The 7 Sales Pipeline Stages that Every Small Business Should Use
The sales processes for a real estate agent, a trainer and a handyman might seem nothing alike. To land a new client, the real estate agent needs prospects to talk homes. The trainer or fitness coach wants them to try out the gym. And the handyman needs to explore the issue to determine a fair quote.
But while every company—and every sales rep—uses methods unique to them, the stages of their sales processes are actually quite similar. Sales reps identify a new lead, work to get in touch, and evaluate whether he’s the right fit for the company before working to close the deal.
Here’s something else most businesses have in common: That sales process doesn’t necessarily play out the same way every time. According to a recent article in Forbes, most marketers are blind to 80 percent of the funnel. And an inconsistent process creates mistakes, resulting in lost leads, wasted time, and limited ability for the business to grow.
When the sales process is automated, though, sales happen the way they’re supposed to. With automation software like Infusionsoft, small businesses can set up an automated pipeline that helps reps keep track of leads throughout each stage of the sales process.
When the rep uses the software to move prospects from one sales stage to the next, the software can automatically send emails to leads. And rather than digging through notes—trying to remember which lead is which, and when to follow up—reps can see the status of each lead and get reminders of next actions to take. One key to success: defining each stage of the sales process and the actions that should occur in it.
In this piece, we’ll give an overview of seven pipeline stages that every small business can use. To illustrate how an automated pipeline actually works, we’ll also describe how Sum of All Numbers, a bookkeeping and payroll services firm, uses these stages in its automated pipeline—a tool that has helped the Fremont, California company quadruple its sales.
1. New opportunity
What it is
A new lead is identified and his contact information is recorded. In Infusionsoft, the collection of that information can automatically trigger an opportunity record to be created. Your sales rep will reference this record throughout the sales process, using it to access contact information, move the lead from one stage to the next, and set reminders for follow-up actions.
At Sum of All Numbers, an opportunity record is automatically created when a prospect fills out an online form for a free consultation or when a staff member records prospect information from a phone call. The software assigns a sales rep to the lead on a round-robin basis, and the rep receives a reminder to call the new prospect.
What it is
It’s time for one of the most difficult parts of the sales process: simply getting a hold of the lead. The prospect remains in this sales stage until the rep makes contact, whether that happens after one phone call or 10.
To connect with the new lead, the Sum of All Numbers sales rep first picks up the phone. By recording the outcome of the call in the software, she triggers an automated series of events. Over the next three weeks, the software will send three emails and twice remind the rep to call again if she still hasn’t made contact.
Each email in the automated follow-up series serves a different purpose. The first sends the prospect a Getting Started Guide and asks him to choose a time to connect. The second, sent because the rep hasn’t yet reached the prospect, educates him on the value of hiring a bookkeeper. And the last email, sent three weeks after the prospect originally expressed interest, asks if that interest still exists.
What it is
By this stage, the sales rep has reached an important milestone in the sales process: She has actually talked to the prospect. Depending on your business, the sales rep might have one conversation in this stage or several of them as the rep determines whether the prospect is qualified to make a purchase. In the engaging stage, the rep might send a series of emails that educate the lead and collect information needed to qualify him.
The Sum of All Numbers sales rep talks with the prospect during a free consultation, the purpose of which is qualifying the lead. At the end of the consultation, the rep goes into the software to log one of these three outcomes, each of which triggers an automated sequence:
A) The lead is qualified
For a qualified lead, the software automatically sends an evaluation form and other documents to be completed.
B) The lead is qualified but isn’t ready to buy
While some businesses would forget about this lead, the Sum of All Numbers sales rep is sure to stay in touch. The conclusion is not that the lead doesn’t want to buy; it’s that he doesn’t want to buy right now. Triggering this automated sequence adds the prospect to a monthly newsletter list and sends a reminder for the rep to call him again in a year.
C) The lead is not qualified or interested
If the lead is never going to become a customer, the sales rep applies a tag in the software that stops all communication.
What it is
In this stage, the sales rep determines the lead is qualified, meaning that he has the need, budget, and authority to make a purchase.
The Sum of All Numbers sales rep sends the prospect paperwork that will allow her to create a proposal and close the sale. Inevitably, some prospects will forget or procrastinate on returning the paperwork, stalling the sales process. In that case, the automated sequence includes reminder emails and tasks for the rep to call if the prospect hasn’t yet responded.
5. Custom stages
Up until this point, the sales processes for most businesses involve the same general goals: contact, engagement, and qualification. Here’s where things start to change. Some businesses may have unique sales stages, like scheduling an in-person meeting, arranging for a free trial, or sending a product sample. Regardless, this stage of the pipeline is designed to move prospects closer to closing the deal.
What it is
As the sales process comes to a close, the sales rep asks the prospect to finalize the deal.
To close a new customer, Sum of All Numbers sends a proposal. At this point, it’s win or lose—accept or reject.
What it is
It all comes down to this: The sales process ends in either a win or loss. Each scenario might prompt its own set of automated follow-up actions—like a series of welcome emails for a new customer, or a six-month check-in email for a lead who didn’t end up buying.
As she does when a prospect isn’t ready to buy earlier in the sales process, the Sum of All Numbers sales rep keeps in touch with the prospect who rejected the proposal. In six months, the software will give her a reminder to call and see if he’s changed his mind.
If the prospect accepts the proposal, that means Sum of All Numbers has a new customer—and it’s time to welcome him with emails and an onboarding meeting to get started on the work ahead. Another automated sequence will guide them along the way.
Subscribe to our newsletter
Fresh small business insights and ideas delivered weekly to your inbox, gratis.
In The Pipeline: Learn How to Optimize Your Sales Process
If you're finding that your sales process is lacking, this guide has everything you need, from keeping track of your prospects, to generating more leads, to closing more of those leads than ever before.