how to define your sales pipeline stages

Every industry, business, sales team, and sales process is unique. So each of their sales pipelines should be, too. A sales pipeline stage that fits into the sales process for one product or service may not for another. Teams that sell durable and disposable goods will have different sales cycle stages than those that sell, say, capital equipment in hospitals, or cars, or pharmaceuticals. So what is a sales pipeline? And what stages should your team include?


What Is a Sales Pipeline?


The goal of every business is to turn as many leads as possible into paying customers, by walking them along the path of the sales pipeline, or the seller’s journey. It’s a visual way of tracking your prospects as they move through the sales cycle. Also known as the deal pipeline, it revolves around the actions the sales rep takes over the course of the sales process.


Your Sales Pipeline Template


You will, of course, have different nuances to your sales pipeline based on your industry and the particulars of your business, but most will have roughly these five stages in common, and you can use them as a starting point.


defining sales pipeline stages
There are many variations of this sales pipeline depending on the business type and sales process but these 5 steps are the typical sales pipeline stages.

Prospecting


This is the process of finding new leads. Unless you're in a business that gets all of its business from referrals, it's tough to think of an industry that doesn't need the prospecting stage. This can look like networking, cold calling, or any other kind of lead generation activities.


Qualifying


Like a sales funnel, a sales pipeline by nature is funnel-shaped too. Meaning the further you go in the sales process, the fewer leads there will be generally. In the qualifying stage of a sales pipeline, you’ll begin to discern which leads are most qualified and deserving of your efforts right now so you as a sales rep can be laser-focused on those ones.


Demo/Sales Meeting


Then it’s time to reach out. Schedule a demo or a sales meeting with qualified leads. And then nurture the relationship at every contact point. Build rapport and consistent engagement by doing things like liking their LinkedIn posts, emailing, or honestly listening to their objections.


Proposal


Make your official offer to your prospect. Make your case for why and how your product or service will meet your qualified leads’ needs, and will do it better than your competitors. Outline the details of your offering, answer questions, and outline any agreement details.


Negotiation/Closing


Now it’s time to convert prospects into customers. You will have weeded some out, but the ones that remain should be solid ones—ones that are educated on your product or service, are interested, just might be ready to buy, and you as a sales rep can help them cross the finish line.


How to Build a Sales Pipeline


So how do you refine this process to fit your team? First, define your target audience. Be as precise as you can here, by using your CRM, information from your customer service agents, customer surveys, and metrics from marketing tools. Take stock of your prospects. What characteristics and pain points do they share? How can you and your team help? Put together an accurate picture.

You can list your prospects using Google Sheets or Excel, but a CRM is a good sales pipeline software tool that is more efficient if you’re managing more than a few leads.


building sales pipeline stages Hubspot Deal Tracker
The Hubspot Deal Tracker helps users visualize their sales pipeline stages.

Then put together buyer personas if you haven’t already. Set up your stages and map out what your sales pipeline might look like, in light of your specific industry and customer base. Refine as you go along, based on trial and error, and observation, and as you track KPIs and other sales pipeline metrics.


Different Types of Sales Pipelines


A sales pipeline can be visualized as a horizontal bar or a funnel. Businesses are all different and so are their pipelines, so you’ll have to tailor the exact number of stages to your particular business and sales process. This will depend on what you sell and how you contact leads.

For example, reps selling SaaS tools, or selling B2B products or services in general may include a sales presentation pipeline stage where they give a demo of the product. The pipeline may look something like this:


sales pipeline stages
SaaS and B2B products often include a presentation or demo stage.

Car salespeople will have a test drive stage. Real estate agents will have a home showing stage. But most will have the same basic structure and stages like prospecting, qualifying or research, contacting and building relationships to determine which prospects are a right fit, contacting those ones, and closing.

If your team has a long sales cycle, your pipeline will probably include more stages. For example, it could look like:


building pipeline stages
Longer sales cycles often have more sales pipeline stages.

But your sales pipeline could be as simple as moving deals from the “New” category to Information Gathering, to Proposal, to Follow-up, to Closing.


Sales pipeline stages
A simple sales pipeline may skip the demo and negotiation stages.

You may choose to include Following Up With Cold Leads in your sales pipeline, since you never know which of your past leads are now ready, or have the budget, authority, or need that they didn’t in the past. Some include Post-Closing Activities in their sales pipeline too.


Systemize the Sales Pipeline Process


Lastly, ensure your sales pipeline’s stages are scalable. Systematize the entire process so you can repeat it over and over again. If your business is small and you only work on up to ten deals or so at a time, you can track your pipeline via a simple Excel spreadsheet.



Another easy way to systematize your sales pipeline is by implementing a sales pipeline software. Map My Customers was created with this in mind. It’s a mobile-first B2B sales solution purpose-built for outside sales teams.  Map My Customers lets your team visualize the status of deals via a sales pipeline dashboard. It offers optimized route planning, in-depth reporting functions and seamlessly integrates with existing CRM’s or can be used as a stand-alone CRM.


Building sales pipeline stages Map My Customers
The Map My Customers deal dashboard displays the status of deals in a sales pipeline.

Defining Sales Stages = More Revenue


Sales pipeline management can help you grow your pipeline, perform accurate sales forecasts, and increase revenue. Having defined, systematized, and repeatable sales pipeline stages as you walk your leads down the steps on the buyer’s journey from lead to customer will keep your sales team organized and make sure you don’t miss any steps.