The 7 Sales Pipeline Stages Every Small Business Should Use

As sales are one of the vital functions of an organization, the entire sales process has to be meticulously planned, and every stage of the sales pipeline needs to be judiciously executed. An essential part of the sales process is to identify and include the right steps in the sales pipeline. Though the pipeline stages may differ from one organization to the other, they more or less remain similar.

An organization that doesn’t have a proper sales pipeline may miss out on acquiring new business due to mistakes by the sales team. To avoid this, organizations need to automate their sales process by implementing sales CRM software. The CRM software helps in tracking the lead through all the stages of the sales pipeline and assists the sales team to have a systematic approach towards working on the lead until the deal is over.

Here are the seven stages of the sales pipeline that businesses need to have.

Stage #1: Prospects

Prospect is the first stage in the sales pipeline. Prospecting involves gathering information about all the people that contact the business. The details of the prospective clients may be acquired through different marketing campaigns, and their contact details are stored. It’s a comprehensive list of all the people who can be potential clients. The people who are narrowed down from this list, based on the interactions by the sales team, are considered for the next stage of the pipeline.

Stage #2: Leads

Leads are the people who, in the opinion of the sales team, might buy the products/services. They will be contacted by the sales team to make a pitch and persuade them to sign a deal with the organization. Leads are more important than prospects as they are more likely to give business to the organization. The CRM system needs to maintain a comprehensive list of all the leads and enable the sales team to set reminders for all the follow-up activities so that the lead can be moved to the next stages of the sales pipeline.

Stage #3: Pitched

This is the stage where the leads are contacted to see if they can be converted to customers or not. Here, the requirements of the clients are assessed to know if the organization can service their needs and to check if the prospect can afford the services/products offered by the organization. The CRM sales software will have to store the details of all the leads that are contacted and pitched, and the system needs to send frequent reminders to the sales team for follow-up.

Stage #4: Qualified

The leads that were approached and could be potential clients are moved to this stage. This stage of the sales pipeline will have meetings and presentations by the sales team to clarify any issues the potential clients may have and to understand if the product is the right fit for the client. The salesperson will identify the decision-maker from the client’s side and send a series of emails/presentations to educate and gather all the necessary information to qualify the lead.

Stage #5: Proposal

At this stage of the sales process, the sales team will send the project to the potential client. This will happen once the prospect is convinced with the meetings and presentations and is willing to receive the proposal. The proposal is very crucial as it can reflect the organization’s capabilities to meet the client’s requirements and can influence the decision-maker to a great extent. The project needs to address all the apprehensions raised by the potential client and explain the solutions offered in detail. The sales team needs to set reminders and follow-up so that the lead is not lost and the next step can be initiated.

Stage #6: Negotiation

The sales CRM software needs to have a stage for consultation, as many clients would try to negotiate once they receive the proposal. The sales team may have to do a few more meetings and changes, if required, to the project so that the client will accept it. Some proposals may not go beyond this stage. So, they may be dropped by the sales team, and the promising ones will be considered for the next step of the sales process.

Stage #7: Closed

This is the final stage in the CRM pipeline. Once the contract has been signed, the deal is won and closed. For the closed deals, the organization needs to start working on the delivery of the product/service to the client and meet the requirement of the client. Some deals can fail even at this stage. So, the CRM system has to maintain details of all the failed deals to help the sales team analyze what went wrong and avoid such instances from repeating in the future. Follow-up may be initiated for the leads which have not accepted the proposal, and the sales team can try to bring them on board in the future.

The sales CRM software needs to have all these stages in the sales pipeline to assist the sales team in pursuing each lead through every step of the sales process until the deal is won. The sales team needs to manage the entire sales process efficiently to convert the prospects into future clients. A right sales CRM will be an asset for the sales team, and it can help them eventually to win the deal.

How We Use CRM to Track the above Sales Pipeline

Often for salespeople, CRM is perceived as a tool that helps their bosses keep track of their work. The surplus time that salespeople take for entering data into the CRM systems becomes a source of irritation, which in turn makes them think that CRM keeps them from achieving their main target- selling. However, this is not true. CRM is not just another tracking tool. It is the magic wand that helps streamline your sales process in more ways than you can imagine. Before we start elaborating on the process of how we can use CRM to track our sales pipeline, let us first understand what CRM and sales pipeline mean.

CRM or Customer Relationship Management is a methodology or strategy for maintaining an organization’s interactions with existing and potential customers. It’s a software solution that brings a range of capabilities under a single roof. CRM helps you store all the necessary data about your customers, make calls, send emails and even schedule appointments, and most importantly, manage your sales pipeline. The term “CRM” actually refers to CRM as a system, a technology that is used for sales management, contact management, productivity, and so on.

Let’s get it straight- it’s a hard job for salespeople out there- their workspace is filled with scribbled sticky notes, call logs, spreadsheets containing pipeline data, calendars marked with appointment notifications, and so on. So, retracing their relationship with the tens of thousands of customers in a time-bound job like sales isn’t always feasible. This is where CRM takes the lead- it brings all the information in a single cohesive unit. It’s like a one-stop-shop for salespeople- it collects the entire history of the customer’s relationship with the organization alongside a list of emails, notes, and appointments and combines them in one interface.

So how can sales CRM be used to understand the sales pipeline better? Here’s how- sales managers about their sales target can attain access to reliable information about team members by using CRM software. Also, monitoring of how well products and campaigns are performing can be tracked by CRM. Here are how CRM can be used to track the sales pipeline.

Nurturing Leads

There is a saying that time is money, and in the sales world, time is everything. A lot of time is often wasted on chasing unqualified opportunities. CRM comes to the rescue- it helps to nurture leads, allowing salespersons to prioritize their leads depending on their likeliness to close. For a company to excel in their business goals, some form of lead scoring data is essential, and CRM does just that- it maintains a whole history of interactions which informs communication with existing and prospective customers. Findings of a survey have shown that companies that focus on lead nurturing generate 50 per cent more sales-ready leads at 33 per cent less cost. In this regard, a CRM system helps to gain full control of your sales pipeline by simplifying the process of prioritizing leads.

Makes Accurate Forecasts

Accurately forecasting your sales goals and future needs should be your first criteria if you want a sales pipeline, which is profitable. Achieving this target is not an easy job- you need to be clear about a host of parameters like an average number of leads, the conversion rate of leads to opportunities, the conversion rate of prospects to customers, and so on to make the job feasible. CRMs aid you in this tedious process. It automatically tracks this information to ensure that your targets are accurate.

Additionally, not only does it help in predicting sales growth but also helps in handling the prospective customer’s journey through the sales pipeline. Data entered in your CRM helps generate accurate and reliable sales forecast, which aids in motivating the salespeople to reach achievable goals. Hence, an effective CRM can increase sales productivity and make the sales process more efficient and realistic.

Helps in Client Management

If you do not have a centralized database for storing the ever-growing information about your leads or customers, managing this vast storehouse of data can be quite exhausting. Evaluating the plethora of information to close sales can become a tedious task. Enter CRM. CRMs not only store and manage data, it also integrates with social media to keep up with social selling. Additionally, CRM effortlessly transfers leads from one department to the other like Marketing to Sales        or from one salesperson to another.

Automate the Process

A significant portion of time is often dedicated by salespersons to nurture leads from prospects to customers. If this time is saved, salespersons can devote more time and energy in activities that are more profitable-selling. An efficient CRM system helps you automate this entire process saving precious time and energy. It filters qualified leads out of the rest, which helps in streamlining your sales pipeline automatically.

In this way, CRMs aid in tracking your sales pipelines and make your sales process more effective and smart. By eliminating unnecessary work and keeping and maintaining customer information centralized, filling your pipeline becomes an easy job, which in turn makes you achieve your sales target.