How to Manage Lifecycle Stages

This is article #7 out of 50 in The Startup Marketing Playbook.

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:

Subscriber

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).

Lead

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.

MQL

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.

SQL

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.

Opportunity

These are contacts that have been added to the sales pipeline. This means that the sales team has created a deal, assigned a dollar value to that deal and is 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.

Customer

These are contacts that were part of a deal that has closed, and thus are now customers. It’s important that once contacts becomes customers, they are properly categorized as such so they can be excluded from receiving additional marketing messages.

Evangelist

These are contacts that the Customer Success team has deemed “true fans” of your company and can be go-to contacts for reference checks and testimonials. This lifecycle stage is optional and used less often than the others.

Other

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, vendors, advisors, board members, etc. Segmenting these contacts out of the rest of the funnel will ensure you don’t overstate lead numbers, counting those who will never become customers.

Automating Stage Movement

As you develop processes in your CRM and marketing automation system, you can use certain activities to automatically set lifecycle stage forward. You should rarely need to adjust this field manually (except for SQL).

Subscriber > Lead

When a contact downloads certain content (e.g. ebooks), that contact should be automatically converted to the lead stage.

Lead > MQL

When leads fill out a demo request form, they should automatically convert to the MQL stage.

MQL > SQL

When sales reps complete a demo and confirm contacts are sales qualified, they may manually adjust the lifecycle stage to SQL.

SQL > Opportunity

When a deal is created in your CRM and thus added to the 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.



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