By Tron Jordheim
You’ve heard it said about a salesperson: “He can sell ice to Eskimos.” Usually, we take this to mean the person is so good at persuasion, so hypnotically dazzling, that he can sell people things they don’t need. The quote is usually intended as an insult and compliment at the same time.
I’d like to take a different perspective. If you were trying to build a business that sells a product or service, wouldn’t you want customers who understood the value of what they were buying? Wouldn’t you seek out people who knew the most about your product or service and try to find a way to satisfy their requirements? Wouldn’t those people become your biggest users—and fans—if you served them well?
One would think Eskimos know a lot about ice. Their languages have many ways of describing it. Some live in ice houses part of the year, hunt on ice during hunting season, kayak around ice flows, and put ice cubes in their Coca- Cola. If you knew about the different uses they had for ice and what it needs to serve each application, you could build a very nice business “selling ice to Eskimos.”
For example, if you could get the right consistency and coldness of pre-cut blocks, shaped especially for walls, ceilings and tunnels, you could sell igloos. If you knew the kind of ice required to keep animals preserved after a hunt, you could sell “hunter ice.” Ice-flow kayak races that traditionally feature obstacles would be pretty boring without them; so you could create a new market for “kayak ice,” selling large chunks to the races. And, of course, your company would want to be the exclusive provider of ice in the concession booths at these events. Having the same company that provides the best-quality igloo, hunter and kayak ice provide its best “drinking ice” would allow vendors to charge more per cup and possibly sell more drinks.
What about selling refrigerators to Eskimos? Gary Larson, creator of “The Far Side” comic strip, once featured a cartoon drawing of a salesman floating away on his boat, waving good-bye to Eskimos standing beside their new refrigerators. Is that salesperson a great BS artist? Are the Eskimos suckers? Maybe there is more going on there.
Just because it is cold in the arctic, doesn’t mean the temperature is always ideal for storing food. Have you seen what happens to a nice head of lettuce if it is kept too cold? Besides, modern refrigerators have cool amenities like crushed or cubed ice and filtered drinking water. If the company that provided the best ice also sold its own brand refrigerator, it could develop product loyalty that would create years of profitable growth and many happy customers.
If your business was ice or refrigerators, would the Eskimos do business with you? Do you know enough about what your customers need and like? When someone who knows a little something about storage looks at your facility, are they satisfied or impressed? Try thinking of yourself as the ice salesperson who has just been awarded all the lands north of the Artic Circle as his sales territory. Could you develop a good business? Diversify your product to suit specific customer needs, and watch your business grow from ice-cube to iceberg proportions.
Tron Jordheim is the director of PhoneSmart, which serves the self-storage industry as an off-site sales force that turns missed calls into rentals. This rollover-call service serves as a backup to store managers. Mr. Jordheim has started several successful businesses from scratch, and assisted with acquisitions as general manager of the Mid-Missouri Culligan Bottled Water franchise. For more information call 866.639.1715; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.