Best Practices When It Comes to Sales Pipeline Stage Definitions

August 29, 2012

At the expansion stage, most companies are trying to nail their opportunity or sales pipeline stage definitions. There may have been some opportunity stages established pretty early on, but your business has far more customers now, therefore you better understand the process and milestones along the way. At this point, it’s likely that your stages likely need to be reexamined: Do they really make sense? Is there a defined conversion point from one stage to the next stage? Do the stages map directly to the buyer’s perception of what the obvious next step is?

If not, it’s likely your forecast and pipeline reviews are a bit all over the place, and that is likely making it VERY difficult for you as the team leader to accurately predict to the senior management/board what your month/quarter is going to look like.

Your sales team is also probably confused as hell as to what the natural flow should look like, and how to get from the point at which an opportunity is generated to the point at which the deal has been won.

In the words of our wise leader, Brian Zimmerman, “The least amount of stages in opportunity management wins out.” I’ve seen some companies with 10-15 stages — that’s insanity! Incredibly difficult to manage. Honestly, 4-6 stages should be your goal. If you have more than six stages, you are likely confusing stages with some of the sub-steps within a stage. For example, if “Proposal” is a stage, there are going to be a handful of sub-steps within that stage: legal sign off, procurement process identified, etc.

To minimize the stages (and thereby minimize confusion), Brian will often recommend that our portfolio companies apply “methodology” checkboxes within each stage for these sub-steps, and ask that their reps take them very seriously. If a box is not checked in one stage, then they can’t put the deal in the following stage. End of story.

For clarity sake, a sales process — as we define it here in the Labs — would be the key milestones from open to closed. A methodology is what you would apply to get you from one milestone to the next.

If you have rules around your stages and checkboxes firmly in place you are likely to have more accurate reporting results, and your forecasting accuracy should improve. Also, your sales team will have a clear understanding of exactly what is expected of them, and what it takes to get the job done.
For more information about how to review your sales pipeline and improve forecasting accuracy, please download a free copy of our recent eBook:

Sales Forecasts: A Question of Method, Not Magic