The Founder-Led Sales Process that Drove $600K in ARR

Founding a company is challenging enough without also heading your sales process. But Kelvin Johnson, the CEO and co-founder of Brevity, believes that leading sales is an opportunity for founders to get to know their customers. He’s developed a five-step sales process that tailors to a prospect’s pain points and adapts to his customer’s needs, while also allowing him to learn his Ideal Customer Profile (ICP) and build trust. 

In a recent webinar for Right Side Capital Managment’s portfolio companies, Kelvin sat down with RSCM’s “Sales Doctor” Paul Swiencicki to share how he’s used his founder-led sales process to drive $600K in annual recurring revenue (ARR) for Brevity’s core product, an AI-powered sales role playing tool.

Below, we outline Kelvin’s sales process and highlight some of his key insights. 

Step One: The Qualification Call

Kelvin uses a qualification call to kick off his relationship with a prospect to determine if his product will be a good fit for them. He makes sure the call takes place before any additional time is spent on the sales process. “We start off these conversations by asking, ‘What piqued your interest to even take this call?’ and ‘What will a successful outcome look like at the end of our 30 minute conversation?’ So at least we have an anchor point as to what’s important to them,” says Kelvin. “We may have our own agenda, but I really want to figure out what is important to this prospect. And I want to make sure we maximize our time.”

Qualifying leads is a critical part of sales success. A founder’s time is best spent on  prospects where their product can make a big impact. “At first, we weren’t doing a great job of qualifying our leads. But over time, we ended up discovering that our best ICP is somebody that’s at the sales manager level or above, who oversees at minimum 10 sales reps. That’s where it starts to make sense for us,” says Kelvin. “You’ve got to qualify hard to close easy.”

Step Two: The Custom Test Drive Demo

Kelvin has learned that a demo is much more effective when he caters to a prospect’s specific pain points. He schedules a “call before the call” in advance of a demo to gather information. “In the call before the call, we’re trying to figure out where a prospect is experiencing the greatest friction, what initiatives they have in place to alleviate that friction, and what have been the results of those initiatives,” says Kelvin. “We’re also trying to get into the weeds of what key success metrics matter the most to them, a.k.a., ‘How do you plan to justify this investment internally?’”

Once he knows what’s important to his prospect, he can give them a customized demo. Demonstrating he paid attention is also a great way to build trust and strengthen his relationship with the prospect. “You have to shut up, listen, and then here’s the most important part: As soon as you hear what the customer says, that’s the only thing you demo,” says Paul. “What I find is that everyone just does a spray and pray demo. It’s all just one size fits all. That’s not what prospects want. The first thing you have to demo is what they said their problem is. Otherwise, they’re not going to listen.”

Step Three: The Business Justification Review

After the demo, Kelvin sends the stakeholders a document that captures everything he’s learned about them thus far. The document outlines their problem, what they’ve already tried, the outcomes and results of those past solutions, what they stand to gain by using Kelvin’s product and, most importantly, what they stand to lose if they do nothing. “One of the most important sections in the document is about the cost of inaction – the lost revenue calculator,” says Kelvin. “The biggest thing we’re all competing with is doing nothing.”

He then schedules a call to go over the document with the stakeholders, so he can put all of the relevant information in front of the prospect in one tidy package. “This makes our champions look so good when they present to their CFO along with a supporting Excel sheet that shows them the cost of doing nothing, of not buying our product. That shows them why they need to start now,” says Kelvin.

Step Four: The Kick-Off Call

Kelvin is thinking about retention before he’s even closed the deal, which ultimately leads to higher ARR. Research has shown that retaining customers is cheaper than acquiring new ones and that improving retention by just 5% can drive profits up over 25%

Kelvin sends the prospect a plan for implementation that sets expectations and shows clear milestones and goals. “We understand how overwhelming new software can be,” says Kelvin. “I’m trying to break it down into very digestible pieces.” He asks his new customer two questions: “Before the end of our renewal process, what are you going to brag to your board about?” and “What is one high-impact scenario where we can deliver first value?” Kelvin and his team can then have a kickoff call that caters to these primary objectives. 

Step Five: The First Value Check-In

About one month after closing the deal, Kelvin schedules a call with his new customer to ensure they’ve hit their initial goal. “Our average customer is getting to first value within 17 days. Not because they’re focusing on uploading their entire sales playbook into our roleplaying software. No, no, no. We’re focusing on one high impact, high stakes, high frequency scenario,” says Kelvin.

From there, Kelvin can work with the customer to expand Brevity’s usage and ensure the customer is getting what they need. “I tell them, ‘It’s our job to make this simplified for you and your team,’” says Kelvin. “Everybody learns how to maximize the utility of the software within the first month. And then once we’ve nailed that, then we get to show ongoing value.”

A Repeatable Process for Building Revenue and Trust

Kelvin’s five-step sales process is a testament to the power of personalized engagement. It emphasizes active listening, customized demonstrations, and transparent communication that not only fosters trust but also ensures alignment between Brevity’s solution and the customer’s needs. By implementing Kelvin’s strategies, you can not only increase your chances of closing deals but also establish credibility, laying a solid foundation for a long-term, successful partnership.

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