Blog post

Perseverance Pays When Selling New Ideas

By Hank Barnes | December 31, 2013 | 4 Comments


One of the biggest challenges for a start-up technology firm that is introducing an innovation that changes the status quo is gaining early success.   Without any brand recognition, buyers are skeptical.   This is frustrating.

Geoffrey Moore recently linked to a video he has used in the past to illustrate the scenario for startups as they struggle to gain acceptance and cross the chasm.  Definitely take a look—it illustrates with humor a very real challenge.   The dancer in the video persevered through the early times when he was being laughed at or ignored due to being “different.”


Without perseverance, here is the typical path for start-ups that don’t reach their potential:

  1. Startup invents an innovative technology that changes the way things are done.
  2. The organization, usually marketing, creates messages and materials that illustrate this unique value.  They train sales reps on the value.   Everyone is energized.
  3. Sales goes out and starts engaging with prospects.   These prospects have limited experience with the innovative technology.  As a result they ask questions based on things they know–looking to evaluate it v. something they understand.
  4. Rather than reinforce the value of the innovation, sales adjusts their messages and approach to talk about the things the product does that are like other products.  The innovative change becomes a secondary part of the story.
  5. Sales tells marketing that a less aggressive form of messaging is working.  They ask for new materials that emphasize more traditional features and benefits, since prospects are more receptive to those.
  6. Marketing adjusts the messages.
  7. Sales engages with more prospects but find that, while they are talking more, they are closing less.
  8. Sales goes back to marketing, saying the new messaging is not working.  They work together and find that they are winning deals when prospects care about the original innovation that was emphasized.
  9. The org returns to the messaging that is close to what was originally used, but often finds that their innovation has been copied by others–resulting in slower growth that they were expecting.

While it is important to listen to customers, it is also important to understand where they are coming from.   In step 3 above, the customers shift of the conversation was driven largely by a desire to have more control and to engage from a position of understanding.    That makes sense.   But, instead of just accepting that, what sellers need to do is relate their innovation to things the buyer understands and use that additional context to continue to explain the value of their innovation.

This requires perseverance.  You have to continue to emphasize value and improvement in the face of questions.  It is not easy and often requires other things–like customer proof points–to work, but it is the path to success.

I will be discussing this challenge and other differentiation ideas in a FREE Webinar next week (January 7 @ 11:00AM Eastern). More information and registration options can be found here.  I hope you can join me.

Leave a Comment


  • Jay Oza says:


    Should a start-up company have both sales and marketing? Are these two roles really for established companies.

    There are quite a few start-ups that don’t have any salespeople, such as Atlassian (according to Dan Pink’s book). They view all their employees as salespeople.

    Are you seeing any kind of a trend where start-up tech companies are hiring technical people who are good enough to also support both marketing and sales functions?


  • Hank Barnes says:

    Thanks for the continued interactions, Jay.

    If they are truly selling online and the product requires minimal explanation and configuration, then you might be able to get by initially with no dedicated sales people. But as the company grows and expands its product line, I would be skeptical if that model will work. You’ve seen my posts on the ideas of everyone being in sales–I don’t buy it.

    Sales and Marketing professionals can come from other backgrounds, but not every technical person is going to be a great marketer or sales rep (most won’t be), so doing those jobs “part-time” is limiting.

    Even with highly authentic marketing, there is a level of encouraging and guiding the buyer to accelerate purchase decisions that is needed. As complexity grows, this need increases.

    If marketing is viewed solely as a lead generation function, then I can see companies living without it. But if marketing is focused on other issues–like brand positioning, targeting, and sales enablement–then it becomes extremely important and strategic (check out some of the blogs by my colleague Todd Berkowitz on this topic).

  • Mark Polin says:


    This almost seems similar to Insight Selling versus Solution Selling. What are your thoughts?

    Thanks, and Happy New Year,

    • Hank Barnes says:

      Mark, I personally don’t see a big difference between Insight and Solution selling—as long as you are focused on addressing the buyers’ needs, its good. Solution selling got a bad rap because of ineffective implementation–insight selling is the new thing that is in vogue. All good selling focuses on buyer needs, first, then product features to support those needs. Providing insights outside the context of an acknowledged or latent need will be rejected by a buyer. In a lot of ways, it is demeaning to the buyer.

      The main point is that a new innovation usually requires a change in the way things have been done. You can’t just talk about the innovation. You need to put it in the context of the old (inferior) way of doing things, then why the new way addresses the need better. That is both insightful and solution selling….If I was picking a name for this, I’d call it “Buyer-centric” selling.

      Happy New Year.