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Lucas HamonJan 31, 2023 4:35:05 PM8 min read

B2B Sales Pipeline Stages for the Growth Minded

B2B Sales Pipeline Stages for the Growth Minded
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The Culture of Winning

The processes, tech, and collateral you arm your salespeople with are the baked-in ingredients of your sales culture. If growth culture is essential, then so is getting these right.

The presence or lack of those things and how you execute them all play individual roles in the cumulative goal of winning more.

This is why I am painfully intentional in the way I layer elements of growth in the program I lead at Orange Pegs. Every nook and cranny of our template, from the steps we take during our meetings, to the way deals are housed in the CRM, and every other corner of the universe we touch, all play a role in the outcome. Therefore, they should all exemplify the culture I desire.

In film school, I remember my Directing 101 teacher talking about the importance of understanding the premise of any story you're putting on tape, and ensuring that it is present in every single frame. Every camera angle. Every prop or costume. Every line. Every scene. If it's not present, it shouldn't make the final cut. Ideally, it's eliminated before it costs the studio too much.

This process helps the Director focus on what matters on set and post-production. For me, this mindset allows me to be cold and calculated when it comes to refreshing and implementing new growth systems.

Growth is all about following data, not sentiment. Not bias. 

Pipelines Designed for Success

When making decisions about stages, I suggest starting from the top. First, get on the same page with everybody regarding your goals by articulating and defining them. Then, start a debate. Are these the right goals? Are we defining them in ways that are clear with one interpretation, and critically important, measurable?

As a manager or owner, you want to see what's going on, but you also want to be able to make sense of it. How does what I'm looking at translate to revenue and growth?

Any time you leave gray areas in your sales process or pipeline tools, they get filled with crap.

So, get clarity on your direction and everybody's role first and foremost.

We always start at the top--collaborating and defining the highest purpose of growth with the North Star metric and all of the precursor milestones, so we can keep focused on what matters. Then, we apply our growth template (learn more by taking this quiz) to the unique specifications of that client.

Our funnel concept of choice is "Pirate Metrics." 

The entire customer experience can be broken down into 5 stages--Acquisition, Activation, Revenue, Retention, Referral. When running a Growth program, it's important to identify these because it's how we organize experimentation and measure progressive outcomes.

(read more about Pirate Metrics)

What is a "Sales Pipeline?"

First, let's get on the same page.

In the vast majority of the B2Bs we've encountered, the pipeline defines the period after a contact decides to become an active participant in your sales process through the signing of the contract. 

There are times when those parameters change, such as when there are software capability limitations in the CRM (and it gets spaghetti-rigged to perform beyond its ability), or, let's say, you get paid after the work is completed. There's attrition between contracts signed and payment received.

These are our 5 entry rules (must pass ALL tests):

  1. The contact involved MUST be a willing participant in your sales cycle
  2. Each stage must represent a desired outcome
  3. Each stage advances the cause
  4. There is only one way to WIN and one way to LOSE
  5. There's a formula to it--ideally, a proven one

 

The Active Participant

There MUST be a separation between leads that have no life in them yet and contacts that are willingly going through your sales cycle.

I've heard every argument you can think of to combine them because somebody wants to see all of the opportunities they feed their salespeople and their journey to close in one continuous line.

But the pipeline is designed for the sole purpose of focusing on your BEST leads that are moving toward a close. Lists you purchase or names you compile because of an article you read, or direct hits on ZoomInfo data dumps--people who haven't even picked up the phone let alone agreed to share their pain and receive your proposal--they belong in the lead list, not your sales pipeline.

I will die on this hill. This is the single most common place where deals go to die, so if we can't get this right, we're heading nowhere fast.

It's that important.

Leads with no life clutter the pipeline and cloud decision-making. They over-inflate confidence. And ANYBODY can add leads to a pipeline like that, making it an environment of smoke and mirrors... something you simply can't trust--which is why those sales meetings are still just as heated as ever no matter how much tech you throw at the situation.

Outcome-Specific

The second most common place in CRMs where deals go to die is the stage that signals absolutely nothing of value except that it just is. For example, my favorite from Salesforce, is "Negotiation."

Why in heavens would anybody want to move a deal to a place where value has evaporated and it's a bidding war to the bottom?

There's a reason why that stage has deals older than your firstborn child.

It's the "Nothing." (Artax, NOOOOO!)

And it's adding to a culture of apathy.

You're giving sales a rest stop that never ends... but also makes the pipeline look and feel significant. In many ways, it's worse than the "lead" stage because you're making it easy to park deals where significant time has already been invested, whereas "leads" may not have a single second committed to it outside of scrolling past it by the time it dies.

Advancing the Cause

Since we're using specific outcomes as our stages, it's only natural to assume that each stage should advance to the close. The one exception is the "LOST" stage. And, you might make the argument for "stalled." However, I might make the argument that any deal considered "stalled" for more than 30 days is a dead deal because time changes everything, including your read of a client's needs and budget. 30 days is about how long it takes to ignore a stalled deal before moving it to the parking lot of death. You might as way simplify the pipeline and call it what it is--DOA.

One Way In, One Way Out

One of the best ways to deprogram a culture of blame is to change the way you talk about lost business.

A deal that does not close for WHATEVER reason, is lost. 

We can, and should, draw clearer answers than simply lost, but there are places where that's useful and places where it clouds our judgment. When it comes to stages, having multiple lost categories adds clutter. Clutter makes it hard to see things clearly, which makes our judgment less reliable.

One closed WON category. One closed LOST category. Then, add a "closed lost REASON" field that requires entry when a deal is placed in that column. It is that simple, and helps us focus on moving forward rather than dwelling on the past--an important goal if synergy and collaboration is something you value. In Growth, it's everything. (read more about Growth)

A Proven Formula

Drop "Negotiation." Drop "Lead" or "Prospect." Focus on outcomes. Clean up the number of stages by eliminating emotionally charged "lost" categories.

And, apply a formula. 

Ours is a riff off of Hubspot's, which you can find in their Inbound Sales and Sales Software certifications programs.

Our B2B Sales Pipeline for the Growth Minded:

  1. Connect Call (Discovery Set)
  2. Qualified by Discovery
  3. Plan Presented & Sent
  4. Decision-Maker Bought In
  5. Final Contract Sent
  6. Contract Signed - CLOSED WON

Keep in mind, this is just a starting point. It can be customized and steps added or removed when it makes sense to do so. Here are explanations for the categories that typically need details:

Connect call

The "Connect call" is the first point of contact. A successful call results in the next step being scheduled--a definitive commitment to your sales process. This is generally a Discovery call that is confirmed by all parties. As soon as this occurs, the deal is created and placed into this step.

Qualified by Discovery

This is the deep dive you take with a prospective client so you can provide an engagement letter or contract. When the call has been completed and the prospect is qualified, move the deal here.

Plan presented & sent

Ideally, you present the plan live. You can move the deal here after that presentation has occurred and follow-up materials have been sent.

Decision-maker bought in

To many, this stage doesn't seem necessary on the surface. But if there is a period you must wait to get the green light and action must be taken before it can go to the next stage, then this is a perfect place for those "Yes" responses.

Conclusion

Deal stages should be goals you aspire to achieve throughout the sales process. By framing your pipeline this way, you prevent "parking lots of death" from accumulating deals that should be closed.

To learn more about how to get your team on board with changes like this, visit our Sales Enablement Services page:

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Lucas Hamon

Over 10 years of B2B sales experience in staffing, software, consulting, & tax advisory. Today, as CEO, Lucas obsesses over inbound, helping businesses grow! Husband. Father. Beachgoer. Wearer of plunging v-necks.

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