Why your sales strategy needs ‘ice’

What is the no. 1 responsibility that CEOs have in the sales function of their companies?

The answer came to me while shopping with my wife. She excitedly showed me a metal cup and passionately conveyed why we both needed one immediately. Then she informed me that the cups cost $40 each! I assumed she’d lost her mind. My wife could not convince me to buy the cups, but I was convinced that the $40 would cost me less than the grief I’d get from denying her request. We left the store with two cups.

After using the cup just one day, I loved it!

During a recent presentation, I displayed my cup to the audience. “How much would you pay for this fine silver cup?” I asked. The first responder shouted, “Ten dollars.” I walked over, removed the lid and showed him a large chunk of ice in the cup. “I put this ice in this cup well over 13 hours ago,” I announced. He was astounded. “Now, how much would you pay?” I asked. He responded, “A lot more.”

My wife failed when she tried to sell me a cup. She should’ve sold me the ice.

A lot of people in sales functions make the same mistake. They spend all of their time selling “cups.” Their CEO has not defined the company’s “ice” or, worse, can’t articulate the ice.

I recently asked a group of CEOs, “What makes your product or service unique and superior to your competitors’?” Answers I received include:

  • “It’s our people.”
  • “Our customer service is tops.”
  • “We’re a leader in the industry.”
  • “Our company has been around 75 years.”
  • “We’re the best at what we do.”

Every one of these CEOs are selling cups, and may soon struggle to survive. In fact, many CEOs sell cups and wonder why their companies struggle to grow.

Contrast that with a CEO in my Vistage group who manufacturers safes and vaults. When I asked him to explain what was different about his safes and vaults, he said, “Our products make criminals’ lives miserable!” He then demonstrated how his safes can physically and psychologically demoralize criminals. In doing so, he sold me ice — and it worked. I wanted to be part of crushing the spirit of these rotten criminals. I was ready to buy a safe even though I didn’t need one.

Your no. 1 responsibility as a CEO is to ensure that your product or service has ice and everyone knows it. If you’re struggling with this, do the following:

1. Ensure everyone in your organization knows and can articulate your ice.

As a CEO, this starts by developing a new way of viewing what you provide your customers and/or how you deliver it. This mindset has to come from you so it permeates throughout the organization, from R&D to sales to operations.

2. Innovate before you become irrelevant.

If you, as a CEO, struggle to identify your company’s ice, then it’s time to innovate and reinvent yourself as a company. One of the best ways to do this is by creating a unique and unexpected customer experience. Entrepreneurs are disrupting old, stagnate industries. Just ask a taxi driver how their industry has been turned upside down by Uber.

3. Add ice to your customer’s story.

Instead of weaving ice into your company’s story, weave it into your customer’s story. Everyone likes a good story, but they like their own story better.

4. Tell the world what your clients are saying about your ice.

When your clients like your ice so much that they talk about it with others, spread the word. Use their words and story to promote your ice.

Many factors determine whether a business succeeds or fails. But if a CEO can’t explain his company’s “ice,” the company will struggle. Identify your ice. If it’s not there, innovate. Don’t wait to be disrupted. Go innovate and lead the disruption.

Category: Sales

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About the Author: dennis howard

Dennis Howard is a Vistage Chair in Dallas, Texas where he facilitates groups of extraordinary CEOs who work together to rapidly grow their businesses.
He also consults with companies to drive substantial growth in sales organizations t…

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  1. Dennis – Great perspective and well written. I’ve heard you ask the question “where’s your ice?” but you’ve connected the dots well in your story so I now understand your message even better. Thanks for sharing. By the way, in your sequel, how about adding what ICE! may really represent as an easy reminder: Incredible Customer Experience! Jim

  2. Jill Young

    October 3, 2016 at 8:43 pm

    Thanks Dennis! I still remember the day when you challenged me to find my “ice”! 🙂

  3. Very well said. I love the ice example. I will need to remember that! It all comes down to sales being the process of meeting the defined needs of the prospect. It is not about the product, it is about the solutions it brings to the customer.

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