If you don’t have sales pipeline stages defined, chances are you’re relying on lifecycle stages to understand how prospects are moving through the sales process. But, in terms of the engagements sales has with leads, those lifecycle stage categories are often too broad.
Most of a sales reps’ interactions with a prospect will be during the opportunity lifecycle stage. Depending on your company’s sales cycle, that means leads can spend weeks, months or years in that lifecycle stage, and if you don’t have any more granular way to track what’s happening with your leads, you won’t know if that’s good or bad.
The sales pipeline provides a more zoomed-in look at the portion of the customer lifecycle that sales is involved in. Sales pipeline stages are the steps that need to be taken in order to progress a lead from MQL to customer.
For sales pipeline stages to be useful, there are two characteristics they need to have: They need to be measurable, and they need to map back to your sales process.
Every pipeline stage needs a clear beginning and end trigger so you can track how prospects progress from one stage to the next. The more diligent you are with identifying and enforcing trigger criteria, the better analysis you’ll be able to do.
How your pipeline stage and triggers look will be unique to your company’s sales process. There’s not an out-of-the-box set of pipeline stages your company needs to use.
However, if you’re starting from scratch or looking to adjust how you’re tracking your sales process, these sales pipeline stages can serve as a baseline for any inbound sales team:
The discovery stage is the first time a prospect with real potential to be a good-fit customer raises their hand to initiate a sales conversation. The goal of this stage is for both parties to establish if a potential partnership is a good fit.
At New Breed, we consider the trigger for this stage to be when a meeting is booked and both the prospect and the sales rep accept the invite. Then this stage lasts until the assessment/demo stage.
The assessment/demo stage is an opportunity to share a sample of the value your product or service can provide. It is based on the specific goals and objectives communicated during the discovery call and gives reps an opportunity to provide a high-level overview of what their company does in order to establish trust.
After next steps are communicated and agreed upon in the discovery call and a meeting is booked for an assessment or demo and accepted by all parties, then we consider the assessment/demo stage to have begun.
The solutions overview stage indicates that your conversations are transitioning from discussing theoretical value to practical next steps. The goal of this stage is to discuss the specifics of how your business can add value to your prospect’s business if they become your customer.
Instead of broadly describing your products and services, you’re positioning the recommended solutions you have based on your prospect’s specific needs and goals.
We use both parties accepting a meeting to review potential solutions together as the trigger for this stage to begin.
The solutions refinement stage involves narrowing down the original solution recommendation into a more realistic version that you’ll move forward with. It provides an opportunity to engage a prospect more deeply after they have time to digest information. It’s a very collaborative step full of clarifying questions, thoughtful rebuttals and expectations being challenged.
We use a meeting being booked for the purpose of refining the solutions recommendation and that meeting being accepted by both parties as the trigger for this stage to begin. This stage lasts until the formal proposal is sent to be signed.
The formal proposal/contract stage is a critical juncture in the sales process. It's the point where you've invested significant time and resources into building a relationship with your prospect, and you're finally presenting the solution that you believe will help them achieve their goals.
Sending a written document to the prospect is just the beginning of this stage. From there, you'll likely have to answer questions, negotiate terms, and address any concerns that arise. This can be a delicate dance, as you want to ensure that you're meeting the prospect's needs while also protecting your own interests.
If all goes well, the deal will be close-won, and you'll move on to the next stage of the sales process. But if the prospect decides to go in another direction, the deal will be close-lost, and you'll need to evaluate what went wrong and how you can improve your approach in the future.
Either way, the formal proposal/contract stage is a crucial step in the sales pipeline. By approaching it thoughtfully and strategically, you can increase your chances of success and build stronger, more profitable relationships with your customers.
Sales pipeline stages give you a way to measure your sales process and the effectiveness of how your team operates at each stage.
Are some stages lasting significantly longer than others? What’s causing that? Are there smaller steps occurring there that you’re not considering?
If there are friction points, being aware of them can help you improve how you position your solution and company. Or, that length can be caused by too many steps being combined into a single stage.
For example, at New Breed, our longest stage was “proposal presentation,” which encompassed both the solutions overview and solutions refinement stages described above. The stage took so long because it contained multiple essential steps: An initial call with the presentation, a refinement call and all the communications that happened in between. So, for better visibility, we split it into two separate stages, that way we could track the presentation and refinement steps separately.
When you’re deciding what stages your business should use and how many there should be, map it back to your sales process and, more specifically, the critical steps of your sales process; what exit criteria or triggers need to happen before a prospect can move on?
Like the stages themselves, the trigger criteria will vary from company to company. A SaaS company might need access to some of your software before they can do a demo. A security company might require an NDA before they’ll present a solutions overview. Those requirements would be reflected in the trigger criteria for the applicable stages.
The stages themselves are the categories of the process, but they can also contain sub-statuses. For example, the formal proposal stage involves the contract being delivered, reviewed, negotiated and signed.
However, if you were to make each of those statuses their own stage, it can require tedious manual updates or a plethora of automation in order to maintain the data quality you need to operationalize based on pipeline stages.
Beth is a Senior Manager of Revenue Operations at New Breed and specializes in optimizing how processes and platforms support revenue growth.