Selling Ice to an Eskimo

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Sharing Insights from my Professional life , where I have been a Sales Engineer, A Health Professional and now , a Project Management Professional. These blogs encompass my observations or experiences. They may be regarding the Projects that I have led or been a part of or something close to our daily lives like Mindfulness and health which may affect our productivity as Project Managers.

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Selling Ice to an Eskimo

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As a Graduate Electronics Engineer, fresh out of university in 1999, the very first job I landed was a Sales Engineer to sell Non-Destructive Testing(NDT) Equipment.  The basics of NDT is sending Ultrasonic Waves through Materials to detect internal cracks and imminent failure. For example at an Oil Refinery,  If pieces of metals used to build pipelines had cracks beyond limits set by the Quality control departments, those pieces of metals will need to be either discarded or repaired.

Having equipped me with the training and the technical knowledge of NDT through various training courses and product demonstrations , My Team Leader decided that I was ready to start my foray into selling my very first Ultrasonic Flaw Detector.

For my very first field trip, He came along with me to meet the Quality Assurance Manager at a refinery with the agreement that he will be a silent spectator while I will be required to do the sales pitch. 

Walking into the refinery towards the QA Manager's office,  I noticed the following:-

  1. Pieces of metals and tubing in the plant
  2. People with protective clothing inspecting materials with equipment
  3. Some other Flaw Detectors similar to ours but of a different make and model, lying around
  4. Some other Electronic Machines lying around.

I then met the QA Manager , introduced ourselves  and this is what I did:-

  1. Showed all our Pamphlets of all our machines.
  2. Started comparing the technical features of our Flaw Detectors with his machines and said how our machine was superior to his.
  3. Described our after sales -service facilities , range of costs , How much warranty we gave, How big was our Service staff strength,  How long will the equipment take to arrive at his premises.
  4. Asked him how many flaw detectors he needed . He said that their department had no current budget and that they had enough for that financial year.
  5. Promised to send him a quotation for different models that we had so he could let us know if he wanted any at a future date.
  6. Agreed to show him a demonstration of our equipment and promised that he will like what I  show him.

We shook hands and took leave of our prospective client and I was replete with excitement. My team leader noticed my beaming face and said "good job" and decided to be quiet about it.

Back at the office , he called a private meeting with me and told me that I was trying to "Sell Ice to an Eskimo". When I looked puzzled , he asked me the following questions:-

  1. I had seen pieces of metals and tubing in the plant, did I ask the QA Manager what they were meant for?
  2. Did I try to understand the overall Quality Assurance function of the refinery and how and what portion of  NDT fit into it?
  3. I saw a competitor's flaw detector in the plant? Did I look curious and ask the QA Manager what he was using the existing equipment for? Did I ask him about what the other electronic equipment were meant for?
  4. Did I ask the QA Manager about his real requirements? that is, If he were to buy a flaw detector, what technical features was he looking for and what was he going to use it for? What were the pain-points not being addressed by his current equipment?  Whether he knew of other departments that may need the equipment? 
  5. Did I ascertain how their Department procures equipment? Open Tender? Private Sale? When is the next purchasing cycle? Is their budget for their department to buy something? Could he give an indication of what price range he was looking at? Was he the person that could influence buying or was there another person I really needed to talk to ?
  6. When I did not even establish If he was interested in buying, why would I wan't to give him a quotation? What if he just shows that to the competitor during a private sale negotiation and the competitor undercuts me?
  7. Why would I agree to show him a demonstration if I don't even know If he will buy it or how he is going to use it?
  8. Did I try to establish rapport with him? Did I listen more and talk less? Did I ascertain If he was happy with the current after sales support or was he expecting something more that we could provide?
  9. If I had asked him more questions, I may have found out about another bigger equipment that we could sell? May be he wanted an Industrial X-ray machine, a Magnetic Crack Detector

Long story short, My brilliant sales pitch was unlikely to get us the sale .

And when he saw me totally frozen from head to toe and feeling like an amoeba he said with a smile "Welcome to the world of sales my friend, Now that you know that you almost always deal with Eskimos in the sales world,  let me teach you how to sell Ice to them."

(image courtesy :- rgva.co.uk)

Posted on: May 18, 2017 07:54 PM | Permalink

Comments (3)

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It all boils down to the communication. Sounds like you had a good mentor to point this out.

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