HubSpot Lifecycle Stage Explained
Everything you’ve wanted to know about Lifecycle Stages, why they matter, and how to use them for inbound marketing.
HubSpot’s Lifecycle Stages are a fundamental organizing principle of HubSpot, but they also are one of the most understood, underrated, and underutilized tools in the HubSpot arsenal.
Whenever I work with a new client, I can tell a lot about the state of their HubSpot account just by looking at their usage of Lifecycle Stages. When set up and organized properly, Lifecycle Stages create a fluid and seamless flow of prospects, leads, and customers that integrates with every department for optimal functionality and accurate reporting. When it’s not utilized or implemented correctly, it can be a disorganized mess of fixed fields with partially automated systems that cause confusion, inaccurate reports, and inefficient marketing efforts.
How can you send the right message if you’re not reaching the right people at the right time?
Because of its complexity and semi-fixed nature, even the most experienced Hubspot user can feel overwhelmed by some of the features and tools within HubSpot’s Lifecycle Stages. This article exists to help demystify this powerful function, and show you how to use lifecycle stages effectively for your business.
What are HubSpot Lifecycle Stages?
Let’s start with the basics. What are these stages anyway?
Anytime you look at your HubSpot contacts to organize, consolidate, or report, you’ll find the lifecycle stages. These fields are at the core of HubSpot’s philosophy of inbound marketing, and why they excel at converting cold strangers into paying customers, and eventually to enthusiastic advocates.
The lifecycle stages are designed to correlate to the phases of your customer journey. They are attached to each contact from the point of when they are captured by marketing, until they are super fans of your brand or product, sharing it with everyone they know.
Within that journey, HubSpot has organized eight lifecycle stages (well, technically seven stages and an “other”). You cannot change these lifecycle names, nor add or remove values within the lifecycle properties. This fixed nature is just one of the reasons lifecycle stages can be confusing and frustrating if you’re new to HubSpot or haven’t taken a deep dive into all of HubSpot’s capabilities.
However, their fixed nature is also essential to HubSpot’s inbound automation and reporting. They’re built-in functions that you can either learn to use, or not use at all. Either way, they’re going to be there…and we highly suggest learning to use them so you can amplify your inbound marketing efforts.
Let’s start by learning about each of the stages and how they relate to your customer journey.
The Eight HubSpot Lifecycle Stages…and How to Use Them
The eight lifecycle stages in HubSpot include: Subscriber, Lead, Marketing Qualified Lead, Sales Qualified Lead, Opportunity, Customer, Evangelist, and Other.
Here’s a little more on each in detail, and how these categorizations can support your existing customer journey and sales funnel.
A subscriber is someone who has given you their email address. Whether through a blog subscription, website form, marketing link, or directly through conversation, this lifecycle stage represents people who are interested to hear more from you, but have no commitment to your brand or product.
You can think of this group as window shoppers looking to see if there’s something for them within your product offering. Providing these subscribers with quality and helpful content to introduce them to your brand is the best way to engage with this audience until they take an action of interest.
For any contact who has interacted with your brand beyond providing an email address, they are classified as a lead. HubSpot will automatically organize contacts as leads from lead forms, external CRM’s, or email contacts in Gmail or Outlook. You can also manually enter contacts as leads for people you meet at events, conferences, or trade shows. Leads have shown some interest (and likely, minimal interest) by engaging with you, but they’re still luke-warm.
In relation to the buyer’s journey (Awareness, Consideration, Decision), Leads are aware of the pain and problem, and are just starting to look at your business to see if you have a solution to solve it for them.
MQL: Marketing Qualified Lead
When a Lead moves clearly into the Consideration stage of the buyer’s journey by taking an action like requesting a quote, asking for a product demo, or opting to be contacted when downloading a guide, they are moved into HubSpot’s MQL Lifecycle Stage.
MQLs are likely considering your product or service.
The key to the MQL Stage is to have a clear definition of the actions that determine if someone is ready to be handed to the sales team. This will vary depending on your business and product, but there should be some factors in place to verify that this is a contact who truly wants to speak to a sales representative.
This status is not automatically applied by HubSpot, so it’s up to your marketing team to accurately identify potential leads, and qualify them for sales with the MQL categorization. This verification can be as brief as getting additional information from the lead for an effective sales call (name, phone number, title, address), or as thorough and systematic as having reached a specific place in your sales funnel. Whatever you decide, it’s important to have clear indicators for your marketing team to properly qualify leads to optimize time and efficiency.
SQL: Sales Qualified Lead
Once your sales team has interacted with an MQL and determined that the contact could be a potential customer, they can be categorized as a Sales Qualified Lead, or SQL.
Similar to the MQL stage, this lifecycle stage should have clear quantifiable qualifications to be designated as an SQL in HubSpot. To do this accurately, HubSpot offers an additional function of Lead Status Sub-Stages within this lifecycle stage. This can help your sales team track a contact’s progress through the sales funnel with accurate, accessible information for the entire team.
A contact in the Opportunity stage of HubSpot’s Lifecycle has officially entered the “real” sales conversation. This means that they are in contact with your sales team, and you know who the decision maker is, along with their budget, timeline, and the product they’re interested in.
If you’re actively using the HubSpot’s Lead Status feature of the SQL stage and have HubSpot’s “sync lifecycle stages” option selected in your settings, any Sales Qualified Lead that is designated with an Open Deal will automatically become an Opportunity in the HubSpot lifecycle. This automated feature eliminates another step in your sales process so you can close the sale more efficiently.
Anyone who has completed at least one deal with you is a Customer. This designation will also be automated by HubSpot with sync lifecycle stages once an account is associated with a “Closed: Won Deal.”
A contact can also be designated as a customer manually for any pre-existing contacts, or for those who are not currently using HubSpot’s automated lifecycle features (which, you totally should!).
The Evangelist lifecycle stage can vary among businesses. HubSpot officially defines this stage as “a customer who has advocated for your organization.” This could mean different things to different companies, whether it’s referring someone to your business, or giving a shout-out on social media. Some businesses even use this designation as happy and satisfied customers which might help you gather positive reviews for the media, or to target for new products and services.
If a contact or company doesn’t quite fit any of these designations, they can live in the Other lifecycle stage. It’s helpful to add a second custom field to these contacts to designate what kind of contact they are (vendor, influencer, media contact, staff, competitor, supplier, etc.).
While it is, essentially, a catch-all category, it can still be utilized effectively when you want to reach a subsect of your contact list. Rather than let them be undesignated or misorganized into another lifecycle stage, we suggest keeping your Other list as organized as possible.
Which HubSpot Lifecycle Stages to Use
The goal of these lifecycle stages is to streamline the sales process and communication between departments. You want to be sure the right people are receiving relevant content and information, while making sure your valuable resources in marketing and sales are being utilized efficiently.
It’s not required that you use every single lifecycle stage to make good use of HubSpot’s Lifecycles. In fact, you can leave some of them out if it makes your process more streamlined. You can always add additional stages later as your sales funnel gets more complex, or your team grows and responsibilities are reassigned.
Choose the lifecycle stages that currently work for your sales process, make clear qualifications for those stages, and be consistent. There is a lot more automation and customization that you can add to the HubSpot Lifecycle Stages, but knowing what they are and the basics of how to use them should give you a good start to organize your contacts and streamline your sales process.