Running in lanes

Do Sales Stages Really Matter?

If you’ve taken the time to start reading this post, then you are probably aware that sales stages are highly visible in most CRM systems and used in a variety of ways by most sales organizations. Sales stages can be used to trigger content, make recommendations, determine win probabilities, and even enforce documentation or process requirements. But are sales stages the best vehicle for these various selling, enablement, operations, and marketing functions?

In many cases, the answer is no.

Static Selling vs. Dynamic Buying

Even in the most thoughtful organizations, sales stages represent the linear progression of the buyer-seller engagement. Generally, this means moving it from the earlier stages of identifying the opportunity to the later stages of proposing, negotiating, and closing. In this environment, recommendations and content to help create interest are presented earlier, content to help differentiate our solutions presented later. And win probabilities often improve automatically as opportunities are moved further along the sales stages.

But is that really the way buyers are evaluating our solutions? In many cases, it’s not. Particularly in more complex environments, people move in and out of the evaluation at various times and given evaluators may be at different stages for the same decision. In fact, many of us have progressed an opportunity to the negotiating stage only to have another evaluator enter the mix or some other event force us back to the qualifying stage. It may also be necessary to find a way to demonstrate meaningful impact to some buyers even before we have a chance to begin qualifying. Similarly,

Now certainly, most CRM deployments will allow sellers to move an opportunity back and forth among stages. However, this in and of itself may well point to the downside of being overly focused on sales stages.

Should We Eliminate Sales Stages?

It may appear that in writing this that we’re advocating the complete abandonment of sales stages. That is definitely not the case. There are some clear reasons why sales stages can help support effective sales execution. For example, in a typical sales organization, prospects won’t buy something that hasn’t even been proposed. Requiring salespeople to move their opportunities through stages and demonstrate that milestones for the stages have been met, can be very helpful and can help the company avoid committing resources to pursue opportunities too early; before they are properly vetted. And of course, looking over a salesperson’s committed forecast only to find opportunities projected to close this month that haven’t even been proposed yet probably should set off red flags.

In addition, there are certain selling environments where critical documentation must be completed as an opportunity progresses through various stages, and these gates help make certain these milestones aren’t forgotten. 

While we aren’t suggesting sales stages be eliminated entirely, we are recommending an alternative approach to enablement actions such as triggers or prompts for sales learning and selling recommendations, and even how companies calculate win probabilities.

An Alternative: Information Equals Opportunity

Despite the fact that most CRM systems automatically increase win probabilities as opportunities progress through sales stages, this progression rarely reflects the true likelihood a seller will win a given opportunity. In reality, the likelihood we will or won’t win a specific opportunity has far more to do with what we know about the customer than what stage we assign to the opportunity. Key information objectives include things like:

  • Their business issues

  • The evaluators, their roles, and their level of influence

  • Other alternatives they are considering

  • Criteria they will use to evaluate the alternatives

  • Steps they will go through in order to make a decision

Our chances of winning (and our ability to avoid wasting time on things we will not win) improve significantly when we better understand what someone wants to buy and how they will go about determining who has that.

Given the strong correlation between knowing how to win and winning, why not provide tools, training, and tips to aid sellers based on what they do and don’t know rather than what stage they select for a given opportunity?

For example, a seller who doesn’t yet demonstrate a clear understanding of a prospect’s buying criteria may need dramatically different coaching and support from a seller who fully understands this, despite the fact that both of their opportunities are at the exact same selling stage.


While it’s certainly easy to create triggers, content, and workflows based on sales stages, it may be doing little to help salespeople better engage buyers and win more business. Want to test the theory in your organization? Here are two simple questions that can help you determine what emphasis should be placed on leveraging sales stages versus leveraging your sellers’ understanding of the buyers they are working with:

  1. How often do we lose opportunities because we fail to change the sales stage?
  2. How often do we lose opportunities because we fail to properly understand the customer and/or their buying criteria?

If the answer to question #2 is greater than the answer to question #1, it may be time to stop tying triggers, tools, playbooks, etc., to selling stages and start tying them to information.

Want to talk more about how buyer information can be leveraged to accelerate your sales enablement initiatives and drive sales effectiveness? Let’s schedule time to talk.

Axiom provides a unique alternative to traditional sales training. Unlike traditional sales training events, we embed our methodology into your sales cadence, delivering dramatically better sales results. To learn more about our Mindful Selling Methodology, Kinetics Sales Effectiveness Platform, or our unique, guaranteed approach, please visit us at

Cycling Competition

3 Things Sales Managers Must Do Well

One weekend not long ago, I was reminded how useful competition is in helping us get an objective view of our effectiveness. So, there I was on a lazy weekend bike ride when a few random cyclists pulled up near me. I didn’t think much about the extra company at first, but the next thing I knew, we organically started pushing each other competitively. There isn’t anything quite like a little friendly competition to show how strong and effective you can still be (or perhaps how strong you used to be). Naturally, this got me thinking about sales managers and the difference between selling and many other jobs.

Selling is unique in that it is both a production and performance profession. (Click here for more information on the production part of selling). Unlike engineers and accountants, salespeople constantly compete directly with each other. And while winning more frequently might be related to their environment and variables such as the solution they represent, the economy and their competition (in the same way my bike and the weather could impact my cycling success), nothing exposes opportunities to improve one’s selling skills like competition. And nearly every competitor knows the immense value of an effective coach in helping them achieve their full potential.

The good news is that nearly every sales professional has paid for and is probably still paying for performance coaching – the sales manager. But are managers really doing all they can to help their sellers compete more effectively?

In many cases, the evidence is clear that they aren’t. However, this because sales managers don’t want to be good coaches, they generally do. Unfortunately, the difference between being an effective player and an effective coach is significant. And being a great player doesn’t necessarily make you a great coach – see Michael Jordan.

3 Critical Behaviors For Effective Sales Managers

The fact that sales managers are often falling short as coaches isn’t because no one cares about sales coaching. In fact, there is a growing sense of urgency among sales organizations to transform their sales managers into effective coaches. In one study, sales coaching was rated as the single most important effectiveness initiative.

Several more studies suggest that effective sales coaching improves average team performance by as much as 20%, and coaching solutions have been among the top requested apps for users for several years.

So why is quality sales coaching so elusive? For starters, many companies and their sales leaders seem unclear about the role of the sales coach. So, in this blog, let’s focus on just the high-level, the three things every performance coach must do well.

Before you read further, it may be helpful at this point to pause for a moment and think about your own experience outside any sales role. If you’ve ever played team sports, taken lessons for a musical instrument, had golf or tennis lessons, or even had a personal trainer, then you have likely experienced first-hand the three critical coaching behaviors:

1. Expert Analysis and Advice

While the average weekend warrior may not need a personal trainer in order to enjoy her sport of choice, consistently winning against a field in any competition requires more expertise than the average competitor possesses. Not just because they don’t study the behavior as thoroughly as the typical coach, but also because few of us are able to evaluate our own performance as objectively as an unbiased third party.

The role the coach plays here is essential to comparing the seller’s performance against an ideal selling model. This implies that there is an agreed upon ideal model, because without one, the seller and coach will likely spend more time debating the optimum selling behaviors rather than evaluating the effectiveness with which the seller is executing on them. In this area, the coach’s job is not only to identify opportunities for improvement, but to evaluate the seller’s performance in a manner that identifies the root cause of performance and behavior gaps. Once these are identified, the coach must be able to recommend specific activities that can be completed in order to improve skill, knowledge and selling behaviors – ultimately leading to better business results.

2. Inspiration and Motivation

While expert advice and counsel are critical technical skills for the effective sales coach, motivation and accountability are no less important to overall effectiveness. If you have ever worked with a sports coach or trainer, you personally know the power of encouragement when, just as you think you’ve hit your limit, your coach shouts out, “one more set, you can do it!” It would be an oversimplification though, to suggest that positive reinforcement and encouragement is all that’s necessary for a manager to inspire and motivate her team to better sales performance. The ability to motivate doesn’t simply reveal itself when someone is pushing through a perceived wall. It starts well before, in the earliest planning and introductory stages of the relationship.

By taking the time to understand the underlying motivation of the person being coached, the manager can determine exactly what drives them and use this to help motivate and inspire them to be the best version of themselves.

Unfortunately, many organizations drive nearly the opposite type of interaction. Managers are given their goals, which they pass down to their sellers. Just imagine hiring a personal trainer and rather than trying to understand what you want to accomplish, they give you the objective, “I need you to be able to run a 6-minute mile!” Crazy as it sounds, that is essentially what we are doing in sales, and it doesn’t have to be this way. 

In fact, the vast majority of salespeople we have worked with have personal goals that are higher than their quota. We can gain more leverage and inspire better performance by understanding our people first and showing them how to achieve their goals. 

3. Accountability with a Purpose

Shifting the goal-setting conversation is the key to our third required behavior. Effective coaches become critical accountability partners. Whether you want to lose weight, ride faster on a bike, play better golf, or sell more, chances are it will require effort beyond what you are presently putting forth. This is the nature of improvement in a competitive environment. You are either moving forward or falling backward relative to your competition.

Many of us have experienced that conflict between getting the long-term results we want and the near-term pain of putting in extra effort. This is where the coach’s role becomes indispensable. Effective coaches understand our underlying motivation, know exactly where we need to improve, and are able to leverage this knowledge and their personal relationship with us to hold us accountable for doing things we may not want to do in the moment. 

In fact, the great Tom Landry, former head coach for the Dallas Cowboys phrased it this way, “Leadership is the ability to get a person to do what he doesn’t want to do in order to achieve what he wants to achieve…it’s getting the best out of people.” Great sales coaches go beyond holding people accountable for results. They hold their people accountable for the behaviors that produce results including learning and practicing. 

Most sales leaders agree, sales coaching is the pivot point for driving all sales effectiveness initiatives. Most sales managers want to be great coaches, and most salespeople, like most professional athletes, want to work for great coaches. To be sure, there are obstacles to putting these ideas into practice, but there is enormous opportunity for scalable, sustainable differentiation when you develop and enable a truly effective coaching culture.

Want more detail on what it takes to become an exceptional sales coach? Click here to download our free Guide to Sales Coaching, which includes an overview of our 5-step GUIDE coaching model and a coaching readiness assessment for sales enablement leaders.

Axiom provides a unique alternative to traditional sales training. Unlike traditional sales training events, we embed our methodology into your sales cadence, delivering dramatically better sales results. To learn more about our Mindful Selling Methodology, Kinetics Sales Effectiveness Platform, or our unique, guaranteed approach, please visit us at


Is Sales Training a Scam?

We’ve all seen the statistics – 87% of new skills are lost within a month of the sales training class (Xerox). 85% of sales training fails to deliver a positive ROI (HR Challey Group). Not only can you find many more examples of how sales training is failing salespeople, but you can also find hundreds of articles about how to fix sales training – including several written by us.

But that’s not the point of this article. The point here isn’t to pile on with the group of people pronouncing the demise of sales training (though I did exactly that in jest a couple years back at this Sales Management Association event). In fact, this article will argue the exact opposite – that sales training events are essential, provided they achieve a singular but critical objective.

Training isn’t an Event

We’ve argued multiple times in a variety of posts that effective sales training isn’t an event. The fact that we think of sales training as an event says something about how the term has been co-opted over the past several decades. After all, if I told you I am training for a triathlon, would you actually think I was going to attend a three-day class and then I’d be done? Of course not, and we shouldn’t think that about sales training either.  

That’s because training isn’t achieved when we are introduced to new information or skill, it’s achieved when we can do something different or perhaps better than we did before. Training is generally an ongoing process of learning and improving our ability to perform. Yet, if we tell someone we are taking sales training, a two or three-day event is precisely what will come to mind because for decades now that’s been the model for sales training programs. Sure, there would often be follow up activities, refresh sessions, or other reinforcement. But the training itself was primarily the event.

Sales Training Events aren’t too Short, They are too Long

So, now you may be thinking based on the comments above that we’d argue that sales training events are too short. After all, when the sales profession was originally brought in-house by companies like Xerox and IBM, sales training programs lasted a full year. Only through decades of budget cuts and operational pressures did companies shorten training classes to a few weeks or even a few days.

However, that’s not the point we are making. In fact, we’d argue the exact opposite – most sales training classes are not too short, they are far too long! And the reason they are too long is actually quite simple, they have the wrong objectives.

Good training programs are naturally built around learning objectives. Learning objectives are stated in terms of things people will know, or even better, things they will be able to do as a result of the training. The problem with most sales training events is that the learning objectives are far too ambitious for the content and time available. Good sales methodologies often include a dozen or more new skills that are then introduced in training sessions lasting only a couple days. Unfortunately, we now know from neuroscience that acquiring a new skill actually requires a complete learn, practice, apply, evaluate (LPAE) cycle and that each new cycle requires sleep for the mind to fully process the learning. Therefore, it is physically impossible for participants to become proficient with a dozen or more new skills in a couple days, it simply cannot be done.

However, rather than arguing for longer training events, we propose they actually be even shorter. Yep, shorter! After all, why would a sales training company need to keep people in class for several days if no one is going to get good anyway?

Unfortunately, the answer to that question will likely make some readers uncomfortable. The simple truth is that sales training buyers have been conditioned to pay more money for more content and longer classes. Therefore, if a training company wants to charge you $1,200 per person, they really need to cover lots of information and keep your people in class for at least a couple days in order to justify that expense. While it may not work well for the participants, it often works well for the companies that provide the training.

A Radical Approach

So how long should a sales training event be? Before we answer that question, let’s go back to the objective for the event. We’ve already established that people cannot get proficient with skills in such a short time, so what is the purpose of the event? In a word, OWNERSHIP. That’s because sales training that works will facilitate the ongoing improvement of one’s skill and knowledge such that they engage with buyers more effectively. That makes training a change initiative, and we all know that in order for people to change, they must believe that doing so is in their personal best interest. So, the natural objective for an event at the beginning of training program (change initiative) is to provide people with enough information to decide IF they are committed to learning and applying the new skills.  

And how long does it take to provide people with enough information to make that decision? Much less time than you’d think. In fact, it is possible to provide participants with enough information to evaluate even the most comprehensive sales models in just a few hours. Assuming they agree that developing proficiency with the new skills will benefit them, their buyers, and their company, they can then begin a regular cadence of LPAE learning cycles that will help them become progressively more proficient with each element of the program.

But What About the Money

Of course, spending a few hours with your team instead of a few days makes it hard to justify the crazy up front “licensing fees” charged by some sales training providers. After all, how much would you be willing to pay for the privilege of being introduced to their methodology or intellectual property but not get good at it? Probably not very much. Unfortunately, the length of many sales training events today is masking the fact that companies are actually paying very high fees for just this privilege … and in some cases much more down the road for reinforcement or refresh training programs.

Time to Make a Change?

So sales training, when done properly definitely isn’t a scam. However, expensive multi-day events may well be. If you want to avoid paying crazy fees and pulling your people out of the field for days only to find they are unable to apply what they supposedly learned, we can help. At Axiom, we help sales teams achieve amazing results, with less stress by transforming how sellers engage with buyers. Our training events launch the program, last only a couple hours and are 100% guaranteed. If your people don’t agree that selling the Axiom way will produce better results for them, their buyers, and your company, you pay nothing.

When they do agree, we leverage that enthusiasm to implement an ongoing program that embeds continuous learning and improvement into your existing sales cadence. With Axiom, you don’t pay to see our methodology, you pay to get good at it. If you’d like to learn more about Selling the Axiom Way, click here to download an overview. Want to talk about your situation to figure out if Axiom is right for you, click here to schedule an introductory conversationwhere you’ll get help, not hype. We are dedicated to elevating the sales profession and are anxious to help you in any way we can.