Navigating the 5 Stages of the Sales Pipeline Like a Seasoned Sales Pro


Every sales professional has a unique way of approaching the sales process.

But you’ll find that the stages of their sales processes are strikingly similar.

Your sales pipeline consists of every stage of the sales process. Its primary goal? To close the deal in the final stage. Even if you’ve never thought about it in a formal way, you probably follow the same basic pipeline with every prospect.

In this article, we’ll explain why it’s important to know and use a proven sales process, and then we’ll lay out the sales pipeline stages that the prospect will move through as you move them toward the close.

5 sales pipeline stages to keep your eye on

Here are the key sales pipeline stages you’ll want to keep top of mind as you work through refining your team’s sales process.

  1. Lead qualification: This is where you qualify the prospect and where you ask “is there a problem my solution can help with?”
  2. Scope: This is what the current state is vs. what the future state could look like. Find the gap your solution can assist with and present how your solution improves upon this
  3. Proposal: Co-create a winning client services presentation for consideration
  4. Negotiation: What are your levers to proactively share to help ensure your new partner is getting a fair deal for their team?
  5. Closing: This isn’t the end, but it is a fluid transition to onboarding and future growth and expansion.

We’ll explore each of these in more detail below. First, let’s uncover why the sales process actually matters.

Pro tip: Learn how to conduct killer pipeline reviews with your team.

Why the sales process matters

It takes work to identify the stages of your sales process, but it’s well worth the effort.

In a study by the Harvard Business Review, they noted that: “There was an 18% difference in revenue growth between companies that defined a formal sales process and companies that didn’t.”

To stay competitive, you need to know the sales pipeline stages in your sales process. And you need to get better at moving the prospect from one stage to the next. This gives you a defined sales process which will inevitably boost your revenue.

That alone is enough reason, but it’s not the only benefit of optimizing your sales process throughout the pipeline.

By clearly identifying the stages of your pipeline, you develop:

  • A more time-efficient sales process
  • The ability to better forecast sales results (with predictability)
  • The opportunity to identify bottlenecks
  • A good understanding of where every prospect is in the sales pipeline at any given time

That’s why you need a sales pipeline. Now, let’s dive into the six stages it should include, plus tips for moving prospects through it more quickly.

1. Lead qualification

This is where we determine if this viable opportunity is worth adding to the pipeline.

Have you ever heard the saying, “The work you put in up front will pay off in the end?” Well, this is what the discovery stage is all about. Some companies call it the discovery stage. Others refer to it as lead-to-opportunity generation.

Regardless, this stage is all about generating targeted leads, entering applicable information into your CRM, and developing a plan of attack. This is where we access and determine whether a prospect is a viable opportunity and worth spending time, money, and resources on. At this point, you have to consider if this marketing qualified lead (MQL) has the potential to become a sales accepted lead (SAL) or sales qualified lead (SQL).

Bonus: 4 Surprising Places to Find Warm Leads

Tips for success

Success in the discovery stage comes down to one thing: your ability to identify and engage prospects through a variety of marketing tactics, including but not limited to:

  • Social media
  • Content marketing
  • Email marketing
  • Cold calls
  • Cold emails
  • Events

At this stage, you’re still in the infancy of the sales process. You’ve identified a lead, but you’ve yet to share the finer details about what you can do for them. Remember what we said above: the work you put in during the discovery stage, such as gathering data for each prospect, will better position you to make a sale in the future.

How to move the prospect to the next stage

Sometimes you’ve already gathered basic information from the client. You may have even had a brief phone or email conversation. Other times you’ve yet to make initial contact.

Either way, you don’t want a lead to die in this stage. Nurture the lead with the help of a sales engagement platform. This allows you to share key information, establish your company as an authority, and help the prospect prepare for what’s to come.

Remain consistent, persistent, and professional in your outreach, and even if now isn’t the ideal time, your prospective client will remember you when the time is right.

2. Scope

You’re not yet in the meat of the sales process, but you’re getting closer. Your goal here is to answer one key question: is the prospect a good fit for your product and/or service?

If the lead matches one or more of your buyer personas, you’re in business. You’re ready to explore the full scope of the solution you can provide. If there’s a disconnect, you need to dig deeper to determine if the lead is worth chasing.

Tips for success

The discovery stage and lead qualification stage go together hand-in-hand. Your approach to discovery should be designed to generate targeted leads. That way, when you move into the lead qualification stage, there’s a greater chance of making a connection.

Here’s a stat to note: “67% of lost sales are as a result of sales reps not properly qualifying their potential customers before taking them through the full sales process.”

Yes, it feels good to move a prospect through the sales pipeline. However, if you don’t properly qualify potential customers, you’ll eventually hit a wall. And when you do, you’ll look back and realize that you wasted a lot of time chasing a sale that was never going to happen.

You could argue that the lead qualification stage is the most important, as the right approach can save you both time and money.

How to move the prospect to the next stage

Once you qualify a lead, you’ll have almost everything you need to move onto the proposal stage.

Since your proposal will provide more information on your product’s price, it’s something every prospect is looking forward to. Take the initiative by communicating your intention to promptly share a formal proposal.

3. Proposal

Now, it’s time for the real fun to begin. You’ve qualified the prospect, they’re interested in what you have to offer, and it’s up to you to knock them off their feet.

The proposal stage differs between salespeople, companies, and products, so keep this in mind. For example, if you’re selling a SaaS solution, a live sales demo is almost always part of the proposal process. This gives you the opportunity to summarize how your company can address the prospect’s needs.

As for the proposal itself, focus on the following:

  • Specifics about your offering
  • Pricing structure
  • Your competitive advantages

Tips for success

You’ll take the same basic approach to every proposal you create, but don’t shy away from personalizing it (and your demo) to suit the specific needs of the prospect.

  • Goal: make them feel like your only prospect, not just another prospect.

Clarity is key to success in this stage. Your demo, proposal, and communication should be clear and concise, as to provide the prospect with everything they need to make a decision or return to you with a counter offer.

Keep in mind that your prospect may share the proposal with other team members. That’s why it’s so important that it’s easy to digest.

How to move the prospect to the next stage

As nerve-wracking as it may be, the only thing you can do after providing a proposal is to sit back and wait.

For your sanity, ask the prospect of their timeline for making a decision. Not every prospect will stick to their timeline, but it at least provides you with an idea of when to follow-up. But remember, there’s a fine line between following up too much and not enough.

On one side of things, you don’t want to pester the prospect. Conversely, you want them to know you’re available to assist them. The “fine line” varies from prospect to prospect, so you need to feel out each situation and act accordingly.

4. Negotiation

For many salespeople, the negotiation stage is the most exciting. It’s where top producers separate themselves from the middle of the pack.

In a perfect world, your proposal would check every box, and your prospect would immediately sign on the dotted line. But in the real world, this doesn’t happen often.

The goal of negotiation is to find common ground. Sometimes it’s simple, and other times it’s like pulling teeth. Prepare for everything that could come your way, and rely on experience to guide you.

Tips for success

Start out by asking the prospect to share their thoughts on the proposal. It’s your opportunity to identify what they do and don’t like, which helps you prepare for negotiations.

Maybe your prospect wants to expand or cut back on the scope of work or level of service. Or they want to keep the service as outlined in your proposal, but score it at a lower price. When negotiating, you don’t want your prospect to consider you as the opposition – rather a partner in their success.

Go into negotiations with the idea that you’ll:

  • Listen intently to everything the prospect says
  • Manage expectations
  • Seek a mutually beneficial partnership

Negotiations can last a long time. It may take several phone calls, emails, or in-person meetings to find common ground. As long as the lead is still active, you have a chance at closing the deal.

How to move the prospect to the next stage

There’s nothing more heart-wrenching than losing a prospect at the negotiation stage. You’re so close to closing the deal, yet so far away. The only way to move past the negotiation stage is to negotiate. It really is that simple. You’ll either succeed, or the prospect will move on.

5. Closing

You’re at the end of the line. You’ve found and qualified the lead, provided a proposal, and negotiated a deal that works for both sides. But before you get too excited, you still need to close the deal. That comes when you have a signed contract in your hand – and not a moment before.

Tips for success

Don’t take a prospect for granted just because you have a verbal agreement as a result of your negotiations. If you don’t see the deal through to the finish line, you could lose the sale at the 24th hour.

Don’t delay in sharing the contract. The sooner you do this, the less chance there is that they’ll change their mind – or worse – consider a competitor.

If the prospect has a question or wants you to change something in the contract, be receptive to their needs and then take immediate action. Don’t be afraid to call in reinforcements at this point, like people involved in the legal department.

When a signed contract is finally in your hand, there’s only one thing left to do: celebrate!


While every stage of the pipeline requires some level of customization, as to meet the specific needs of the prospect, following along in this order will keep you on track and increase the likelihood of making a sale.

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