Sales Pipeline Stages — How to Set Up a Good Flow for Your Reps

Josh Slone posted this in the Sales Skills Category
Reading Time: 12 minutes

There’s nothing more important than sales when it comes to growing your business.

However, it’s not enough to just manually track leads.

sales pipeline stages

There’s nothing more important than sales when it comes to growing your business. However, it’s not enough to just manually track leads.

For sales to be truly effective, you need organization, and you need processes. Processes are one-stop shops that every member of your sales team can follow so there’s no confusion about who needs to know what.

This is where sales pipeline management comes in.

From leads to offers and new customers, successful sales pipeline management doesn’t just help your sales team. It also helps you increase your revenue by 15% more than what you’d get without an efficient sales pipeline flow.

And since Excel sheets and manual lead qualifying won’t get your sales team very far, we’ll take you through the process of setting up a sales pipeline flow with the help of the two most popular CRMs: Salesflare and Pipedrive.

Let’s learn how you can make your pipeline process work for you, and turn those leads into customers faster than you can say “revenue growth.”

What is a sales pipeline

A sales pipeline is a visual approach to selling a product or service. It represents a set of stages that prospects move through in their journey from a lead to a customer.

A sales pipeline is a way for businesses to track their sales efforts. It allows sales teams to understand the current status of each deal, as well as enables sales managers to forecast revenue.

In a typical sales pipeline, eads and opportunities start at the top of the pipeline and then move down as deals get closer to being finalized.


The importance of your sales pipeline

Using a sales pipeline will give you insight into the effectiveness of your sales process. It will also provide you with data that you can use to make informed decisions to improve your sales process.

The visibility that comes with using a sales pipeline will help you identify what’s working and what isn’t, and show you opportunities you might not have noticed if you hadn’t been using a pipeline.

A sales pipeline gives sales managers a more detailed insight into how the sales team is doing, and shows how close each representative is to reaching their quota. 

It also helps sales reps understand how each deal is moving forward and enables them to schedule follow-ups for those prospects that need it the most.

Other important metrics a sales pipeline can reveal include the number of deals your company can close through your sales reps, the size of each potential deal, the rate of closed deals, and the amount of time it takes to close a deal.

Ultimately, a sales pipeline helps to increase the productivity and performance of your sales team, which, in turn, results in more revenue for your business.

The difference between a sales funnel and a sales pipeline

It’s crucial to understand the difference between a sales funnel and a sales pipeline. 

While a sales pipeline shows the stage in which every particular prospect currently is, a sales funnel shows the specific stages of your customer’s journey and provides you with quantitative data on how many prospects pass through each particular stage.

A sales funnel shows the sales process from the buyer’s perspective while the sales pipeline illustrates the process from the sales team’s perspective.

A sales funnel helps you understand the conversion rate of each of your sales stages, as well as the overall conversion rate of your entire sales process.

Overview of sales pipeline stages in Salesflare and Pipedrive

In the beginning, you’ll get a generic sales pipeline setup.

sales pipeline stages

Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9A4KDt7NE7E , Salesflare

That setup consists of a few stages.

The first stage in the process is usually “Lead.” After that, depending on your team’s success, the lead can be contacted and qualified, offered a deal, and won. If either of the previous stages weren’t successful, the lead won’t count towards ‘won,’ but instead, it’ll be added to ‘lost.’

sales pipeline stages

Source: https://support.pipedrive.com/hc/en-us/articles/207459195-How-To-videos-A-Pretty-Good-Overview-of-Pipedrive#C3 , Pipedrive

Pipedrive uses different naming conventions, but the stages are similar in their meaning. With both, you can adapt and customize so the CRM fits your sales process.

If you don’t have a sales process already, a good tactic is to make the naming conventions action-oriented.

So instead of using words such as: New, Opportunity, Qualified, you can use more actionable terms such as: Book Meeting, Sent Pricing, etc. This will make the entire process easier on your sales team, as it’ll be clear what needs to be done to progress to the next stage.

Both CRMs operate in the same way, and the goal is to streamline the process so much that your sales team can easily do their work, while the CRM aggregates the necessary data.

Ultimately, having a sales pipeline flow will help you access information such as:

  • Number of deals in your pipeline
  • Average size of a deal
  • Close (won) ratio
  • Sales velocity

These sales pipeline metrics are all necessary for the growth of your business, so having them on hand when you’re ready to review progress and improve can go a long way.

Stage 1: Lead / Idea

Again, depending on the CRM you’re using, your sales pipeline names may change. You can also change them yourself, as it’s much better to add action right into the beginning.

Differentiate between marketing leads, and sales leads. In marketing, there are two parts of the lead generation process:

1) Lead generation itself, where leads are generated through a variety of sources (from advertising to direct enquiries from leads). The goal here is getting contact information.

2) Lead nurturing. Leads are typically nurtured with automated marketing efforts. They’re then qualified according to their responsiveness, and if appropriate, contact info is forwarded to sales for a follow-up.

This is where we get sales leads.

And once the leads have entered the sales pipeline, the goal is to move them forward to the next stage (contacted leads).

Note: Another great and effective way to get sales leads is by prospecting.

For this, you can set up a mandatory “to be contacted” action task, or use that task for the sales pipeline stage name.

Stage 1 mostly serves as an aggregator of different leads who have to be contacted. Depending on the information available for each person, sales team can define who should contact whom.

Stage 2: Contact Made / Contacted

Our suggestion for this stage is for the naming convention to be named after the action task which should be performed. This automatically improves the likelihood of the lead progressing through the pipeline.

In this case, you can opt for “Define needs” as the stage name.

At this stage, your sales team should:

  • Verify that the lead matches key targeting criteria
  • Verify the lead’s likelihood to buy

Including this process into your sales pipeline flow significantly cuts back on wasted time, as it makes sure that the leads are sales-ready. This may not seem like a problem, but keep in mind that on average, only 27% of B2B leads sales teams get are sales-ready. The rest are, to put it colloquially, a dead end.

And having a sales pipeline flow will help you establish that right from the beginning.

sales pipeline stages

Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9A4KDt7NE7E , Salesflare

Once that is verified, you can just drag and drop the account towards the next stage.

Stage 3: Needs discovered / Qualified

Again, naming conventions vary, and typically your stages are named after the tasks you’ve already done.

However, to really proactively advance the lead through the sales process, it’s much better to name stages after actions that should be taken.

In this case, the necessary action would be: “Send a proposal,” “Schedule a demo,” or similar.

In order to qualify leads and make sure that they are ready for your offer, you can use the BANT criteria to define:

  • Budget (Does the lead have a budget, and what is their estimate?)
  • Authority (Does the lead have the permission to make a deal with you, or should you contact someone else?)
  • Need (Does the lead have a need your product can satisfy?)
  • Timeline (Is there a definite timeline?)

If the lead satisfies all four criteria, you can proceed onto the next stage. If they don’t satisfy the Authority criteria, they’re not the real lead. You can either contact someone else (if the other criteria is satisfied), or remove them from the sales pipeline.

The goal in this stage is to spend time where it makes the most sense.

On average, only 13% of leads convert into opportunities, and this can take 84 days, but with a sales pipeline flow that’s dynamic and works with your sales team to advance your prospects towards the next stage until they’ve become customers, you can do it sooner.

Once the leads have been qualified and their needs have been discovered, it’s time for them to advance to the next stage.

Stage 4: Proposal made

Once your team is sure the lead is qualified, your flow should make it natural to progress towards proposals or offers.

Depending on your industry, this can mean a lead demoing your software, or simply approaching them with pricing customized to fit their needs.

The key to successful proposals is personalization.

If a customer approached your sales team with an accurate description of their needs, budget and a timeframe within which they’re ready to commit to your solution, they’ve already given you a lot of information about their particular case.

Your offer should reflect their unique needs.

Communication is key in Stage 4, so it’s important that your proposal shows your sales representative’s understanding of the lead’s unique situation.

When assembling a proposal, make sure all aspects of the lead’s needs are covered and addressed. Even though this has been addressed earlier in the sales process, it’s important to remind the lead of the benefits in order to successfully close a deal.

This is where you can also provide social proof, such as customer testimonials to solidify the lead’s decision.

Again, the proposal stage of the sales pipeline should come as a natural close to previous communication. It should reflect everything previously discussed, as well as clear definition of how your product addresses your lead’s challenges.

Stage 5: In negotiation

This is where Salesflare and Pipedrive’s custom sales pipeline templates differ.

sales pipeline stages

Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9A4KDt7NE7E ; Salesflare

Salesflare’s default Stage 5 is “Deal won” or “Deal lost.”

In reality, your sales process is more likely to reflect that of Pipedrive’s default setup:

 sales pipeline stages

Source: https://support.pipedrive.com/hc/en-us/articles/207459195-How-To-videos-A-Pretty-Good-Overview-of-Pipedrive#C3 ; Pipedrive

When you’ve presented your proposal or offer to the lead you’re trying to convert, it’s important not to give up if the lead still has a need for your product.

The reason behind the most common negotiations is the budget. If you have leeway for accommodating the lead’s needs, negotiate a solution with them.

However, if you’re negotiating because the lead has been improperly qualified, it’s best to either revert them to ‘Contact made’ stage where their needs can be assessed again, or drop them as a prospect entirely.

You can also make a separate stage in your sales pipeline flow for this kind of leads.

Overview of sales pipeline flow stages

Whichever CRM you choose, it should fit the workflow your sales team already has.

If your sales team hasn’t established operation processes yet, it would be good to do it as soon as possible.

The main benefit of having clearly outlined sales processes is in streamlining sales, and improving their speed.

While we’ve already discussed the fact that only 13% of leads convert into opportunities (and it can take 84 days), you can cut back on that time with proper sales pipeline management techniques and software.

However, keep in mind that a sales pipeline flow has to be accompanied by a high degree of personalization.

Your team’s no longer wasting time on managing the process (risking rushed sales, improper lead qualification, and other problems which can arise), which is why that time should go towards improving communication with leads and successfully advancing them through the pipeline.

That’s why official guidelines (such as proposal guidelines) are a good addition to your CRM.

The technicalities of setting up a sales pipeline flow

In addition to setting up the main stages, there are a lot of options that come with CRM like Salesflare and Pipedrive.

Again, a CRM can be your sales team’s communication and process hub. You should be able to access all the necessary information about your leads, deals and the progression of each stage within the software.

sales pipeline stages

Source: https://support.pipedrive.com/hc/en-us/articles/207459195-How-To-videos-A-Pretty-Good-Overview-of-Pipedrive#C3 , Pipedrive

In Pipedrive (and it’s similar in Salesflare), you can change the names, rearrange your pipeline items, or create a new pipeline by accessing settings.

The process is fairly straightforward, so make sure that the sales pipeline flow you’ve made agrees with the flow your team is already using.

In addition to customizing sales stage, you can also customize deal fields (information on your leads).

sales pipeline stages

Source: https://support.pipedrive.com/hc/en-us/articles/207459195-How-To-videos-A-Pretty-Good-Overview-of-Pipedrive#C3 ; Pipedrive

In Pipedrive, you can add different information about your leads, such as title, owner, value, etc.

However, the most important fields are:

  • Deal created
  • Update time
  • Last stage change
  • Next activity date
  • Last activity date
  • Won time
  • Lost time
  • Deal closed on
  • Lost reason
  • Expected close date

While the rest are purely administrative (but can still help your sales team), this information can help you measure the success of your deals.

It’s good to approach setting up a sales pipeline flow with an estimate of how long your sales team should pursue a deal. For example, you can opt for 84 days (which are the average), although it’s best to select a figure that reflects your company’s experience.

Lost reason is another field to keep an eye on. If the lost reason isn’t clear to the sales representative, it’s good to implement surveys where the leads can state their reason.

Keep an eye out for patterns and trends, as well. To use a sales pipeline flow to its maximum, it’s important to analyze data you’re storing.

How can a sales pipeline flow help my sales team?

By keeping the process organized enough for your sales team to focus on more important tasks.

How to set up a sales pipeline

In this section, we’re going to guide you through setting up a sales pipeline. We’ll show you how to determine the ideal size for your pipeline, keep your pipeline velocity in check, avoid common sales pipeline mistakes, and keep track of your sales pipeline metrics.

Determine the ideal size for your sales pipeline

You’ll first need to determine the ideal sizes for your pipeline. This will involve calculating the number of opportunities you need in each stage of the pipeline.

To do this, start by dividing your target monthly or quarterly revenue by your average deal size. This will show you how many deals you need to close every month or quarter.

Now, divide this number by each stage’s conversion rate to get the total number of opportunities you need to generate in each particular stage for a given month or quarter.

Consider pipeline velocity

Pipeline velocity denotes the speed at which prospects move through your pipeline. Depending on your sales goals, there’ll be times when you’ll want to actively focus on improving pipeline velocity to be able to reach your monthly, quarterly, or yearly targets.

To improve velocity, you’ll want to work on the following:

  • Total number of opportunities – You can increase your sales team’s total number of opportunities by working on increasing prospecting efforts.
  • Win rate – Extensive sales training and sales team enablement can help to improve your win rate.
  • Deal size – Educating sales reps on proper upsell and cross-sell techniques can do wonders for increasing average deal size.
  • Sales cycle – Make sure each sales rep is following the key steps that move your prospects from one stage to the next in order to shorten your sales cycle.

Avoid common sales pipeline mistakes

In order to keep your pipeline healthy, you’ll want to avoid the following sales pipeline mistakes.

Losing leads

If you don’t follow up with your leads on a regular basis, you’ll eventually start losing them. To avoid this, develop a standard follow-up routine that your sales team can follow.

Your follow-up routine might involve responding to an inbound lead within a specified amount of time, touching base with leads a certain number of times per month, and using a multi-channel lead communication strategy that involves phone calls, emails, and social media messaging.

Apart from helping your sales team avoid losing leads, a follow-up routine enables them to disqualify non-responsive prospects by removing them from the pipeline.

Allowing your pipeline to shrink

A common mistake sales teams make when receiving a lot of business is neglecting their prospecting efforts, which ultimately results in a dry pipeline.

Your sales pipeline should always be growing. 

Make sure that the left side of your pipeline has more opportunities than the right side at all times. This will ensure that you always have enough opportunities to prevent your pipeline running dry.

Not cleaning up your pipeline

It’s crucial that you keep your pipeline clean if you want to create an accurate sales forecast. 

Since sales forecasts rely on the stage of an opportunity to determine the likelihood of winning a deal, you’ll want to clean your pipeline of prospects that haven’t responded to your proposal for a month or more.

These prospects will not be purchasing your product or service, so it’s crucial that you don’t count their proposals as potential revenue.

How to perform a sales pipeline review

Performing a sales pipeline review will ensure that your entire company is working in sync to deliver sales on a regular basis.

Its purpose is to assist in moving deals through your sales process. A good sales pipeline review doesn’t just focus on the later stages of a sales process, but also looks at fresh sales opportunities.

How often you’re going to perform a sales pipeline review will depend, for the most part, on the size of your sales team and the length of your sales process. Most companies opt for weekly, monthly, or bimonthly pipeline reviews.

During a pipeline review, a sales manager should ask the company’s sales reps the following questions:

  • Are we facing any risks when it comes to closing this deal? How can we mitigate them?
  • How can we speed up the decision making process for this particular deal?
  • What kind of objections have you been hearing from the prospect so far? How can we build these objections into our closing strategy?
  • What makes us stand out among the competition? How can we make this clear to the prospect?
  • Is there a particular reason why this deal has come to a halt? Can we do anything to increase urgency?

In most cases, your sales pipeline review shouldn’t take more than an hour.

Best practices for managing your sales pipeline

You’ll need to keep an eye on every activity in your sales process in order to effectively manage your sales pipeline. 

Here are a few best practices you should keep in mind when managing your pipeline:

Define each stage of the pipeline

You need to have  a clear definition of each stage in your sales pipeline. Each member of your sales team should know what needs to be done in order to move a prospect from one stage of the pipeline to the next.

Apart from giving your sales team a better picture of what they need to do to get closer to closing a sale, clearly defining the stages of your sales pipeline also enables you to perform a more detailed analysis of the pipeline itself, which opens up the possibility of discovering potential bottlenecks.

Use CRM software

A CRM (Customer Relationship Management) platform will enable you to track where each prospect is in their customer journey, and help you have an easier time managing your pipeline.

Using a CRM is especially important for companies that have large sales pipelines with hundreds or thousands of leads since tracking becomes more and more complicated as your pipeline grows.

Capture more data on your prospects

Data allows you to make informed decisions rather than relying on gut instinct. By having more data on your prospects, you’ll have a better understanding of their goals and pain points and be able to create a more effective sales pitch.

Gathering more data will also enable you to make more accurate revenue predictions and sales forecasts, as well as provide you with insights that can help you shorten the length of your sales cycle.

Keep an eye on sales pipeline metrics

You should be tracking a wide range of sales pipeline metrics, including total number of deals in your pipeline, the average deal size, the average close rate, as well as your sales velocity.

Set aside some time every week to review your sales pipeline metrics. If you find that one or more of your metrics is substantially out of line, make the appropriate changes to get your sales pipeline back on track.

Sales in 2019 will require even more personalization and attention to leads, even before they’ve become customers.

Having a sales pipeline flow can also help you retain customers. The post-sale stages are the ones that help with reducing churn, and increasing customer satisfaction. But retention tactics can be put into motion as soon as the lead is qualified.

With personalized communication that comes from storing necessary data, warming up the leads and converting them into customers who are happy to be doing business with you isn’t hard at all.

After all, that’s what sales pipelines are there for. They help your sales team do what they do best: sell.

Editors Note:

Want to help contribute to future articles? Have data-backed and tactical advice to share? I’d love to hear from you!

We have over 60,000 monthly readers that would love to see it! Connect with me on LinkedIn and let's discuss.

Josh Slone
About Author: Josh Slone
Josh Slone is the Head Content Writer for LeadFuze. Josh writes about lead generation strategies, sales skills, and sales terminology.

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