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Sales Opportunity Stages: the Ultimate Guide to Best Practice

The idea of a sales pipeline isn’t a new one, but in business it’s especially important to get the basics right. That’s why we’ve put together this guide to best practice, so that you can better target leads, minimise the number that drop out altogether, and help make your venture a more successful one. Let’s get started!

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Why Are Sales Opportunity Stages So Important?

Before we dive into optimising your sales pipeline… Are you sure why you need one? They aren’t a kind of ‘due-diligence’ when it comes to setting up a business, in the same way that some people view mission statements and the like. They have real value and a real use.

If you own a B2B business, sales aren’t instantaneous for you like they are for, say, Amazon. If someone wants to buy a brand new sun hat and hammock for the next time they’re at their beach hut, they log onto Amazon and buy them in just a few clicks. Simple. Selling B2B can take some time, especially if you’re selling low volume/high value, so you need to think harder about how to turn that client in a sale.

Sales stages break down your list of potential clients into manageable chunks, which is going to help you market and sell more effectively. It’s all about saying the right things at the right time. There’s no use trying to close a deal with a new client in your first ever email to them. Picture sending this to a potential client you’ve never spoken to before:

As a recruitment firm based in London, we’ve helped a fair few of your competitors with their recent hires. We could do the same for you, for the sweet, sweet price of £4.99 per hire (£3.99 for interns)! What do you say? Do we have a deal?

Obviously that’s OTT; canvassing for leads and closing a deal are at the exact opposite ends of any sales funnel. But that’s a simple illustration of how odd it is to try the wrong techniques at the wrong time. Dividing your sales process into stages is just a way to help you subtly navigate your way through the stages in between. And then once you have your funnel in place, it’s also going to help you figure it where you might have potential bottlenecks/drop-offs between the point where you initially contact a lead and the point where they become a customer. So let’s take a look at some of the most common parts of a sales funnel.

So What Stages Are There?

Depending on how technical you want to get, there are normally between 3-7 stages in a sales funnel. The most common are as follows:

  1. Prospecting
    Prospecting is where a potential client is simply looking for whatever it is you have to offer, but hasn’t registered any kind of interest yet. They’re just browsing.
  2. Discovery
    Here’s where you know that the key decision maker for your lead would like to learn more about what you have to offer. You have to help them discover your products/services through contacting them and trying to move them along the funnel.
  3. Evaluating
    Your potential client has a genuine need, and is considering whether you and your product/service is the best fit for them. This is where your sales team earns their daily bread, by showing them exactly what they’d be missing if they didn’t pick your business.
  4. Negotiating
    Your potential client wants to move forward with you, but they want to get a good deal. Maybe they want 20% off, and you offer 10% in return. Your sales team has to push to get the best deal without losing the lead altogether.
  5. Finalising
    You and the client have agreed on a deal, but before you move forward, you have to finalise it. Think paperwork, providing a prototype or working on an initial batch of something before moving on to working with the client on an ongoing basis.
  6. Closed Won vs. Closed Lost
    The client is happy and wants to move on with you? That’s Closed Won. The deal isn’t going ahead? That’s Closed Lost, because there’s typically no winning over a client that got to this stage but pulled out.

Where Does a CRM Fit in?

A CRM doesn’t win leads on its own, but it does help a competent sales team close more sales if used right. So how does it fit in?

  • Your team can keep track of what stage a lead is at with a CRM. The client said they’ve finished considering whether they want to work for you and they’d love to go ahead? Click—done.
  • A CRM can send emails automatically to keep the lead moving along the funnel. They registered their interest but haven’t responded to your sales team’s first email? You can set a CRM to automatically email them a reminder a week later. That’s fewer leads slipping through the cracks.
  • CRMs can track stats. Is there a huge drop-off between stages three and four? Or is one sales team vastly outperforming the rest? CRMs can tell you, and you can feed those stats back in to your funnel to improve it.
A Couple of Things to Consider…

CRMs are great, but they’re not cure-alls. They’re only as useful as the teams that use them.

  • If you’re scaling your business, you’ll naturally want your sales team to get used to your new CRM as soon as possible. Make sure to give them a crash course, at the very least, if you want to get the best out of your new system as soon as possible.
  • Not everyone on your sales team is going to like adjusting to a CRM at first, although they’ll come around to the idea when they see how well it works. It’s important to get the team to commit to using the CRM properly—updating the stage a lead is at, for example—to prevent wasted effort.

But if you set one up right, a CRM is going to save you time and make you money. You can even try one out for free to see what you’re missing.