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Salesforce.com works incredibly well if you work it. And a key part of working it is establishing sales stages that will keep you efficient and on-track, and your team up to speed.

Salesforce stages are the actions that take you from creating an opportunity to closing one — they represent the steps that need to happen in order for your lead to become a won sale. They provide a method for reporting and sharing where things are at with your opportunities.

Used strategically, stages can amplify the benefits of Salesforce for your company. Here are three keys to setting up your own stages for success.

GET PERSONAL

Don’t use cookie-cutter stages. To be truly effective, your picklist of stages needs to be customized to your company and its unique sales process.

Consider your typical closed deals and the steps involved. Don’t be too general (this will result in too few and too broad stages) or too detailed (this will lead to numerous, confusing stages). After identifying a lead, is your next move to qualify? After that, do you provide a quote or present a proposal? At what point does your company consider a lead converted? These steps and their specific order become your list of Salesforce stages.

Think about including various stage options for a dead lead. Having options for a dead lead due to a lack of opportunity, indecision or a simple loss will better categorize your records for future reference.

THINK ABOUT NAMES

It’s important that you give your stages specific and descriptive labels. These names should be short and obvious, making it easy for everyone on your team to accurately and quickly select the correct stage from a dropdown menu. Be wary of being clever.

Once you’ve created and named your stages, be sure your team knows what each stage represents and what common scenarios would fall under each. Don’t be ambiguous; these names should leave no room for sales rep guesswork.

CREATE AUTOMATION & DEPENDENCIES

Your stages can offer much more than simple categorization. By creating automation and dependencies around them, you can make processes more efficient and ensure thorough records. If you have an implementation partner, you can work them to build these features into your Salesforce.

You can automate elements of your sales process by creating actions that occur when certain criteria are met. If an opportunity moves to, for example, “Stage 3: Validating benefits and Value,” then a proposal could be generated using buttons that become available within that opportunity. Later, when a contract has been sent to a customer electronically — using a click-and-drag function in Salesforce — that opportunity will automatically move to, for example, “Stage 5: Negotiating $$ and Mutual Plan.”

If you created a dependency where, for example, all dead deals required further explanation, then the pertinent salesperson would be prompted by Salesforce to fill in the appropriate fields once the stage of a lead was changed to “Dead.”

The opportunities for automation are nearly endless. Once your Salesforce knows, for example, that a sale has been won, notifications could be sent to other departments (like finance or inventory) to inform them. It could trigger tasks for certain employees. This is where valuable business processes can be established that not only save time, but increase accuracy, productivity and efficiency.