They Won’t Buy What They Don’t Want

How do you sell ice to an Eskimo?

Sales Tip: You can't sell ice to an eskimo

Photo by hakat

The answer: you don’t.

Early in my radio sales career, I met with a window dealer who was actually interested in talking to me about advertising. This was a rarity at the time.

The conversation, as I recall, took place in November.

I asked him when his busy and slow seasons were. He said,

I’ve got one absolutely dead month every year — January. Sometimes I think we should just close the shop down then. It’s too cold and rainy, nobody’s thinking about their windows, and nobody wants a big hole cut in their house during the rainy season. They don’t even want to talk about it.

If you can get people to call us in January, I’ll be your customer for a long time.

That got me excited. I didn’t have a whole lot of customers, and  definitely needed the January billing. He was willing to spend $5,000 for a one-month trial.

I got to work.

Read “How I Began My Sales Career” Stories — and Tell Yours — Here!

Not a TV Sales Cafe Member? Join For Free Here!

I got the shop owner to agree to a January installation discount. I convinced our sales manager to agree to our lowest rates and a bunch of bonus spots on KEX, a station that’s perfect for window dealers. I wrote and re-wrote the script until it was brilliant.

We launched the campaign on the first Monday in January. Nobody called that week.

Nobody called during the second week.

Two people called during the third week, but neither of them bought anything.

One person called during the fourth week. He didn’t buy, either.

For $5,000, the window dealer got three phone calls and no sales. At the end of the month the owner thanked me for my efforts, paid the bill, and told me that radio just didn’t work.  He wasn’t interested in renewing.

Nobody wanted a hole cut into their house in January. They didn’t even want to talk about it.

Lesson learned.

This sort of thing is pretty common with business owners. They hope that if they just find the right advertising venue, they can convince someone who’s not interested to be interested.

If they’re not interested, advertising won’t make them interested.

  • A credit union, whose membership was primarily over 50, launched a campaign aimed at millennials. When these smartphone-happy prospects learned that the credit union didn’t have a mobile app, their enthusiasm cooled quickly.
  • An aesthetic medicine clinic, whose practice was 89% women, decided to go after men. They learned that men were much less likely to respond to a Botox or laser hair removal message.
  • A restaurant whose slowest night of the week was Monday put all of its advertising money toward a campaign to drive Monday business. They found out that their customers, as a group, just didn’t want to eat out on Monday.

I remembered the lesson of the window dealer when I met recently with the Marketing Director for a chain of candy stores in the Midwest. She told me that her “selling season” started in late September as Halloween approached, and continued through the end of March.

“After Easter,” she said, “our business drops like a stone.”

When we got back to the television station, the Account Executive suggested a big “summer sale” promotion — he needed some May and June billing. I told him to wait.

“We could probably talk her into it,” I told him. “But this is her first experience with your station. She’s testing you. If people don’t want candy in the summer, your promotion’s going to bomb. You may never get her back on the air.”

We’re starting the campaign in September, when people start thinking about candy.

Don’t try to advertise ice to Eskimos. Find people who want the ice.


Sign up for my blog updates and never miss a post. I'll send you the first two chapters of my new book, Breakthrough Prospecting, as a thank-you.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

Your Chance to Be Heard -- Comment Here!