Hey sales leaders, can we throw away your CRM stages?

December 1, 2021

Josh Payne

Let me lay out a few facts. I’ve never been in a sales role. I’ve never held a quota or ‘carried a bag.’ But I have been observing, working with, interviewing, and building software for sales people for 20+ years.

With that established, I’ve wondered about this question for a while and asked it out loud a few times. I’m inspired to ask it again based on Frank’s recent post. It’s a bit provocative (on purpose). But in the spirit of rethinking our practices from first principles, I’ll ask it again.

Do you really need to have sales stages in your CRM?

Who really benefits from CRM stages? More specifically, as an individual salesperson, “Do you actually benefit from having sales stages?”

It’s a question that seems kind of insane to ask a sales leader. The sales stages are central to their model of their sales process. Every single CRM implementation I’ve ever seen uses them. They are there by default when you start up a CRM.

Still, inspired by Frank and his advocacy for two sales stages, I ask “why not zero?”

I question whether those stages help an individual sales rep in their day to day life, trying to close deals with customers. In part, I say this because those fields lay dormant in a CRM so very often. Salespeople aren’t lazy. They don’t ignore the CRM because they’re not working. Quite the opposite - they’re very efficient. They spend time doing things that are going to lead to a good outcome.

Those stage fields don’t help them understand their customers better. They don't help them listen for the core problems the customer is trying to solve. They don’t help them with their sales craft. Mostly, I see salespeople ignoring them until the deal is about to close or they’re about to go into a meeting with their manager on Friday.

When I’ve posed this question to sales leaders, I’ve gotten a few different responses:

1. Sales stages help the sales leader analyze the deals their team is working on. They want to analyze those deals so that they can set expectations with their finance team (i.e. create a forecast) or generally set expectations with their management team. Furthermore, it helps them determine how well the overall sales system is working and where it is breaking down.

2. Stages ensure that handoffs from one member of the team to another happen smoothly,” for example from SDR to account executive.

3. “They help the new sales reps know what to do.” They do so by providing a single, rigid path to help a new sales rep understand how a deal should progress and what milestones a deal should hit. It’s a single possible path in a world where millions of paths are possible.

Now these are all valid reasons to use stages. But they focus on management problems. Stages help forecast, train, communicate . . . all internal sales manager problems.

What I didn’t hear in the responses are things like “it helps them improve at their pitch.” 

What I didn’t hear is “it helps the reps identify their winners.“

What I didn’t hear is “helps the reps understand what they don’t know”

So I’m left being provocative. Do we really need them? Shouldn’t we focus our sales team on understanding their customer and not some unrealistic, oversimplified model of how a complex set of interactions will play out?

So I'll ask again.

Can we throw away CRM stages?