Early Sales Efforts Foster Value Co-Creation

Two key tasks we help early stage teams with are preparing for and executing successful negotiations of complex long-term business relationships. These early sales efforts must foster value co-creation with customers because both parties understanding of requirements will continue to evolve as the product is deployed and gains wider use.

cooperationQ: I Want to Sell–But I Am Not A Good Liar

I have this conversation several times a month:

  • Entrepreneur: I don’t think I will be very effective in sales; I am not a very good liar.
  • SKMurphy: Have you collaborated with other people on a project as an equal? Have you been able to understand what they need and explain your constraints and what you can accomplish and negotiate a common approach?
  • Entrepreneur: Yes. I am comfortable working in a team, listening to other’s perspective and explaining what I think I can make happen and what may be much more difficult.
  • SKMurphy: Then you can sell. Certainly early sales look more like a negotiation around how you can create value for and with a customer. You are negotiating a relationship that should last for several years. If you lie to a prospect to close the sale it’s the same as lying to a team member. Eventually they find out and you develop a reputation.

Top Four Traits of Successful Salespeople

Here are the top four traits of successful sales people according to a 2011 study of 1,000 successful sales people by Steve W. Martin published in Harvard Business Review:

  1. Modesty
  2. Conscientiousness
  3. Achievement Orientation
  4. Curiosity.

As my typical conversation about selling indicates, many entrepreneurs with a science or engineering background are surprised by this list and don’t realize they have the tools to become very effective in sales.


“Contrary to conventional stereotypes that successful salespeople are pushy and egotistical, 91 percent of top salespeople had medium to high scores of modesty and humility. Furthermore, the results suggest that ostentatious salespeople who are full of bravado alienate far more customers than they win over.
Selling Style Impact: Team Orientation.
Instead of establishing themselves as the focal point of the purchase decision, top salespeople position the team (presales technical engineers, consulting, and management) that will help them win the account as the centerpiece.”
Steve W. Martin in “Traits of Successful Sales People

Modesty also allows you to listen and observe carefully, which are two key way that you can gain a deeper understanding of your customer’s perception of their needs, their current practices and workflows, and–if you keep paying attention–the impact of your product on their business after initial deployment.


“Eighty-five percent of top salespeople had high levels of conscientiousness, whereby they could be described as having a strong sense of duty and being responsible and reliable. These salespeople take their jobs very seriously and feel deeply responsible for the results.”
Steve W. Martin in “Traits of Successful Sales People

For your early sales especially entrepreneurs need to bring project management and influence skills to bear, but conscientious follow up lays the foundation for both. Without a deep commitment to providing value to the customers, your startup will not be able to persevere through early negotiations, early deployment, and follow on sales (or renewals).

Achievement Orientation

Eighty-four percent of the top performers tested scored very high in achievement orientation. They are fixated on achieving goals and continuously measure their performance in comparison to their goals.
Selling Style Impact: Political Orientation.
During sales cycles, top sales, performers seek to understand the politics of customer decision-making. Their goal orientation instinctively drives them to meet with key decision-makers. Therefore, they strategize about the people they are selling to and how the products they’re selling fit into the organization instead of focusing on the functionality of the products themselves.
Steve W. Martin in “Traits of Successful Sales People

A complex sale requires you to identify business, end-user, and technical requirements as well any constraints imposed by purchasing or legal. It’s rare that your product is technical kryptonite, providing an unprecedented level of performance that allows you to dismiss questions and concerns from other customer evaluation team members. It’s especially rare for your early sales when your product has yet to fully mature.

The key is not just to be focused on the transaction but to identify other achievement oriented individuals on the customer side who are trying to impact their business by employing your product. If you can determine the job they want to hire


“Curiosity can be described as a person’s hunger for knowledge and information. Eighty-two percent of top salespeople scored extremely high curiosity levels. Top salespeople are naturally more curious than their lesser performing counterparts.
Selling Style Impact: Inquisitiveness.
A high level of inquisitiveness correlates to an active presence during sales calls. An active presence drives the salesperson to ask customers difficult and uncomfortable questions in order to close gaps in information. Top salespeople want to know if they can win the business, and they want to know the truth as soon as possible.”
Steve W. Martin in “Traits of Successful Sales People

I think it’s a sense of curiosity that’s informed by two things:

  1. An appreciative inquiry mindset that values what the customer has already accomplished in terms of their product and service offerings and the talent, methodologies, processes and workflows needed to create, support, and enhance them.
  2. An evolving model of the value impact that your offering will have on improving the customer’s business. Successful sales people elicit symptoms before offering features: they diagnose before they prescribe.

A demonstration of your product should involve mutual curiosity: not only on the part of the customer about the details–strengths and drawbacks–of your offering, but also on the sellers part about the particulars of the customers needs and the implications for the impact on their business.

Complex Technical Sale is Not Won By “High Pressure”

[Alec Baldwin’s “Always Be Closing” speech from Glengarry Glen Ross)

I think we confuse the aggressive behavior of telemarketers and high pressure used car salesmen with what’s actually required to establish long-term business relationships with customers.

“I am not a fan of closing techniques.
You are not closing anything.
You are starting a long-term business relationship.”
Scott Sambucci (@salesqualia)

You can bring “pressure” to bear by pointing out that the consequences of a prospect’s decision–or lack of a decision–may make it harder for you to meet their target dates or performance requirements, in the same way that you would to a project team member whose choices were likely to negatively impact the overall project. But pointing out the likely consequences or implications of a decision actually builds trust and is required to establish a long term business relationship.

Movies like Glengarry Glen RossBoiler Room, and the Wolf of Wall Street have planted the idea in entrepreneur’s minds that sales involves deceit and high pressure techniques focused on completing a transaction–or running a long con–that’s ultimately highly unfavorable to the customer.  As Tony Duda points out in “Alec Baldwin Killed Your Sales Team

“Glengarry Glen Ross, Wall Street, Boiler Room, and Wolf of Wall Street feature world-class acting and are highly entertaining movies. They don’t represent the skill set required to be successful over the LONG TERM in sales. Exhibit A: the movies named all end with people in handcuffs.”
Tony Duda in “Alec Baldwin Killed Your Sales Team

No matter how quickly you close an initial deal or how good a deal it is for your startup, if the customer does not want a second deal and discourages others from dealing with you then it’s a very bad bargain.

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8 thoughts on “Early Sales Efforts Foster Value Co-Creation”

  1. Hi Sean – Excellent post and advice, a lot of which I’ve learned the hard way while running my business. It also matches a lot of what I recently read in “Same Side Selling” by Jack Quarles and Ian Altman. I highly recommend it if you haven’t already read it.

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