How to Define Sales Cycle Stages

Sales Pipeline Stages

Early on in my sales career, I realized a couple of fundamental truths about sales: You can’t control results but have complete control over your activities, and when you put effort into activities, results will improve.

This is straightforward when you work on your own, but when you work in a team, some ground rules are needed. Otherwise, you may have people doing more activities, but without results improving, because they are not doing the right activities. A team needs a shared understanding of the optimal sales process and speak the same language, if you will.

For example, if the best practice is to make initial contact, identify needs as the next step and then send a quote, you don’t want some of your salespeople sending out lots of quotes without asking customers about their needs first.

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Setting the right sales pipeline stages gives you more control over sales results

Working with the sales pipeline model helps you define the best process for sales and measure what gets done. You can then start managing sales activities at key stages within your sales process, and ensure that the whole team focuses on things that give the best result.

A typical sales pipeline might look like this:

  • Target (early days, not yet contacted)
  • Contacted (you’ve called or emailed)
  • Meeting Agreed (you’ve agreed an agenda and a date for the diary)
  • Proposal Sent (you’ve submitted a formal proposal with a $ figure)
  • Close (time to get the signature on the bottom line)

If leads go through the sales cycle in this order, and you increase the quantity of leads in these key stages, you’re guaranteed to sell more.

Sales pipeline stages will differ in each business based upon the sales approach, the product/service sold, decision-making process of prospects, and other factors. No one sales pipeline design fits all.

How to define sales pipeline stages that suit your business

  1. Think through your customer's buying process and the main decision points from the customer's point of view. Then write down the matching sales stages for your team. It should take no longer than 10 minutes.
  2. Discuss the stages with your team. Get input and initial understanding.
  3. Spend some time checking that your stages match all your typical sales scenarios. This is best done in a smaller group.
  4. Review the stages with your team. Make sure everyone understands the aim of defining sales stages and agree on measuring activities at each stage.
  5. Revise the sales stages in a month or two.  If a stage seems to be confusing then rename, delete or add new ones to reflect what’s really happening with your sales pipeline.

I’ve defined sales cycle stages. What next?

The power of sales cycle management is the ability to establish activity expectations and put measurements in place to identify and fix leaks in the sales pipeline. Defining sales stages gives you a good baseline and common understanding. Once this is done, there are numerous ways to improve and optimize the sales process.

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