How to create the perfect sales-stages journey

When you set off on a road trip, you have a vehicle and a road map for directions. On this road map, you mark stops to take along the way.

Think of your sales-process in the same way: The vehicle is your CRM, the road map (showing the entire journey, from “This person is a stranger” to “This person is a customer”) is your sales process, and the stops along the way are the sale stages within your pipeline. Your final destination? Converting a deal to a customer.

Your sales team should receive this standardized sales-process road map on day one to keep reps from jumping from one stage to another without clear guidelines. With a road map, your reps will know the specific route to their destination and how they’re each expected to get there.

Benefits of a sales-process road map

Your road map provides an overall picture of the journey and gives context for the sales process. Sales-stages or stops highlight customer points along the way, where your reps have specific tasks to get the potential customer to the next stop. By understanding what happens at each stop/sales stage, you, as the sales manager, can

  • track rep performance, and
  • determine which areas need support.

By understanding how each stage brings them closer to closing a sale, your sales reps can

  • better manage their sales activities, and
  • ultimately improve their sales results.

Each company’s road map is a bit different, depending on its decision-making process, its customers, etc. And some stops may be unnecessary during a sales rep’s journey, depending on their passenger — Qualified can go straight to Won or to Unqualified. A CRM makes it easy to customize your sales-stages. When first building your sales pipeline, however, consider starting with the most common sales-stages.

Each is listed below, along with an explanation of how each one guides your overall sales process.
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1. Prospecting: Focus on the right customers

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Prospecting is the incoming stage of your sales process. You are finding potential deals and entering them into your pipeline. The goal is to engage with qualified leads who would benefit most from your product/service.

You need to determine whether the potential customer is the right match for your product/service, whether they have the budget, whether you can provide the value they need, etc. Answer this question: Is this deal worth it?

Another way to put it? Potential customers are hopping into your vehicle (your CRM) based on the trust you’ve built and the interest you’ve generated in your product/service. You’re not completely sure whether they’re the right person to be riding shotgun, but there are ways to determine whether this person/company is qualified to take the trip with you.

One way to find qualified leads is to focus on building a relationship and reviewing the customer fit early on in the process. You can do this with customer-centric lead generation strategies, such as the following:

  • Solve specific problems on Quora.
  • Create videos with a built-in lead-generation form.
  • Source leads from support-ticket conversations.
  • Offer a helpful email course.
  • Interact with potential customers on LinkedIn Groups.

This stage needs a strategy by itself (consider it a pocket-size road map). Have clear buyer personas for your reps to review to ensure that you are attracting the right passengers and that they are clearly interested in what you’re selling.

2. Qualified: Present to decision-makers

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If the potential customer meets your initial requirements, you both can pull onto the highway to drive to the next stop (move the deal to Qualified). In this stage, you gather more information and requirements about the potential customer. You identify key decision-makers to know whether they can actually purchase or not, and then present the value of your product/service.

Set up an initial appointment or sales meeting. Find out whether the point of contact in the passenger seat is the one who is able to actually make the purchase. If they’re not, find out who is, and ask to meet with them as well.

The purchasing decisions may be made by key executives, based on price, volume, volatile market conditions, or other reasons specific to their industry. Speak to these points in your meeting.

After that initial meeting (or during, depending on what makes sense), present a demo of your product/service to the key decision-makers. Sell the potential customer on what you’re offering:

  • What are you doing better than competitors?
  • How does your product/service overcome key objections?
  • How does your product/service add specific value to this particular customer?
  • What features of your product/service match with customer needs?

Make your presentation customer-centric, and show that you’ve done your research on company needs. Include a call to action at the end of your presentation. Invite the potential customer to sign up for a free trial, or offer a certain discount. These actions encourage your passenger to stay buckled up until the next stop.

3. Quote: Discuss terms and prices

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At this stop on the journey, you and your potential customer are ready to seriously discuss terms and prices. Include what features the potential customer will receive at what price.

In addition to helping you understand whether the potential customer is willing to commit to your product/service, this stop along your sales process helps you determine whether

  • reps are actually sending quotes,
  • quote opportunities are being missed, and
  • reps are following up with potential customers often enough.

This stage highlights rep performance and presents opportunities to improve within the pipeline.

Send a quote to the potential customer, and then wait for a confirmation. If the client agrees to the terms of your quote, you can move to “Closure” and draw up the contract. This is where the traveling analogy gets more personal. The sales rep has now put the remainder of the journey on the line. If the potential customer turns him down, the journey is over.

4. Closure: Seal the deal

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After the quote is confirmed, negotiate the final terms (e.g., tailored subscription or membership) and seek to close the deal. The success of this stage will be reflected in your company’s revenue.

On this journey, you started as strangers. Now you know the person well enough to get them to the final destination. You’ve come this far together; don’t neglect directly asking for the sale.

Communicate again the problem your product/service solves for your potential customer specifically and what value would be gained. Put what you’ve discussed into writing, and then send it to the potential customer. You should present a mutually beneficial agreement for both you and the customer.

This stage highlights specific ways to improve conversion rates. Strategies (or specific turns on the trips) that work for some deals won’t work for others. If the customer does agree to the terms and signs on the dotted line, highlight what went well, and why. What were the specific factors that led to closing this deal?

5. Won/Lost: Determine what works & what doesn’t

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A deal won is a deal closed. Did your potential customer get out of the car, or did they stay with you for the entire journey?

If you won the deal, deliver what you promised. Also make sure that you communicate the terms of the deal with customer support so they can smoothly continue the customer journey.

If you lost the deal, review the reasons why. Pinpoint what’s working and what’s not in order to improve sales. As a manager, this stage also provides you with a view of the performance and the skills that your sales reps need to develop.

And remember, just because a deal may be lost now, that doesn’t mean that you can’t contact the person and their company in the future. Track actions, and record them in your CRM for follow up later on. If you have a good relationship, ask for a referral.

Maybe you just need to take a detour. If the nature of the project has changed, you may move the deal back to either Qualified or Quote and continue working on winning this project. Don’t abandon the journey until you’re absolutely certain that you can’t make it to the final destination.

Implement clear sales-stages in your pipeline

A clear road map for your sales process will ensure that you and your team are successfully working together on your sales process. Review data regularly to find at what stages deals are getting stuck or where you are losing potential customers. Passengers will get out of the vehicle along the way, but new ones will join. Take the opportunity to ask paying customers for referrals.

Also, choose a CRM where you can customize your sales pipeline stages. For example, you may need a stop/stage to move “Unqualified” deals. Or you may need to reorder stages, depending on your business. Review your sales process or road map every few months, and make changes as needed. And don’t forget, the journey doesn’t end at the last sales stage. You want to keep your customers on the journey for as long as possible. Focus on customer-retention strategies and ways to improve the customer experience.

All sales-stages should clearly define the activities your sales reps need to complete to successfully work a deal through the pipeline. An organized sales process increases productivity and improves your overall sales. It’s a journey that requires extensive planning and preparation, but it’s a journey worth taking.

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