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From strangers to advocates: How to set up lifecycle stages

Not every contact needs to check all the boxes to be a Sales Qualified Lead. But how do you decide on the qualification process for your company? Here’s our take on it.


Lifecycle stages are one of the key ways inbound marketers know if they’re talking to the right person at the right time.

It’s hardly any secret that times have changed. Gone are the days when you could simply send out a cookie cutter email to everyone in your contacts lists and expect great results. Try that now and you’ll probably end up with a higher than average unsubscribe rate and annoyed prospects. Which is why one of the fundamental elements of inbound marketing is list segmentation. There are many ways to segment a contacts list - by job description, preferred product/service, company size, page views, industry, online activity - the list is endless. But one of the most important ways to segment is by lifecycle stages.

Why? Because knowing which lifecycle stage your contacts are in helps you market to the right people at the right time, with the right content and the right call to action. Score!

But how do you choose which contact goes into which lifecycle stage?  Spoiler alert: it’s not a one size fits all.

Using the HubSpot criteria we’ve taken a  deeper look at the definitions of each stage and how to segment them:

The Lifecycle Stages of a Buyer:

It’s important to note before we start that not every buyer has to move through each lifecycle stage. For example, someone can enter as an SQL if they’re deep into the consideration or at the decision stage of the buyer’s journey.  

Subscriber:

Who are they?
This is an easy one. These are the guys who have opted in to receive info from you. Be it a blog or newsletter, they probably have only given you their email and maybe their name.

How to segment them:
You’ll need to segment your list to anyone who has opted in to join your mailing list or subscribe to your blog - and nothing more.


Lead:

Who are they?
Many a battle has been fought between sales and marketing regarding the definition of a Lead. Traditionally, salespeople tend to define a Lead as anyone interested in purchasing, while marketers look at Leads as people who might be interested in what you have to offer them. It’s a fine line, but one that can make or break your ability to properly communicate with them.

So which one is right? That’s another fight all together but in the inbound lifecycle space (and HubSpot marketing space), these are the guys who have shown more interest in you by filling in a form that requests more info than just their email.  

How to segment them:
An example of how we segment this list would be to include anyone who fills in a form other than the subscriber or contact us form. Something like an ebook or whitepaper. You would also set contacts added offline as a lead as well. So, if your salesperson gives you business cards from a networking meeting, you would set their stage to Lead.  


Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL):

Who are they?
An MQL is someone who is more engaged in your brand. The guys that are reaching towards that sales-ready stage, but aren’t yet ready to buy. They’re typically people who want pricing guides or to attend a podcast. At this stage, they’re ready for you to talk to them with useful, educating information, but not ready for the hard sell. Which makes them the perfect people to nurture.

How to segment them:
In order to segment your MQLs it’s best if you have a way to see all your contacts interactions with your brand. Our head of strategy, Alison Leishman notes, “it’s important to use all possible touch points when defining your MQLs, so make sure you’re looking at both online and off activity”. This is easier to do with a tool like HubSpot as it allows us to see metrics like every page a contact has visited, and the Sales Hub tool allows the Sales team to track their face-to-face interactions with a contact.

So what are the metrics you should be tracking to define and segment your MQLs? Things like visiting eight different pages on your site, opening four emails, or even handing you a business card at an event are activities that indicate someone is interested in your brand. Other ideas on how to segment contacts into this list is by choosing a combination of actions to track, like downloading two content offers and reading blog posts, or visiting web pages and downloading the associated content offer. Remember, your contact can engage with you on your website, through email, through blog content, offline, and on social media. So, it‘s important that you’re measuring all of these and understanding which behaviours indicate a contact is ready to hear more from you.

At the end of the day, whichever metrics you choose to track, it’s vital to make sure marketing and sales agree on the criteria from this point on. That way you can nurture the right people at the right time so they take the next step - becoming a sales qualified lead (SQL).

Sales Qualified Lead (SQL):

Who are they?
In a nutshell, these are the guys who have been vetted and confirmed as ready to buy. The terminology you use for this stage may be different, but at the end of the day it’s the leads who are ready for a more hard-sell approach. Because of this, it’s essential to discuss the criteria with your Sales team, as they need to be willing to accept the Lead and you need to be confident in handing it over.

How to segment them:
Understanding buying signals for your buyer personas is a key step for segmenting contacts into the SQL stage. The first thing you need to do here is have a discussion with your Sales team. Find out what kind of actions people take before purchasing from their side - do they request a product price list? Do they call to speak to a sales rep?

Generally, in a B2C business anyone who fills in a “contact” form or requests a consultation is seen to be in the decision stage and would be ready to buy, but not all contacts ready to buy will go directly to your website and have this online behaviour. There are several other sources to consider - social media, email marketing, a call to your office, or even someone walking into a store. It’s always important to segment by source so you’re communicating with these contacts in the right way.

You can also look at any content they already have engaged with. If you know that people generally want more decision based content after reading a particular blog or downloading two different content offers, you can use that as a criteria to move their lifecylce stage to SQL as well. Look at your buyer personas too. An action one might take when ready to buy (like downloading a content offer), may differ to another who may still need more info before they’re ready to be sold to.        


Opportunity:

Who are they?
These are the guys who want to buy your product/service. While an SQL is ready for hard-sell messaging, these guys are ready to be sold to and have probably had several interactions with your website or a key interaction with a salesperson (like receiving a quote) but have not yet signed a deal. In other words, this is the stage you’ll put contacts in when they’re in the processes of purchasing.  

How to segment them:
Like the SQLs, you’ll need to align your criteria with the Sales team on this one. If you’re using HubSpot Sales for your CRM this stage will update automatically when they progress in the sales cycle. But that’s only one way to segment this list. A contact’s interactions with you can also signal they are at the “Opportunity” level without actually contacting you.

One of the best ways to know what kind of interactions you would be looking at for this stage is by looking at the interactions your current customers have had with you. 

At the end of the day, this stage can be a bit of an enigma as the criteria will be very specific to your company. That’s why it’s important to analyse the data you have and use your learnings to build up the criteria that best suits your buyer personas.  

Customer:

Who are they?
These are the people who have signed on… the ones who have bought your product or service.

How to segment them:
As soon as the deal is signed, these guys should be added to this list. In a tool like HubSpot, they’ll automatically become a customer as soon as they have been updated in the sales funnel.

But not all customers are created equal. There are many different ways to segment a customer list post sign up too. For instance, a customer who fits one persona, may not like the same kind of content as another persona. So look at segmenting this list with titles like “Customer - Curious Charles Persona”.

Some other ideas on how to segment your customers is by deal size (is there room to send them upsell content?) or the sources they came from (do they prefer to be contacted on Social Media?). Understanding the interactions with past customers is also really important, so look at a segmented list for them too.


Evangelist:

Who are they?
This is a stage most businesses miss out on, but is just as important as any other. These are the guys who are going to tell everyone they meet about your brand. In other words, they’re promoters or advocates for your brand. This is the stage you want everyone to end up in, because positive word-of-mouth is so important in a world driven by social interactions.

How to segment them:
If you’re planning on segmenting people into this stage (and you should), you would need to keep track of the ways in which your customers advocate for your brand. For instance, if you have a customer who continually boasts about you on social or has given you a testimonial.  


So, now that you know the stages and you’re ready to start segmenting, we recommend you evaluate the info you have on your contacts and put together a plan on how you want to build your lifecycle stage criterias.

As you get more insights, you’ll be able to add criteria to each stage and optimised constantly.

Your inbound marketing agency can help you do this by giving you insights into how and where people interact with your brand. Remember, data is key... if you use it right! By understanding how people normally interact with your brand before they buy from you, they can assist you in choosing the best criteria options for each stage.

If you’re ready to start segmenting your lifecycle stages, contact us for a tailored inbound marketing strategy.

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