Salesforce Opportunity Stage Best Practices To Improve Your Sales Process

January 31, 2024


RevOps and Sales leaders who want their teams to close more deals (name one who doesn’t) should pay closer attention to Salesforce sales process stages. Why? By closely tracking and managing deals as they move through the sales cycle in Salesforce, a sales manager can more easily identify what needs to happen to close them - ultimately increasing sales.

The best way to manage the sales process from leads and prospects to a closed deal is by using a customer relationship management (CRM) tool like Salesforce. Like all processes, sales are executed by moving through a series of steps or opportunity stages (from one stage to the next stage and so on). Although each sale is its own, default Salesforce opportunity stages are the same (though customizable for advanced users), making them relatively predictable. 

The purpose of this guide is to walk through each opportunity stage, explaining the entire sale process in detail so your sales team understands just what to do to increase its odds of closing more deals. Additionally, we’ll provide several Salesforce sales process stage best practices, so you know exactly what to do and avoid (creating too many stages, for example). 

Ultimately, the goal should be to increase pipeline visibility to gain more insights and clarity so your company can improve its sales processes and sales funnel, boosting its overall sales performance. 

Importance of Getting Your Opportunity Stages Right

To start, it’s important to note that each default opportunity stage in Salesforce is initially broad and generic. It’s up to companies themselves to take the initiative to match and tailor each stage in the platform to their own sales cycle. There are many benefits to doing so, which we discuss below.

For one, customizing the stages makes it easier for sales reps to use the platform. It eliminates any frustration or clunkiness and ensures that the process they’re using to sell in person aligns with how they’re expected to document and manage it within Salesforce.  

Tailoring the opportunity stages also enables sales managers and their teams to gain more visibility into their sales cycle. They can see, for example, if deals are repeatedly getting hung up on the same stage in the process and then, if so, figure out why and fix the issue. It can also improve decision-making when it comes to resource allocation, sales forecasting, and the prioritization of deals. 

Additionally, once sales reps grow accustomed to tracking their deals in Salesforce - and know that all the unique steps in their sales cycle are accounted for - they can potentially reduce the time it takes them to close deals. The customization gives them more control and oversight over the process, keeping all the details of each deal organized so they can move more quickly from step to step. 

When a sale doesn’t move on to the next stage as it should, it’s time to investigate. In instances like this, it’s possible that there’s a technical issue like Salesforce being improperly configured. Or perhaps the salesperson hasn’t been properly trained in using the platform. Alternatively, maybe the company’s workflows need to be refined. It’s critical that sales managers map out what their successful sales reps are doing and build those repeatable actions into Salesforce for the entire team to follow. 

Once a company’s sales process has been properly defined by stage in Salesforce, it essentially has a data-driven model of the sale. The full picture emerges via pipeline reports—conversations had, components sold, prospects identified, and more. All the variables that impact the purchase decision are now defined, which generally leads to increased sales productivity or at least an understanding of why a sale didn’t progress. 

What Are the 7 Key Stages of the Sales Pipeline?

There are seven main stages in the sales pipeline. Customers typically follow a well-established path: Discovery of the product, the sale, and the buying process. Having said that, it’s a good idea for sales teams to veer off the beaten path and create a custom Salesforce opportunity stage (or more than one, if necessary) to reflect their own individual sales process. 

We explore the seven standard sales stages below in more detail.

1. Prospecting

The prospecting stage involves identifying and qualifying potential customers. Sales teams use various strategies to initiate and develop new business during this step, including cold calling, networking, engaging via social media, and perusing lists of data to generate leads and create a pool of potential clients. 

This stage is crucial as it lays the foundation for future successful sales by ensuring efforts are continually focused on individuals or organizations likely to benefit from the product or service. A strong prospecting strategy will locate and attract the types of customers who are more apt to convert into paying users, ultimately increasing revenue. 

2. Lead Qualification

The lead qualification stage in the sales pipeline occurs when potential customers are assessed to determine their likelihood of converting into actual sales. This phase helps guarantee that resources are focused on leads with genuine interest and fit for the product or service. 

By filtering out irrelevant prospects, sales reps can optimize their efforts, allocate resources efficiently, and prioritize leads more likely to end in a closed deal. This targeted approach boosts overall productivity and increases the likelihood of successful conversions.

3. Demo or Meeting

This stage of the sale process involves presenting a product or service to potential customers. Demos and meetings allow sales teams to showcase features, address specific needs, and build rapport. Furthermore, demonstrations provide a tangible experience, helping prospects visualize the value proposition. 

By understanding client requirements and tailoring presentations, sales professionals can encourage engagement and, ideally, move prospects closer to making a purchase to convert leads into paying customers.

4. Proposal

The proposal stage is just what it sounds like—the point in the process when a detailed offer is crafted and presented to potential clients. The proposal generally outlines product/service specifics, pricing, and terms. It also enables sales teams to demonstrate value, satisfy client needs, and establish a foundation for successful deals.

5. Negotiation and Commitment

During the negotiation phase of the sales process, the sales rep discusses terms, pricing, and conditions with the customer, in addition to responding to their objections and finalizing the deal details. It is imperative that these negotiations lead to a commitment from the prospect, ultimately converting them into a satisfied customer. 

Clearly communicating, understanding client expectations, and being flexible in addressing concerns all help build trust and foster long-term relationships with customers, encouraging them to make repeat purchases.

6. Opportunity Won

Finally, the opportunity is won! This stage marks the successful closure of a deal. At this point, the prospect has officially become a customer, and the sales team has secured their commitment. 

Closing a deal not only signifies revenue generation but also validates the sales rep's efforts in understanding and meeting their customer’s needs and requirements. Additionally, it provides valuable data for analyzing successful strategies, optimizing future sales approaches, and increasing customer satisfaction and loyalty.

7. Post-Purchase

In the post-purchase stage, the focus is on customer retention and satisfaction after the sale. It involves activities like follow-up communication, customer support, and gathering feedback, all of which promote customer loyalty and can lead to repeat business and referrals. 

Effective post-purchase engagement is a critical aspect of sales operations that shouldn’t be overlooked because it makes sure customers feel valued, improves the business's overall reputation, and contributes to sustained success in a competitive market.

Salesforce Sales Process Stage Best Practices

In this section, we explore six time-tested best practices that can help you effectively manage your Salesforce sales process stages. We’ve done all the research for you!

As mentioned above, businesses that want to boost their sales performance should focus on how these stages are structured, including creating opportunity stages that directly correspond to their own sales pipeline. We dive into all the details below.

1. Employ Automation to Streamline Your Workflow

Opportunity stage automation is a game-changer for sales teams looking to optimize and streamline their workflows. Using a cloud-based CRM like Salesforce allows companies to automate the progression of sales opportunities through various default opportunity stages based on predefined criteria. 

Taking advantage of this gives sales reps more time to focus on opportunities that appear likely to convert rather than on manual tracking tasks. Not only does this save time, but it also minimizes the risk of human error.

2. Create Opportunity Stages That Drive Action

One of the keys to a successful sales process lies in creating action-oriented opportunity stages. Each stage should represent a significant milestone in the customer's journey, prompting specific actions from the sales team. 

For instance, consider designing stages that encourage follow-up calls, personalized demos, or contract negotiations. By pairing each new stage with an actionable step, you guide your sales reps through a structured approach that will likely increase their effectiveness in closing deals.

3. Customize Stage Fields and Names

As we’ve talked about, Salesforce provides default opportunity stages as a starting point, but it's important to evaluate and customize them according to your company's specific needs. While default stages can serve as a foundation, it’s critical to adjust them so they match your team’s specific sales journey. This customization increases the relevance of each opportunity stage, so they more accurately represent your company’s unique sales process. 

To customize your Salesforce stages, navigate to the Opportunity Stages section:

Setup > Objects and Fields > Object Manager > Opportunity Object > Fields and Relationships > Stage

Salesforce provides nine default stages:

  1. Prospecting
  2. Qualification
  3. Needs Analysis
  4. Value Proposition
  5. Id. Decision Makers
  6. Perception Analysis
  7. Proposal/Price Quote
  8. Negotiation/Review
  9. Closed (won, lost)

To make these out-of-the-box stages your own, click New in the “Opportunity Stages Picklist Values” section and add your desired Stage Name. 

Next, choose a “Type” (open, closed/won, closed/lost). This tells Salesforce the status of the stage you’re creating. In other words, is the deal still open at this point? Successfully closed? Or lost and no longer being worked on anymore? 

Now it’s a good idea to provide a description for the stage. While optional, it’s considered a best practice to get into the habit of providing one.

Next, add a “Probability” (a percentage out of 100) that signifies the likelihood that the deal will be won. This information is helpful because it can be used for forecasting purposes.

Finally, select a “Forecasting Category” (pipeline, best case, commit, closed, omitted). This category further narrows down the probability of whether or not the deal will close.

Pipeline = the deal is in the early stages and unlikely to close at this point in the process

Best case = there’s a good chance the deal will close

Commit = the most probable stage; the salesperson is committed to closing the deal

Closed = the deal has already been won

Omitted = the deal should be excluded from any forecasting; it might be paused

Any customized stages you create should also be added to all relevant sales processes if you have multiple set up. 

Remember, consistent and intuitive stage names make it easier for sales reps to use the platform and manage their deals.

4. Add New Stages for Changing Processes (But Not Too Many)

As your business evolves, so does your sales process. Salesforce allows you to adapt to these changes seamlessly by adding new stages. Whether introducing a pre-qualification stage or incorporating a post-sales stage for customer success, adding new stages helps ensure your Salesforce sales process remains aligned with your current sales process. As a result, it’s wise to regularly review and update your Salesforce stages to reflect the current state of your sales cycle.

Having said that, adding too many stages in Salesforce can potentially lead to unnecessary complexity and confusion in your sales process. This might result in longer sales cycles, increased data entry errors, and difficulty tracking and analyzing pipeline progression. So don’t go overboard—add stages for significant sales milestones, not minor ones. 

5. Pay Attention to Salesforce’s Stage Percentage-Based Metrics

Another way to potentially improve sales performance is by leveraging the KPIs and other metrics the Salesforce platform offers. These numbers provide insights into the likelihood of opportunities progressing from one stage to the next. 

Some examples of popular KPIs that are commonly tracked by Sales and RevOps leaders in Salesforce include: 

  1. Annual Contract Value (ACV) = the average sales amount of a contract over a year
  2. Customer Lifetime Value (CLV) = the value of all a client’s purchases with a company throughout the entirety of their relationship
  3. Conversion Rate (win rate) = the percentage of each sales reps’ leads that convert
  4. Number of New Leads in the Pipeline = how many new leads are added to a sales rep’s pipeline during a quarter
  5. Average Age of the Leads in the Pipeline = the average amount of time leads stay in the pipeline without closing
  6. Sales Rep Retention = the percentage of sales reps who stay with a company after hire for a set amount of time
  7. Customer Retention = the percentage of paying users who keep buying and using the company’s products/services
  8. Average Sales Rep Ramp Time = how long it takes a sales rep to start reaching out to prospects after hire
  9. Referrals = the number of referrals each sales rep secures from current clients each quarter

By analyzing these KPIs, among others, sales leaders can more accurately identify upselling and cross-selling opportunities, forecast predictable revenue, adjust prospecting strategies based on lead counts and sales targets, provide targeted coaching to sales reps, and more. This data-driven approach empowers organizations to make informed decisions and continuously refine their sales strategies.

6. Maximize the Potential of the Opportunity Object

In Salesforce, the Opportunity object is a feature that enables a company to follow all the details related to deals in progress. It connects the potential sale to relevant accounts, related contacts, and the amount of the prospective deal. Leverage each custom field to gather specific details, then use that information to inform your strategic decision-making. 

The Opportunity object will help improve communication and collaboration among your sales team and provide valuable data for planning and forecasting purposes.

Drive More Sales With Effective Opportunity Stage Management

It might be tempting to dismiss the idea that a company’s entire sales pipeline can be distilled into one replicable process with repeatable stages. After all, each sale seems distinct with its approaches, terms, amounts, and specific customer needs. But, in actuality, all sales share a similar path and characteristics.

A CRM tool like Salesforce gives businesses the opportunity to document their sales processes so they can track deals as they progress. Choosing to manage and optimize their opportunity stages within the platform can be instrumental in driving sales success. 

In addition, leveraging known best practices like the ones mentioned above can help sales teams maximize all the benefits of the Salesforce sales process stages to boost their sales performance, increase efficiencies, and ultimately achieve greater success in the competitive sales world. 

To learn more, book a call with Operatus today.