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Innovate the Future: Why Is Your Sales Force So Incapable of Selling?

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Ice, ice, baby! David Croslin, author of Innovate the Future: A Radical New Approach to IT Innovation, considers the real skill behind selling. Who's really at fault if your sales force no longer can push your product to unwilling buyers?

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Let's face it—your sales force has lost its edge. The sales reps don't seem to be able to sell anymore. Your products are best-of-breed and you own the top customers in the market. Yet, even with the best products and the biggest customers, your sales reps can't seem to sell! You've tried replacing them, changing their compensation model, retraining them. Nothing seems to work.

When we want to compliment someone on her skills relative to selling, we'll often use a phrase like, "She could sell ice to an Eskimo." I've been granted this appellation, and frankly accepted it gratefully without fully understanding what it meant. If you want to understand the true skill required to "sell ice to an Eskimo," watch the 1922 silent film Nanook of the North starring Allakariallak, an Inuk Eskimo. Watching the film, I was overwhelmed at the skill with which Allakariallak manipulated his world and innovated improvements to his own and his family's quality of life from a simple material—frozen water.

While there is an urban legend that the Eskimo languages had over fifty distinct words for ice and snow, in reality these languages are very similar to English in the number of descriptive words. The importance is not the naming of the form of ice or snow, but how the Inuk utilize the ice/snow and its transformative value on the lives of the Eskimos. Eskimo survival depended on knowing the right types of snow to utilize for building, drinking, playing, improving the sliding of their sled runners, and many other daily activities.

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