sell ice to an Eskimo. “Why would an Eskimo need ice?” I thought. I don’t want to be one of those slick, sleazy salesmen who convinces people to buy something they don’t need.

My friend Dale Furtwengler recently set me straight, and the lesson I learned is one you can apply to your business to clarify your brand and boost sales.

Dale asked me to participate in a panel discussion at a recent networking event for entrepreneurs, but he did not share the topic in advance with the other two panelists and me.

We took the stage with Dale, and he said, “You have two minutes to prepare a sales pitch to sell ice to an Eskimo.”

I shuddered. “Anything but this,” I thought.

Dale continued, “I will give each of you a slip of paper with one word or phrase on it to help you frame your sales pitch.”

My slip of paper said “time savings.”

Eureka!

I wasn’t selling ice to an Eskimo. I was selling time-savings. Sure, Eskimos are surrounded by ice, but it takes time to cut it and shape it. My sales pitch described the time-saving benefits of buying my pre-cut, already shaped ice blocks.

“More time inside the igloo with your honey. Less time outside the igloo building it.”

The slips of paper for the other panelists said, “image” and “innovation.”

“Image, innovation and time-savings — those constitute the sum total of what we buy,” Dale said.

As Dale said this, I thought of my high school friend who has a perfectly good ice-maker but recently spent $20 to purchase “ice-ball molds” for slower-melting cocktail chilling. Very innovative! The perfect accessory to chill a glass of premium, single-barrel bourbon and bolster one’s image as a serious cocktail connoisseur.

The key lesson here for all small business people: We don’t sell the products and services we offer. We sell the benefits that result from those products and services.

Why is this important? Too many sales pitches lead with what the product or service is or how the product or service works while burying the most important idea — why the product or service matters.

My pitch to the Eskimo begins by asking, “Would you like to spend more time with your honey and less time hauling, sawing, and shaping ice blocks?” That’s a conversation starter.

This may seem obvious to you, but review your own sales pitches and marketing materials. Do you start the conversation by saying, “I sell ice that we cut and form into igloo-ready blocks,” or do you say, “I have a great way for you to save precious time?”

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