How to develop your startup sales funnel – sales for startups

Leverage our comprehensive guide on crafting a dynamic sales funnel tailored specifically for startups. Dive into strategic insights and actionable steps to develop a sales funnel that aligns with your startup's goals, ensuring a streamlined and effective process for converting prospects into valuable customers.

We are practicing sales and closing deals each day without even knowing it. Whether we are convincing our friends to go out for a drink with us, or we are sharing our ideas and getting people to follow them, we are always selling something.

But when it comes to startups, the stakes are a little bit higher than persuading our friends to hang out with us or doing a garage sale. Here, things are more serious because driving revenue is a crucial component that makes the difference between failure and success.

There are many definitions of success in sales, but in my opinion, a state of success in this area is when you know what your next step should be and when you can make assumptions based on relevant data.

As Edward Deming, Father of The Quality Management Move, says: “If you can’t describe what you are doing as a process, you don’t know what you are doing”.

Having a well-defined sales process is a key factor in closing more deals. This is one of the first lessons that I’ve learned in my beginning as a Salesperson, and it definitely saved me from a lot of headaches.

So how can you define your sales process if you are an early-age startup?

Well, a really cool strategic selling tool that helps you keep your focus on track and understand your sales process is the sales funnel. The sales funnel is a representation of the buying process that companies lead customers through when purchasing products or services.

The thing with the sales funnel is that you will find a lot of versions on the Internet. And this is okay because the sales process is different from business to business and market to market. During our 4 years of existence, we worked with some, and they were helpful, but we decided to customize a sales funnel based on our experience in sales and the experience of our partners in selling digital products.

So let’s see what our customized sales funnel looks like:

Disclaimer: This version of the sales funnel is better suited for digital products and companies that offer digital services.

If you want to use the canvas as you follow along with the article, you can download it here.

In the sales funnel above, there are represented five stages that people go through before closing a deal. In the following paragraphs, I am going to take each step and explain how it works.

The Prospects

For us, a prospect is a person who is most suited to buy our services. Think about it as a buyer persona. In this stage, you will build a database with prospects according to your buyer persona criteria, and you will also decide upon the channel that you will use and the way that you will reach out to them.

We will get into more detail about this process in a dedicated article that will be released soon.


Next on the sales funnel comes the Opportunities stage. An opportunity is a prospect that shows interest in your product/services. If someone replies to your email, LinkedIn message, Facebook post, or any other channel you’ve used, then that person can be marked as an opportunity.

Qualified Leads

The third stage on the sales canvas is represented by qualified leads. A qualified lead is a person that has gone through the opportunity stage, and you know more info about him/her. Some info that you might need is if he/she is a decision-maker or has some influential power in making the buying decision. Or if your product or services are a match for his/her needs and so on.

The more info you know, the easier it will be to close the deal or to discover some red flags. We will talk more about this stage in an upcoming article.

Demo or Trial

Now that we know a few things about our leads, we can schedule a demo for them to better understand our product. Or, you directly invite them to have a trial of your product and see how it’s really helping them in solving their pain points. In case you are selling services, at this stage, you will send a proposal.

Whether you are conducting a demo or sending a proposal, you should be doing that accordingly to the needs you uncovered in the previous stage. You should focus on the features or present the solution that solves their pain point.

You should keep in mind that this might be an optional stage and sometimes doesn’t need to be included in the funnel.

Deals Won

After the demo comes to the last step in our sales funnel, which is deals won. Here we enjoy our effort so far and celebrate our winnings translated by new users or new contracts signed.

Okay. So, we’ve learned about the sales stages of the funnel, but how can we use this tool?

Well, there are mainly two ways of taking advantage of it: top to bottom or bottom to top.

If you are building your sales process from scratch, and don’t have any previous data to use, then the top-to-bottom version will suit you best. Later on, you can use the second version of the funnel (bottom to top) when you are ready to scale your sales, and you need to forecast some results.

Let’s take them one by one and go through them with an example.

Top-to-bottom technique

The top-to-bottom version requires you to already have identified who your buyer persona is and have a database built before completing this funnel. Please keep in mind this disclaimer: You won’t be able to complete this funnel from the beginning. You will have to have patience and complete each stage when you have the proper data for it.


Going back to the initial subject. Let’s say that you are the founder of a meeting appointments software, you have a database with 100 prospects (sales managers leading a team of 5+ people), and you have the tools ready for a cold email campaign. This means that the prospect’s number in the sales canvas will be 100.

After finishing the cold emailing campaign (let’s say it took 2 weeks and 5 emails in total), 20 of those prospects replied to your email and showed interest in what you were trying to obtain (a Skype call, an introduction, etc). This means you have 20 Opportunities, and after 2 weeks of starting your outbound approach, you can now complete the Opportunities stage.

Let’s assume you manage to learn more about these 20 people and only 10 of them are really matching your ideal customer profile (ICP). 3 weeks after the initial approach, you can now complete the Qualified Leads stage (assuming it took you 1 week to qualify them all).

One week after that you conduct a Demo with all those 10 people, and you manage to close a deal 2 weeks after the Demo with only 5 of them. The other 5 are not ready to buy yet.

Based on our case study, the sales cycle took 6 weeks; you managed to fill in the Prospecting stage on day 1, the Opportunity stage 2 weeks later, the Qualified Leads step 3 weeks later, the Demo stage at the end of the fourth week and it took you 6 weeks to also fill in your funnel with the Deals Won.

Your conversion rate (Deals Won/Prospects*100) is 5%, and the average industry conversion rate is 7%. This means you’ve done pretty well for your first outbound campaign. 🙂

Here is the visual example of the sales funnel according to our case study:

If you want, you can also download the example above.

Bottom-to-top technique

Another way of using this canvas is by filling it from bottom to top.

Let’s take the same example as above. You are the founder of meeting appointments software, and you have been running outbound sales for quite a while now. You know that your conversion rate is 5%, your sales cycle takes 6 weeks to complete, and you need to forecast how many prospects you need to contact in order to have 10 new contracts this quarter.

Based on the overall conversion rate (5%) and the length of your sales cycle, you know that you will need to contact around 200 prospects to get those deals. Besides that, you will also be able to predict the amount of work per week based on the conversion rate from stage to stage, and more than that, you will also be able to predict how many salespeople you will need in your team to reach a certain number of deals per month/quarter.

With that being said, I hope this article was helpful to you. You can download a blank version of the canvas over here. Don’t forget to share the article with others and subscribe to our blog to receive the next article from sales for the startup’s canvas series.

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Alex is the Creator of Opportunities. Whenever something new is on the market, he finds his way to win it. IT engineer at the basis, his passion is to transform random ideas into digital products.

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