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From Zero to $1M ARR: Building a Minimum Viable Sales Process for Technical Founders

As a technical founder, you might be comfortable with the technical aspects of your B2B SaaS startup. However, sales is a critical aspect of your business's success, and without it, you may not be able to generate enough revenue to sustain and grow your company. In this article, we'll provide you with a step-by-step guide to building a minimum viable sales process that will help you go from zero to $1M ARR.

money tree

Understanding your target market

The first step in building a minimum viable sales process is to understand your target market. Defining your ideal customer profile (ICP) is essential to creating a sales process that will work for your business. The best way to do this is to follow the reverse-engineered structure from April Dunford in the book "Obviously Awesome." Here are the steps:

  • Identify your top 10 customers and why they're great. If you have less, just do it based on how many you have.

  • If they didn't use you, what would they use? Be honest. For the most part, it's "nothing," or manual work, or an excel spreadsheet. Think beyond your direct competitors.

  • Now for each competitive set, go through and list your unique differentiators. And I'm talking about unique, only you. Be specific.

  • What's the business value of each unique differentiator?

  • Then identify who cares the most about the value of the differentiators. This could be companies AND individuals.

Creating buyer personas for all of the buyers and influencers of your solution is also important. Product and engineering usually have a good understanding of the user. But often in sales-led motions when you're trying to close $20k+ ARR deals, the buyer is different from the user. Here's what you should do:

  • Identify all of the key roles that would be in your sales process. Job titles, seniority, etc.

  • Map out the jobs to be done for each of the key personas

  • Map out the problems they have when completing those jobs

  • Map out the business impact of those problems

This will give you a great framework for who to sell to. Next step is defining how.

Defining your sales process

The next step is to create basic sales stages. These should be things that happen in every sales cycle. Four to seven stages is probably enough. Lower than four, and you're probably too generic. More than seven, and you're probably too complicated. For many companies, it's basic like Identified, Qualified, Demoed, Contract Sent, Closed Won. There could be a couple more depending on your product and complexity of the sales cycle.

Building a minimum viable sales process

Now that you've defined your basic sales stages, let's turn this into a simple sales process and playbook:

  • Your sales process is the connection of each key meeting. What I mean by this is having a clear outcome for your sales call that leads into the next call if the outcome is achieved. You connect your meetings until it's either closed-won or -lost.

  • For each stage, define your key meetings.

  • For each key meeting, define your Up-Front Contract (Sandler term). People check, time check, your agenda, their agenda, proposed next steps if outcome is achieved.

  • Add a key outcome for each meeting.

  • Add a suggested next step for each meeting.

  • Add a list of questions to ask during each stage of the sales process.

  • Add a qualification and disqualification list for each stage.

  • Add what happens next if they qualify for the next step.

  • Add a list of supporting resources for each stage, like sales deck, demo script, proposal

This can be done in a basic spreadsheet. You can link to decks and resources from there. My first sales playbook at most of the orgs I worked at was a living, breathing spreadsheet. Works well.

Qualifying leads

As a technical founder, your time is precious, and you need to ensure that you're spending it wisely. Not every prospect is worth pursuing. You need to have a clear qualification process in place to identify which leads are worth pursuing and which ones you should disqualify early on. Here are some tips for defining your qualification process:

  • Understand what makes a bad customer: You need to have a clear understanding of what you're looking for in a customer, both from a technical and business perspective. Ask yourself what kind of customer would not be a good fit for your product or service.

  • Probe and diagnose: Once you've identified the right prospects, you need to understand the problems they have that you can solve. Ask questions that help you diagnose their pain points and understand the business impact of those pain points. This will help you determine whether or not your product is a good fit for their needs.

  • Understand the decision process: Finally, you need to understand the decision-making process. Who's involved in the decision-making process? How will they decide what's the right solution? Who signs the contract? Who releases the funds? Understanding the decision process will help you tailor your approach and ensure a smoother sales process.

Depending on how much MRR/ARR you have, you might be loose or strict on qualification. If you don’t have a lot of customers, you might sell a few bad deals to learn. The more customers you get, the more you can refine this over time.

Closing deals

Closing deals is the ultimate goal of any sales process. Here are some tips for closing deals effectively:

  • Identifying objections and creating rebuttals: To close deals effectively, you need to be prepared for objections. Identify the most common objections and create rebuttals that address them. This will help you overcome objections and close deals more effectively.

  • Creating proposals and contracts: Your proposal should be a summary of your discovery process. It should clearly articulate the problem you identified, how you'll solve it, the technical specs, the investment required (price/cost/quote), social proof, and contract terms. Your proposal should be tailored to the specific needs of the prospect and clearly demonstrate the value of your solution.

  • Understanding negotiation tactics: Negotiation is a critical part of the sales process. You need to be prepared for different negotiation tactics and be able to negotiate effectively. Rule of thumb is to understand the why behind price objections before giving in. If they think price is too high, why? Maybe you didn’t articulate the value correctly. Always go back to the pain you identified.

  • Ensuring a smooth transition to customer success: Finally, you need to ensure a smooth transition to customer success. This means ensuring that the customer is happy with the product and that they're able to use it effectively. Make sure that your customer success team is involved in the sales process to ensure a smooth transition. Having a basic sales methodology like SPICED or Sandler will help you capture valuable information that can be handed off to a CSM for onboarding.

A minimum viable sales process is essential for technical founders who are looking to grow their sales-led B2B SaaS startup. By following these tips, you can build a sales process that is efficient, effective, and tailored to the specific needs of your business. Remember to focus on your ICP, qualification, closing deals, and ensuring a smooth transition to customer success. With the right approach, you can turn your technical expertise into a thriving business.

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