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

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