Most businesses have no idea how to use HubSpot lifecycle stages. And, that's a shame, because it's a great way to identify where leads are along the buyer's journey.
HubSpot has several lifecycle stages to choose from: Subscriber, Lead, MQL, SQL, Opportunity, Customer, Promoter. And, you can add as many variations as you want to match the buyer's journey for your brand.
But, what do these stages mean, and why should you care?
HubSpot Lifecycle Stages and List Segmentation
In a previous article, I explained how we use HubSpot smart lists for segmenting leads and triggering automated lead nurturing. HubSpot lifecycle stages are another layer that assists with a lot of marketing automation tasks in HubSpot.
It's also super valuable for performance reporting. You can gauge how effective your lead nurturing programs are going by tracking how many leads are moving through the various stages.
The Most Common Problem
Without fail, the most common reason I see companies not using lifecycle stages correctly has nothing to do with HubSpot software.
In our on-boarding for new clients, we always ask what identifies a qualified lead (MQL). We also ask what criteria identifies a sales qualified lead (SQL). A majority of the time, companies (even those that have been successful for a long time) can't answer those two fundamental questions.
Without having those two identifiers documented, HubSpot lifecycle stages don't mean anything.
What is a Subscriber?
Subscribers are generally relegated to those who subscribe to your list to get updates on your blog content. Generally, for most businesses, this isn't the most important lifecycle stage. For most of our clients, we treat subscribers and leads the same. The only time this wouldn't make sense is if you were a publishing brand, as in, your content is an important part of your identity in the marketplace. This is a huge discussion as to whether or not your content should be "publisher-esque,' but we'll save that for another blog.
What is a Lead?
For the most part, we identify leads as those that join our clients' mailing list. The only time we would consider leads different from subscribers is when a brand values their content fans, even when those content fans are not going to become customers. In that instance, subscribers are an important metric, but leads (potential customers) would be a separable segmentation.
What is an MQL?
Generally, we base MQL status on action rather than demographics. Going back to the buyer's journey, the stage of Awareness leads to the stage of Interest, which then leads to the stage of consideration.
During this transition, we try to identify those leads that are expressing an interest in our products and services. Those who display interest are potential customers, so we identify them as marketing qualified leads.
In some instances, we also add demographic qualifiers to MQL status. For instance, we have a client that only provides service in a small geographical area. There's no need to market to people outside of that area, so we add a zip code qualifier to leads that are expressing interest.
In that case, those leads who display interest in the services, and also live in a serviceable zip code are considered an MQL.
What is an SQL?
Sales Qualified Leads are those who have been identified to be worth selling to. They are qualified, in that it has been determined this lead more than likely is a potential customer.
Most of the time, where MQL status is determined by action, SQL status is determined by demographics.
Demographics identify if a lead actually has the potential to become a customer. In the previous example, we already determined MQL status by interest plus zip code. Now, we have a demographic criterion of commercial vs. residential. Since the company only services businesses, all residential leads are weeded out. A lead expressing interest and inside a serviceable area, and are a business, equates SQL status.
What is an Opportunity?
This lifecycle stage is usually more important for CRM's, but will also trigger marketing automation. Opportunities are those SQL's that are showing signals of purchasing. In most cases, a contact marked as an Opportunity is opted out of all automation, as salespeople are probably manually dealing with the lead at this point.
What is a Customer?
When a contact finally pays for something, they become a customer. In many cases, customers don't need much followup. However, in instances where the product requires some training or instruction, the customer lifecycle stage can trigger off on-boarding automation to support the purchase and reduce returns and chargebacks.
We like to send a congratulations series that give the new customer a briefing on what to expect now that they've purchased a product or service.
What is a Promoter?
The promoter is the customer that loves you so much they are now telling their friends and family about you. This is the goal lifecycle stage of every customer.
You need to work just as hard at turning customers into promoters as you do to turn leads into customers. Why? Because we live in a world where a single social media post can go viral. And viral buzz can explode your businesses growth. (Think Zappos)
I call it the double-funnel, and most companies don't even consider it.
When a customer drops out of your marketing funnel, they should be enrolled into a new marketing funnel. Only this second funnel should be geared at overdelivering and delighting the customer.
The funnel that takes a customer to a promoter cannot be overvalued.
Why These Stages Matter?
Utilizing the lifecycle stages inside of HubSpot are critical for not only triggering and suppressing workflows and nurturing sequences, but they are very valuable for reporting and measuring.
The first step is to identify exactly what constitutes an MQL. What content or conversion point signals a lead expressing interest in your solution? It can be anything from viewing the pricing page, to signing up for a free trial. But identify those actions on your website that will accurately identify a lead that is expressing interest in your offer.
Then, the second thing to do is to determine the demographic information that will identify which leads are qualified to become customers.
What do you need to know about them before you can tell if they are a good fit for your product or service?
Whatever it is, get that information from your MOFU and BOFU forms using HubSpot smart form fields. Then, you can use that information to tell the difference between someone who is interested in your service, and someone who will actually buy your service.
When you have these identified, the rest of the lifecycle stages fall into place.