Home Thinking Aloud Navigating Selling: Everything Is An Iceberg

Navigating Selling: Everything Is An Iceberg


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by Karl Becker, author of the upcoming book “ICEBERG SELLING: Becoming a Better Salesperson by Looking Below the Surface”

Has your partner ever yelled at you about how you’re loading the dishwasher wrong? Did they seem a little more upset than they should be about something so basic? Chances are, there was something deeper than that going on, another reason they were frustrated with you. They just weren’t saying it.

Have you ever seen a little kid have a full-on meltdown because someone told them to put socks on? It probably wasn’t about the socks. It was probably because they were overtired, or didn’t want to go home, or a combination of the zillions of reasons kids cry.

And, more to the point of what we’re talking about here, have you ever had a great call with a new customer only to have them ghost you? Chances are there were things going on with them you didn’t know about, either. That’s because, even in sales, there is always more to a situation than meets the eye.

That leads me to the number one rule I want you to remember.

Everything is an iceberg.

Icebergs that float out in the oceans come in all different shapes and sizes. Some are pointed, some are round, some flare out, and other ones go straight down. Some of them are huge, and some of them, if you blink, you’ll miss. The one thing they have in common is that they are all 90 percent underwater.

And just because you have seen one iceberg doesn’t mean you are an expert on every single one. To navigate an iceberg safely, you need to explore it, or you might end up crashing into it and sinking (even if you think you’re the king of the world).

You know that your partner is annoyed with you, that the toddler is crying, and that a customer hasn’t gotten back to you, but that’s only 10 percent of what is actually going on in any given situation. Each one of those things are symptoms of something bigger. They’re only the actions you see on the surface. There’s always a lot more happening below that.

Keeping your partner happy with you is about more than doing the dishes their way. It’s about truly understanding who they are, what fills them up and what wears that down. It’s about seeing your partner in their entirety and meeting them there. If you want the toddler to stop crying, shouting at them to be quiet won’t do the trick. But taking a moment to understand why your two-year-old is raging might be a good next step. When you spend the time investigating and getting curious about the root cause, the path forward often becomes clear.

It’s no different with your customers. As a good salesperson, you know every customer is a little bit different. You don’t assume one person or company needs the same thing as another. That leads to misreading a situation, getting ghosted, and losing sales. If you want to find out what’s keeping a customer from responding to you, you need to understand what is really important to them. You need to be sure you showed them enough value and understanding in your last interactions and that you provided a clear and compelling path forward.

In the world of sales, one of the biggest and most frustrating risks is getting stuck in something I call the check-in zone. You’ve probably been there and know what I mean. It’s that place where you think you created value, and you think things went well in your interactions, but the customer stops responding to you and you feel you have been ghosted.

So now you find yourself in that dreaded place…that place where all you feel you can do is check in. You observe yourself leaving voicemails or text messages or writing emails with empty lines like…

“Hey, do you have any questions? I’m just checking in.”

“Just pinging you again to see if there’s anything I can do for you.”

“Do you need anything? Please reach back out if you’d like to talk further.”

“Hey, I haven’t heard from you in a while — are you breaking up with me?”

(Okay, that last one might not apply to your customers, but you get the picture.)

Getting stuck in the check-in zone feels horrible. Suddenly, we don’t feel like we have any traction or any path forward. We have no idea why things have stalled, and we start to send more and more desperate messages. What is happening is we start to make the sales about ourselves and what we need, but we disguise it in language about helping them or answering their questions.

After all my years working in sales, I can tell you that in the check-in zone, it’s super likely you’ve run into trouble because you looked only at the 10 percent of the customer’s iceberg that is above the surface.

If you don’t walk away with anything else, there’s one thing I want you to remember. To go from being a good salesperson to a great salesperson, you need to think about every person, every event, and every company you deal with as an iceberg. And to really keep out of trouble, you can’t wait to do so until you’ve already run into it.

When you are first getting an understanding of what a customer wants from you, you are just seeing what is on the surface. Learn to look deeper and you find more ways to connect. Then you start to build stronger relationships. Navigating an ocean full of icebergs involves preparing the right way and moving forward with confidence.

Now, that doesn’t mean icebergs are purposefully out to sink you, just like the people and situations you encounter every day aren’t there to trip you up. They are just there, going about their iceberg business, and it is up to you to decide what to do with them. Do you want to pass them by? Do you want to stop to explore them? Or do you want to pretend they aren’t there and risk wrecking everything?

No matter what you decide, you never know what’s going on with an iceberg from one look. 

Lacking knowledge creates risk, whether you are steering a boat off the coast of Greenland or heading into a sales call.

With Iceberg Selling, you’ll be at lower risk, and you’ll be ghosted less and less. Your customers tell you they want to buy from you, and together you will chart next steps and get into mutual agreement on the path forward. As a bonus, the more you see everything as icebergs, the better you’ll connect with other human beings. That’s because when I say, “Everything is an iceberg,” I mean everything. Your family, your friends, your colleagues, your customers, your favorite barista — all of them have entire stories that you will only know if you seek to understand them.

*excerpted from the upcoming book “ICEBERG SELLING: Becoming a Better Salesperson by Looking Below the Surface” by Karl Becker


Karl Becker is a speaker and consultant who connects with your audience in a down-to-earth way and provides them with actionable value. Using his thirty years of experience as a salesperson, consultant, and coach, he inspires salespeople and shows them how to use their strengths to connect with their customers and achieve amazing sales results. He is author of the upcoming book “ICEBERG SELLING: Becoming a Better Salesperson by Looking Below the Surface”.