We’ve already shared some advice to help you simplify your sales process.  But if it was as easy as just creating your pipelines and stages in your CRM, we wouldn’t see so many people struggling to put it into action. 

While it’s simple, there are still moving parts that contribute to the system overall and here’s a guide to understanding how to put those together, to help you diagnose where your sales engine needs a bit of tuning… 

We can break the components down into pipelines, stages, activities and tasks. The challenge is often in confusing what they are and what their function is, so we’re going to lay that out.

Pipelines

What pipelines are: 

A way of grouping your active deals.

What pipelines do: 

Gives you a high level overview of your book of business so you can see the overall value, understand what you’re likely to close this period and see that you’re doing the work to line up new deals for the next period.

Common issues are:

Mixing leads and opportunities in the same pipeline. This causes problems because until a lead engages, it’s not something you should spend as much time/attention on as an opportunity so you don’t want them cluttering up your view. We suggest one pipeline for leads and another for opportunities, so you can focus on the right thing at the right time.

Having a multitude of pipelines. Separate pipelines for territories, channel vs direct sales split, different products, or other deal properties. Use a single opportunity pipeline so you have overall visibility on potential revenue and if you want to see what that looks like for all deals in a territory or another portion of your sales, you can use a filter in your CRM.

Stages

What stages are:

A way of representing the progression of the deals in a pipeline as you work them.

What stages do: 

Give a quick visual indication of where each deal sits along the journey to won (hopefully!), so you can decide where to focus your time and attention most effectively. 

Just like your pipeline overall, stages make it clear which opportunities are being forecasted so sales can be transparent and provide visibility to the company on revenue opportunities. 

Common issues are:

Too many stages, usually from trying to track internal admin like steps to get your quote through a backend approval system before publishing it to your customer. For example, if you know that a prospect has your quote and is evaluating your offering, that’s all the stage needs to reflect – avoid including stages for details that will clutter your view. 

Mixing up stages and activities is another problem, so the next section should explain that 🙂

Activities

What activities are:

The things that you do when you’re working a lead or opportunity, like the interactions you have with the prospect. 

What activities do: 

Move an opportunity forward. Whether it’s to email a proposal, complete an account map or engage with procurement for sign-off, it’s what you do to progress to the next stage in the pipeline (or get clarity on how to achieve progress). When you record activities in your CRM, they become a history of the deal that allows anyone to understand what’s happened so they can step in or provide help.

Common issues are: 

Doing the wrong activity at the wrong time and creating busywork that doesn’t progress the deal. For example, there’s no point in engaging your sales engineering team on every preliminary opportunity that hasn’t yet been qualified. 

Also, watch out for too much automation – sending out generic email templates at various stages can backfire when it isn’t relevant.

Tasks

What tasks are:

A way of noting what actions need to be done on each lead or opportunity in your pipeline. A task might represent a few steps you need to take to complete an activity.

What tasks do:

Remind you what needs to be done on each deal so that you don’t forget, and so that you can jump straight in and do it without having to review the history of the deal each time.

Common issues are: 

Just like activities, tasks can be over-automated (usually triggered by moving opportunities between stages). 

Using default task due dates can leave you with too many tasks due on the same day, leading to admin overload for the sales rep (you should know how many tasks it’s reasonable for each rep to do in a day).

Notes

What notes are:

A summary of any important/useful outcomes from activities or updates on a deal.

What notes do:

Along with activities and tasks, notes build up a timeline that make it easy to get a clear understanding of the status and engagement with each deal.

Common issues are:

Too much detail in notes, so it doesn’t let you understand at a glance. 

Mixing up tasks and notes – using notes to record what you plan to do, instead of using a task and keeping notes as a record of outcomes.

Putting it all together

You can read so much that all of these terms start to blur together and you lose sight of the ultimate aim: 

Make your process and your engagement as simple as possible. 

By having a clear understanding of each of these things, you can simplify and take some of the pain out of admin for your whole team. Less pain, happier reps, more productivity, better performance.

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