This is the 7th post of a 50 article series for beginners building marketing at B2B startups.
As a B2B startup’s contact list grows, it’s critical that contacts are properly organized and segmented based on lifecycle stage. Lifecycle stage refers to the step in the buyer’s journey that a contact is in. This is often built into your CRM and marketing automation system (or it needs to be added as a custom field). Let’s break down each stage:
These are contacts that may subscribe to your blog or newsletter. You likely do not know if they meet the criteria to become a customer, as some of them may just be interested in your content. Your goal for subscribers is to share top of funnel content (i.e. content that is not highly specific to your business) and ultimately push the right contacts towards providing more detailed contact information (e.g. job title) by downloading a larger piece of content (e.g. an ebook).
These are contacts that have provided their email address and demonstrated that they match some criteria needed to become a customer (e.g. provided an acceptable job title at an acceptable target company). They provide this information by filling out a form on a landing page in order to download a piece of premium content, like a PDF guide, checklist or ebook.
These are contacts that have demonstrated that they are sales-ready. This typically happens by filling out a demo request form on a landing page of your website. When a lead becomes an MQL, they are sent to sales for direct contact and further qualification. It’s up to sales to confirm if the lead is indeed ready to go through the sales process.
These are contacts that have been confirmed to be “sales-ready” by the sales team. They likely demonstrated that they match some basic criteria (e.g. budget, needs, timing, authority) to qualify to move forward in the funnel.
These are contacts that have been added to sales pipeline. This means that the sales team has created a deal, assigned a dollar value to that deal and are counting it in the sales forecast. It’s very important that only truly qualified SQLs get added as opportunities, otherwise sales will overstate the forecast and miss goals.
These are contacts that were part of a deal that has closed, and thus are now customers. It’s important that once a contact becomes a customer, they are properly categorized as such so they can be excluded from receiving additional marketing messages.
These are contacts that the Customer Success team has deemed “true fans” of your company and can often be go-to contacts for reference checks, testimonials, etc. This lifecycle stage is optional and used less often than the others.
These are contacts that do not meet criteria to become a customer, but may still want to be engaged in your marketing. For example, partners, other vendors, advisors, board members, etc. Segmenting these contacts out of the rest of the funnel will ensure you don’t overstate lead numbers, counting folks who will never become customers.
Automating Stage Movement
As you develop processes in your CRM and marketing automation system, certain activities can be used to automatically set lifecycle stage forward. You should rarely be adjusting this field manually (except for SQL).
Subscriber > Lead
When a contact downloads certain content (e.g. ebooks) they should be automatically converted to the lead stage.
Lead > MQL
When a lead fills out a demo request form, they should automatically convert to the MQL stage.
MQL > SQL
When the sales rep completes a demo and confirms the contact is sales qualified, s/he may manually adjust the lifecycle stage to SQL.
SQL > Opportunity
When a deal is created in your CRM and thus added to sales pipeline, all contacts associated with that deal should be converted to the opportunity stage.
Opportunity > Customer
When a deal is closed in your CRM, all contacts associated with that deal should be converted to the customer stage.