How to Manage Your Sales Funnel at Every Stage

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Sales Tactics : 8 min read

How to Manage Your Sales Funnel at Every Stage

Numbers are down. And along with it, morale.

When you lose a deal, it’s easy to move on to the next one and hope for better results next time.

However, taking a “don’t look back” approach to your sales strategy means losing out on opportunities to improve.

The fact is, behind every lost sale lies revealing insights. Was it the price, a sales tactic, or just a bad lead? You need to know the “why” behind your losses.

Enter: the sales funnel.

The sales funnel allows you to visualize leads as they move from total stranger to repeat customer, but it’s only a fancy graphic if you don’t have an effective sales funnel management strategy in place.

In this post, I'll share some hard-won lessons from my career in sales at Copper—keep reading to learn…

  • What a sales funnel is and why it’s important
  • The four stages of most sales funnels and how to manage each of them
  • Common mistakes to avoid when managing your sales funnel
  • How to make improvements to your sales funnel over time with data and reporting

What is a sales funnel?

A sales funnel is a multi-step process in which prospects become customers.

Visualize a real-life funnel—the top of the funnel is the widest part which prospects enter through. The bottom is a lot more narrow, representing the few (but hopefully not too few) of your prospects who will become paying customers.

A typical sales funnel is made up of four primary stages: Awareness, Interest, Desire, and Action (otherwise referred to as the “AIDA” formula—which is actually a marketing model but has been adopted by some sales folks as well):

stages of a sales funnel

At Copper, we’ve actually divided our sales funnel into six stages (with the first one being “stage 0”). You'll notice that even though none of theses stages are named after the ones in AIDA, the basic concepts are still there:

  • Stage 0 - Qualify (SQL) [Awareness]
  • Stage 1 - Discover (SAO) [Interest]
  • Stage 2 - Present solution
  • Stage 3 - Validate solution [Evaluation]
  • Stage 4 - Present proposal
  • Stage 5 - Close [Action]

This is an example of how you can customize your sales funnel in a way that best fits your business. Don’t be afraid to play around and adjust the wording as needed until you find something that works best for you!

Regardless of what your sales funnel looks like, a well-managed sales funnel will make sure the highest concentration of those prospects makes it to the bottom of the funnel.

According to the Harvard Business Review, a good sales funnel management strategy involves the following:

  • A clearly defined sales process: how the funnel is designed, how to measure success, and how these insights drive performance.
  • Investing the time in developing that process: the initial setup may take some time, depending on how you store your data and which metrics you’re currently tracking.
  • Well-trained staff: reps and managers alike need to agree on metrics, what counts as a conversion, and which parts of the funnel have the most impact.

Sound overwhelming? Don’t worry; once you’ve got a solid system is in place, your team can work more efficiently, moving sales through the pipeline with ease—while avoiding the clogs that get in the way. (Yep, worth it.)

In the next section, I’ll give you some tips on how to manage each stage of your sales funnel.

Stage 1: Awareness (top of the funnel)

Lead status: They just discovered your product or service.

Your goal: Give them a reason to come back.

sales funnel stage 1: awareness

You wouldn’t ask someone who says hi to you on the street to marry you. Well, you shouldn’t ask your prospects who are just casually checking you out to commit to buying something from you either.

But you do want to gain their interest.

At this stage in their journey, prospects have a specific problem and are trying to learn more about how to solve it. Here, they might not have the language they need to explain their problem and need a trusted source for education.

So, let them get to know you a bit.

Sharing useful, interesting, and relevant content on your company’s blog or social media platforms is a great way to do this.

Some other methods your Marketing or Sales team may use to get people to enter the funnel are:

  • Social media marketing
  • Blogging
  • Cold calls
  • Paid search
  • Traditional advertising

Remember: success at the top depends on understanding your audience. Don’t start an AdWords campaign or write an entire ebook until you’ve done persona research. (More on buyer personas and customer journey mapping here.) From there, Marketing and Sales can tailor their messaging to match the needs of their target audience.

Stage 2: Interest + Evaluation

Lead status: You’ve got their attention and they’re considering whether or not your product or service would benefit them.

Your goal: Figure out what their goals are. Then, show them you’re here to help them achieve them.

sales funnel stage 2: interest and evaluation

To do this, you’ll need to get your prospects' contact information so that you can begin to form a relationship with them.

The best way to do this is to offer something of value in exchange for their contact details—like a free whitepaper or ebook in exchange for their email address.

Other examples of useful content prospects may be willing to hand their contact details over for:

  • Product comparisons
  • Case studies
  • In-depth blog posts

Once you’ve got their contact details, you can send them more targeted content like demo videos and free trials. You could also offer to walk them through any questions they might have, perhaps by setting up a call.

Building rapport with these prospects now will help them trust you a lot more through the next stage in the sales funnel.

What you’ll want to measure in this stage:

  • Engagement (average time spent reading blog posts, email opens and click-through rates)
  • Number of inbound calls
  • Website retention rates
  • Conversations with sales reps (what kind of responses are reps getting in calls/meetings?)

Success at this stage might look like this:

  • The prospect reaches out to your company (e.g. a call or email)
  • The prospect opts in to your email list
  • The prospect signs up for a webinar you’re hosting
  • The prospect downloads an ebook from your website

Stage 3: Desire

Lead status: They like what they see and they want it.

Your goal: Give them a clear path to purchase.

sales funnel stage 3: desire

Your prospect is ready to pull the trigger and buy your product or service. Make doing so as easy as possible for them.

Now would be a good time to present positive reviews from past customers, offer free shipping, and mention any guarantees your company upholds. If they’re still hesitant, offer them a free trial.

Losing deals in the middle?

If you’re losing deals in stage 2 or 3 of your sales funnel (a.k.a. mid-funnel), you might want to take a look at your sales strategy. Data found in your CRM can give you clues on how sales reps handle opportunities during these stages.

Consider the following questions:

  • Are reps sending proposals the second someone requests more information? (They should be—or at least as soon as they can.)
  • How often do reps follow up? Do they leave voicemails, emails, provide multiple ways to get in touch?
  • Do prospects receive a hard sales pitch too early?

The middle of the funnel requires a gentle, nurturing approach. The best way to do this is to continually affirm the prospect that they’re making the right choice by purchasing from you.

How?

One way is to show off the (easy, positive) experience that happens after the customer pulls the trigger.

For example, how will your onboarding process work? What can customers expect in terms of support?

This is also a good time to add testimonials and third-party reviews. People like to see that you can make good on your promise.

The point is, you need to communicate value to your potential customers, whether it’s through a guided demo, a comprehensive knowledge base, or positive word-of-mouth.

Stage 4: Action (bottom of the funnel)

Lead status: They’re about to become paying customers. These people are ready to commit.

Your goal: Seal the deal.

sales funnel stage 4: action

At this stage, your sales reps are a good sales conversation away from closing a sale.

Once you’ve closed the sale, send your new customer some useful content to reinforce confidence in their decision to work with your company. A welcome email with implementation tips for their new product or service as well as some pointers for success is a good place to start.

hootsuite sales email example
Hootsuite's welcome email invites the new user to take a quick tour of their newly purchased platform

Here are more tips to manage your sales funnel like a pro.

Keep it simple.

The longer your sales funnel, the more potential there is for drop-off.

Remove any blockages and eliminate any extra steps or redundancies in your funnel. The last thing you want is for quality opportunities to slip out the sides of your sales funnel instead of going down it.

Some examples of blockages:

  • Limited shipping options and/or poor refund policy, resulting in cart abandonment
  • Sales process takes too long resulting in prospects losing interest due to the amount of steps (or clicks) involved
  • Marketing emails come across as “spammy,” resulting in increased unsubscribe rate

If you’re unsure about removing a step from your funnel, ask yourself what value that step is bringing to your sales process. If you’re having trouble coming up with an answer, you can probably remove it.

A good CRM will tell you at a glance where your opportunities are in the sales funnel and how long each deal is taking. This means you’ll know right away which deals are on track and which ones need a bit more pushing along to make sure they don’t slip through the cracks and get away.

sales lead status view in copper crm
An example from Copper: see the status of each of your opportunities and how long they’ve been at that stage.

This is a “next steps” custom field that I rely on heavily when figuring out what is the next agreed-upon step with the customer. Here's what it looks like in a list view of a pipeline:

next steps custom field in copper crm

Another custom field is “forecast status,” which has a few categories including "pipeline deal" (which is a deal in the early stages of the sales process) and a deal that's on the cusp, or a 100%-committed deal. This visualization helps me get a sense of which deals are “real” versus deals that still have a while to go before they cross the line.

lead summary report in copper crm
An example from Copper: get a birds-eye view of how your conversions are trending over time

Focus on relationships.

The most important part of your business is your relationship with your customers. Happy customers become loyal customers. Hello, long-term customer retention.

Relationships = revenue.

The reality is, however, that customer retention is too often overlooked even though it’s crucial to maximizing your long-term business success. Show your existing customers you value their continued business.

According to the book Marketing Metrics, you have a 60 to 70% chance of selling to an existing customer, while you only have about a 5 to 20% chance of selling to a new prospect.

So don’t ignore them once they’ve purchased from you.

Pro-tip: Learn more about the power of relationship-building here.

Make sure your CRM’s got what it takes.

When I'm looking at the sales funnel, it's vital to always be aware of next steps—if a task is a week or two late, it’s a red flag.

My team makes it easy for me to see this because they take very clear notes that capture phone calls and completed demos.

Sure, you have recordings, but it's more efficient to be able to see things like the discovery questions that were asked, when the SDRs are qualifying, etc. at a glance right in the customer’s CRM record.

Pro-tip: If you don’t already have a CRM, start some free trials and find one that fits your team.

Remember: lead quality > quantity.

Why waste time on 1,000 “meh” leads when you can invest your time in 100 qualified ones that are way more likely to buy your product or service?

Part of making a successful sale is figuring out which of your leads will be most likely to convert into opportunities (and then paying customers).

This is difficult but important, as identifying the people most likely to buy will enable you to invest your efforts most efficiently.

This is why having an effective sales funnel is so crucial. When set up correctly, a sales funnel can serve as an automatic selling machine for your company by finding the most qualified leads for you.

It'll then let them flow through the buying process smoothly while filtering out any low-quality leads. (Learn more about qualifying your leads here.)

champ sales lead qualification framework
An example of a lead qualification framework you can use to ensure your sales funnel is getting quality leads

Sales funnel management: don't make these mistakes.

Now that we’ve gone over what you what you should do to effectively manage your sales funnel, let’s also quickly touch on what not to do:

Don’t stop training your sales reps.

Your sales reps are the ones who meet your opportunities in your sales funnel and help guide them through it to a sale. So, it’s important that they’re kept up to speed on anything that could impact their ability to close a deal.

It all starts from the hire: similar to creating a user persona to describe your ideal customer, create a persona describing the ideal sales rep for your company and use this as a reference to base your hiring off of.

The reps you hire should have the right mix of soft skills and hard skills needed to excel in their position.

After hiring, have a strong training program in place that will cater to reps from all backgrounds and experience levels.

But don’t stop there.

Provide ongoing training to your reps, as well as other incentives (the right commission structure, for example) to push them to continually perform their best and deliver the best possible customer experience. Your sales reps should consistently be made aware of things like:

  • Changing market trends
  • New sales techniques or processes
  • New product features and updates
  • How to adapt to these changes

Don’t forget to measure your results.

How else would you know where to improve?

Regularly revisit the goals you set when you designed your sales funnel and measure your results at each stage of the funnel.

If your goal was to attract new leads, take note of how many new leads are making it through to the end of your funnel.

If your goal was to better qualify your leads, check to see which of your marketing initiatives are bringing in the leads with the highest conversion rates.

Take note of what’s working and what isn’t so much, and make adjustments accordingly. If Facebook ads are bringing in the most qualified traffic, do more of that. If a blockage is found in your sales funnel that’s resulting in a drop-off of good opportunities, find a way to get rid of it.

A CRM can let you track these things automatically. For example, Copper integrates with Google Data Studio, making it easy for you to measure results.

This is what it looks like; note that at a glance, you can see the total amount of open opportunities and their value, where the majority of your opportunities are coming from, and exactly which sales reps are handling which opportunities:

copper crm's reporting capabilities with google data studio
Click the image to download this report template and get started ^

One last thing: gather and review data religiously.

Effective sales funnel management relies on accessible data. One of the best (read: easiest) ways to collect and learn from sales data is recording all touchpoints in a CRM.

A CRM lets you review your information in a way that brings the most relevant insights front and center. By contrast, relying on Google Analytics alone means you have to dig around for specific metrics.

Instead, with a CRM, reps can log in and review opportunities in progress right away—and take a look at the steps completed. Copper, for example, allows you to look at all communications associated with a prospect (e.g. proposals sent, tasks completed, calls made).:

copper crm's customer history view
When you can see all the details of your customers in one place, building relationships gets much easier.

Check your data to determine where your strategy is working and where it isn’t. You should be able to answer the following questions:

  • How many new leads are coming in?
  • Which factors are driving sales?
  • Where are deals getting stuck?
  • What can we do to improve those problem areas?
  • How often are we following up?
  • Are customers confused?
  • Or are we hearing the same objections over and over?

As you spend more time reviewing CRM data, you’ll start to identify issues and solutions quickly. By viewing opportunities, you might find that a certain task or interaction was linked to a lost deal (like that phone call where you went over pricing). From there, you can tweak your performance accordingly (being transparent about pricing from the beginning or asking a client what their budget is could help).

Still, informal reviews don’t replace traditional reporting, which brings us to our next point.

Pull weekly reports to formalize your strategy.

If your reports are easy to read, it allows both managers and reps to quickly review performance based on the metrics most important to your team.

Pull reports weekly and discuss what can be improved next time. Then, sales reps can put those new strategies into action and compare the results. Over time, recording these best practices and missteps will help you learn from the past and shorten the sales cycle.

Most CRMs let you pull reports quite easily, and some even let you create custom ones.

For example, two handy reports you can pull in Copper are the pipeline projection report and the sales performance report.

The pipeline projection report shows you the value of in-progress opportunities. Here, projected value relies on historical data like average-time-to-close—so you can see what you’re going to close this week, month, or year:

copper crm's sales pipeline projection report

Or, the sales performance report—an option that looks at your past performance, based on close rate:

copper crm's sales performance report

You can also look at reports by source, rep, or review open pipeline opportunities—or create a custom report that reflects your organization’s goals.

I personally have a forecast review meeting with the sales team to talk about our top deals, go over their opportunities to make sure everything is aligned and on track, and that the close dates are accurate. This keeps everyone up to speed on the health of our sales funnel.

Sales funnel management depends on full visibility.

It's a holistic strategy focused on perfecting the finding, qualifying, and closing processes—removing trial and error from your team’s approach, in favor of a data-backed roadmap to success.

Ideally then, you should be reviewing data regularly and looking for opportunities to make the process run smoothly.

If prospects keep dropping off after a certain point, you might find that there’s a gap in content that helps answer common questions.

Maybe your price point is an obstacle, or you’re getting the wrong person on the phone. It could be an issue with your sales pitch.

Over time, sales funnel management gets easier. You’ll start to gather a list of dos and don’ts that will inform your strategy moving forward. A CRM can offer real-time insights, so you can close more deals in less time. Try it and see for yourself!