Opportunity stages for CRM optimization

Picture of Marko Savic
Director, Product

Improve CRM Adoption by Rethinking Your Salesforce Opportunity Stages

The right opportunity stages can make or break your ability to forecast, coach reps, and drive adoption/accuracy of the CRM.

How often do you look at your funnel in Salesforce and question the quality, forecast, and health of an opportunity?


We recently spent time analyzing opportunity stages across our customer base and learned a few things:

  1. common traits

  2. common problems

  3. general approaches

The companies we evaluated are primarily mid-market in size (20-100 reps), B2B SaaS, and all have an SDR team.

Common traits of successful Salesforce opportunity stages

  • 6 stages on average
  • SDRs own stage 1, handoff to AEs at stage 2, and qualified/accepted opps by the AE start at stage 3
  • Pipeline (what sales management and executives look at for the sales forecast) is usually only measured from a specific stage of the funnel, either at qualified or one opportunity stage down

Common problems with Salesforce opportunity stages

We analyzed trends in conversion rates, stage usage/stage skipping, pipeline stagnation, and loss rates by stage using FunnelCake.

The results were interesting:

  • Generic Salesforce opportunity stage names like “Solution Validation” or “Evaluation” end up as catch-all buckets with high stagnation rates. When stages do not have clear entry and exit criteria, opportunities often end up sitting stagnant for long stretches and result in either the opp getting abandoned or immediately moved to closed won.
  • Reps will frequently skip stages they don’t find to be useful, even if there is a clear purpose designed for sales management to use (i.e. forecasting)
  • Bottom of the funnel stages are typically used for managing granular portions of the process: contract sent, contract negotiation, verbal approval/waiting signature. These stages are useful for forecast management, but for analysis, they aren’t very helpful. Typically these stages end up with < 6-8 hours in each stage for Closed Won deals and 100% conversion rates. Since many organizations want to keep the number of stages low, this leads to a trade-off between a more granular process in managing discovery/development of the opportunity and forecasting revenue.

The most effective Salesforce opportunity stages

Using FunnelCake we looked at trends across Salesforce opportunity stages with high conversion rates, high stage usage, high velocity, and high win rates.

  • Process-specific naming leads to high-usage. Examples of this could be
    • “Meeting scheduled” and “Meeting Completed” for the SDR process, or
    • “Contract Requested” “Contract Negotiation” for bottom of funnel.
  • Organizations use “Record Types” and “Sales Process” in Salesforce to use different stages for different funnels – for example, if the organization has a sales-assisted transactional sale, an inside sales/mid-market process, and an Enterprise/ABM process.
    • Many organizations will also use different stages to manage renewals/upsell, usually only have 3 stages.
    • This makes rep adoption very strong but can cause challenges if you’re trying to create normalized analysis for reporting.

Example 1 – sales assisted transactions

This is a mid-market sized organization with a sales-assisted transaction and a sales cycle < 30 days.

Opportunity Owner

SDR

SDR

SDR > AE

AE

AE

AE

AE

AE

AE

Salesforce Stage Type

Assigned

Working

Handoff

Pipeline

Pipeline

Pipeline

Pipeline

Pipeline

Won

Salesforce Stage Name

Discovery Scheduled

Discovery Completed

Demo Scheduled

Demo Completed

Proposal Creation

Proposal Submitted

Verbal

Contract Sent

Won

This is effective for organizations with a straightforward qualification process, single buyer deal, and a fast sales cycle length. For more complex sales, there is not enough granularity between demo, proposal, and verbal where buying teams need to be rallied.

Example 2 – selling to mid-market accounts

This organization sells into mid-market accounts with a sales cycle ~30-90 days long.

Opportunity Owner

SDR

SDR

SDR > AE

AE

AE

AE

AE

AE

Salesforce Stage Type

Working

Handoff

Handoff

Pipeline

Pipeline

Pipeline

Pipeline

Won

Salesforce Stage Name

Qualification

Discovery Completed

Demo Completed

Value Confirmed

Negotiation

Contract Requested

Awaiting Signature

Won

Example 3 – selling to enterprise accounts

This is a larger organization that sells across multiple buyers in the organization at an enterprise price point, with a sales cycle length >120 days.

Opportunity Owner

SDR

SDR

SDR > AE

AE

AE

AE

AE

AE

AE

Salesforce Stage Type

Assigned/Working

Working

Handoff

Pipeline

Pipeline

Pipeline

Pipeline

Pipeline

Won

Salesforce Stage Name

MQL

Active

Set Goal

POC Planning

Team Meetings

POC Execution

Negotiation

Sumbit to Close

Won

How to Create the Right Salesforce Opportunity Stages

Getting the right Salesforce opportunity stages starts with understanding how sales reps are using your stages today:

  • Are reps using all of your stages or skipping some?
  • Are reps using one stage to run the majority of your sales cycle length?
  • Are reps using one certain stage as a holding pen to nurture accounts?
  • Do opportunities rapidly move through transactional stages of your process?
  • Is the entrance/exit criteria for each stage obvious to your reps and sales managers? Is that criteria defined? Is it implicit in the stage name?

Changing Your Salesforce Opportunity Stages Quickly

Changing your stages can be done quickly with the right change management. With a system like FunnelCake, you can group your historical stages to the new equivalent, making it easy to compare how your new model is performing from a unified set of metrics.

Picture of Marko Savic
Director, Product

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