Sales will progress through a sales funnel defined stages with each stage narrowing the potential customers to those that flow through the next and eventually become paying customers or lost opportunities.
Stages in a sales funnel define how sales efforts engage with potential customers and will typically resemble the following.
Prospecting: Identifying potential customers is essential requires consistent engagement and strategic refinement. Look for who might be facing the problems your company can help solve.
Lead Qualification: Initial outreach to potential customers (e.g. through email or LinkedIn) to see who may be interested in trying your product should seek understanding of their problems more so than pitching solutions. Send short, clear messages without buzzwords which reflect a desire to understand their problems and why they might be looking for solutions.
Sales Calls: Deepen your understanding of a potential customer’s problems and needs to refine your problem and solution hypothesis. Ask open ended questions in seeking understanding, build rapport, and express how you care about solving those same problems. Once you have an understanding of customer needs, you can showcase a tailored demonstration of how your product can meet those needs and how it may bring value to their specific situation rather than showcasing generic features. This stage of the sales funnel may represent multiple meetings - minimizing the time to close sales shouldn’t come at the expense of doing customer discovery and understanding customer needs (demos can come in a separate call with the context of that understanding and be refined to their needs).
Proposal: Set and send a quote of the expected contract to bill the customer. Review and negotiate with the customer where necessary and produce a signed contact. See Open core pricing Professional Services.
Closed Won: A paying customer is one outcome of the sales funnel. Customer setup and onboarding may be applicable once won.
Closed Lost: Not every potential customer will be a won opportunity. Don’t worry about deals which don’t close, they can inform on how to more effectively tackle future prospects and can refine who your solutions are intended for.
Various factors can play into how wide each portion of the funnel may initially be and how it may narrow in conversion towards later stages.
The stages towards the top of the funnel (prospecting and lead qualification) which define initial outreach may be influenced by the number of potential customers in the market and the effectiveness of initial messaging to generate interest in those customers among other factors.
The stages towards the bottom of the funnel (sales calls, proposal, close) may be influenced by a fit with customer needs, messaging, switching costs from market alternatives, pricing, and operational processes among other factors.
CRMs can help showcase the differing conversion of potential customers between each of the stages of the sales funnel. Use CRMs to track key information at every stage to keep track of factors driving conversion and help determine where sales can be better optimized.
CRMs can track where deals are lost, information about the sales process, and help follow up in the future when the product/service and customer’s needs may be more aligned.
As companies grow, sales teams will have more complex needs for collaboration and management and integration with other workflows. The software used for CRM by most enterprise businesses is Salesforce. The customization and rich feature set in Salesforce are other aspects of what makes it the preferred tool for most enterprises. Market specific CRMs exist as well that may be more specifically tailored to align with business and market needs. Working with a scalable long term software platform for CRM is recommended to focus on best practices and keep team aligned.
Salesforce does offer a startup version (https://www.salesforce.com/solutions/small-business-solutions/salesforce-for-startups/) where pricing is more in line with cheaper alternatives.