How to use lifecycle stage to align sales and marketing in the B2B SME


One of the key benefits of inbound marketing over other forms is the level of integration, or alignment, that can be achieved with sales.

When sales and marketing work together, the sum really is greater than the parts. So, how does inbound support this and how can you achieve it?

SMEs and their CRMs

In B2B SMEs, CRM systems are often introduced and adopted in an ad hoc fashion, with little thought about the strategy for how they should be best used to support business objectives.

Although far from ideal, this is usually tolerated while sales people use the system as their personal Rolodex - putting and taking out the same information themselves.

But when you go inbound, and automate your marketing, you create the opportunity for sales and marketing to collaborate around a single customer view.

Whether you use one system or several to facilitate this collaboration, consistent and correct use are essential.

Lifecycle stages are at the heart of this correct use.

Read our B2B sales and marketing alignment handbook here and start optimising  your business for growth today.


Lifecycle stages

The meaning of individual lifecycle stages and how companies use them is open to interpretation.

To help you on your way to full sales and marketing alignment, here's how we recommend you use them.

Note: Though the lifecycle stages available may differ between systems, most will use those that follow here.


This is the lowest stage in the lifecycle and is for people who have agreed to receive regular emails and nothing more.

This stage should be occupied by contacts that have subscribed to your blog or newsletter and for whom you only have an email address.


This is normally the largest segment of any prospect database.

Leads have shown an initial interest in what you do.

Marketing can generate leads by offering top of the funnel content for download, in return for contact information, and sales can generate leads through their day-to-day activities.

If sales has the ability to create leads, there needs to be agreement over if/how marketing should nurture them or not.

Marketing qualified lead (MQL)

This is where things begin to get a little more complicated.

An MQL is a lead that has shown deeper interest and warrants further qualification by sales.

What makes a lead an MQL is totally subjective and entirely down to you to specify.

You could base this on anything from a single, bottom of the funnel conversion to a larger number of less valuable interactions such as top of the funnel conversions and web page views.

Given the range of interactions that may indicate MQL status to your organisation, you may benefit from creating a lead scoring system to automate the process.

Sales qualified lead (SQL)

An SQL is an MQL that had been qualified, often using the BANT methodology, for continued development by sales.

SQLs are not yet opportunities but are under the purview of sales.

This may mean that marketing no longer nurtures them in same way they would a lead or an MQL.

Few SMEs use the SQL lifecycle stage correctly, if at all, since the distinction between MQL, SQL and opportunity isn't always clear.

If you do plan to use it, make sure everyone understands how and why.


The right time to move a lead to the opportunity stage can be tricky to pick, after all, signs of an opportunity may show long before any deal is done.

Moving leads to opportunity too soon can cause confusion as marketing may exclude them, perhaps wrongly, from new campaigns.

We recommend that you move a prospect to opportunity when you have an offer on the table.

As soon as you submit a quote or proposal, that's an opportunity.

Closed won

Without doubt, the best lifecycle stage.

Again, as with opportunities, resist the temptation to move prospects to closed won too soon.

Doing so before the contract has been signed and the deal is really done could lead to embarrassment down the line.

Closed lost

Aww shucks.

We all have some, or lots, of these.

But that's not a completely bad thing.

At least you know who they are and why/when they were lost. That's valuable information.

You will probably find that a lot of opportunities just go quiet on you, rather than calling to tell you that you lost the deal. Give these opportunities a reasonable and consistent period of unresponsiveness before moving them to closed lost.

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