Lifecycle has become a ubiquitous term in marketing, used to describe a contact's journey from initial engagement through to purchase. But, as with many marketing concepts, the meaning is non-fixed - open to interpretation and adaptation.
Now, if you also use HubSpot as your marketing automation system or CRM, lifecycle stage is central to it, built into its functions and reports. While the meaning of the term is loose and open to debate, the implementation with in HubSpot isn't. It's hard-coded and, for some of the stages at least, automatically applied.
When the software implementation of a specific lifecycle stage differs both from popular convention and, in some cases, HubSpot's own definition, it can lead to confusion.
If, like us, you want your HubSpot configuration to be as simple and elegant as possible, understanding what the different lifecycle stages really mean will help you to avoid creating the messy and unnecessary workarounds and fixes that are a common source of frustration later on.
What are HubSpot lifecycle stages?
In HubSpot, lifecycle stages are the names of the available options in the default lifecycle stage properties that exist on both the contact and company objects.
The stages within the property are intended to align with the buyer's journey through your marketing and sales operations, from the first moment they are known to your through, hopefully, to becoming a customer and even evangelist for your brand.
You can not change, add or remove the values in the lifecycle properties and they are built-in to some aspects of HubSpot's automation and reporting.
What do HubSpot's lifecycle stages really mean?
To help you clear things up, here are our field-tested explanations of what each stage means, alongside HubSpot's own interpretation from: Use lifecycle stages
HubSpot's definition: Contacts who know of your business and have opted in to hear more from your team. These are likely visitors that have signed up for your blog or newsletter.
Blend's definition: The earliest lifecycle stage. Automatically applied by HubSpot to contacts who submit blog subscription forms. Broadly used to identify contacts for whom you may only hold email address. Sometimes applied to contact imports when the past level of engagement is unclear.
HubSpot's definition: Contacts who have shown sales readiness beyond being a subscriber. An example of a lead is a contact who signs up for a content offer from your business.
Blend's definition: The lifecycle stage automatically applied to all contacts submitting HubSpot forms (excluding blog subscription forms and unless overwritten using hidden form fields) and to contacts manually entered into the CRM (unless changed at the time). Broadly speaking, a new contact from online or offline sources.
Marketing Qualified Lead
HubSpot's definition: Contacts who have engaged with the team's marketing efforts, but are still not ready to receive a sales call. An example of a MQL is a contact who respond to a specific form in a marketing campaign.
Blend's definition: There is no universally agreed definition of MQL, and the status is never automatically applied by HubSpot. Most marketers agree that an MQL is a lead that should be flagged or handed off to sales. However, most try to predict which leads are likely to purchase based on online behaviour, often using lead scoring. This approach is rarely fruitful. Instead, Blend recommends using MQL to represent leads that convert on bottom-of-the-funnel offers or contact forms, thereby expressing a clear wish to talk to sales.
Further reading: What is a Marketing Qualified Lead (Really)?
Sales Qualified Lead
HubSpot's definition: Contacts who have indicated through their actions that they are ready for a direct sales follow up. An example of a SQL is a contact who submits a question about your product through a contact form.
Blend's definition: There is even less consensus about the definition of SQL than there is MQL. Most businesses agree that SQL is something similar to Sales Accepted Lead, a label or flag to be applied by sales to an MQL who has passed some further qualification such as BANT.
HubSpot's definition: Contacts who are real sales opportunities.
Blend's definition: Any contact that is associated with a deal or deals that are not, as yet, won. The opportunity lifecycle stage is automatically applied by HubSpot when a deal is created. If contact and company lifecycle stages are synchronised, any contact at an account associated with a deal will also become an opportunity. Opportunity can also be applied manually, without a deal.
When should a deal be created?
This is open to discussion too. In our view, the right time to create a deal is when a definite interest in purchasing has been expressed, not before or too long after. Prospecting (i.e. 'ones to watch' or 'likely suspects') is not the best use of deal records.
HubSpot's definition: Contacts with closed deals.
Blend's definition: Any customer. Automatically applied by HubSpot to contacts that are associated with deals that are closed-won. Can also be applied manually. Can be synchronised between companies and contacts, thereby applying to all contacts at a customer account.
HubSpot's definition: Customers who advocate for your business and whose networks may be leveraged for further leads.
Blend's definition: While a business should definitely aim to have advocates, for most SMEs the need for these to be separated from customers in terms of the automation system isn't especially clear. We say, use at your discretion. Later on, you may be in the position to run evangelist-specific marketing campaigns, in which case the justification for using this lifecycle stage will become clear.
HubSpot's definition: A wildcard stage that can be used when a contact does not fit any of the above stages.
Blend's definition: A useful dumping ground at the end of the lifecycle that can be effectively used for the suppression of workflows and email communications. We recommend automatically moving internal staff, partners and suppliers to the other lifecycle stage. Segmenting the contacts in other with the use of a custom 'Other category' property can also be useful.
Should you use every HubSpot lifecycle stage, no matter what?
It’s a common mistake to feel like you've got to actively use every lifecycle stage, just because they are there. You do not.
While you can not change the way HubSpot implements the lifecycle, or which of the stages are applied automatically, you should customise the way you use it to meet your needs. For example, when just getting started with HubSpot, it's very likely you will not have a clearly defined need for Sales Qualified Lead or Evangelist, and that's fine - leave them out. You can always add them in to your process later. The same may be true of subscriber, marketing qualified and other stages - listen to your businesses genuine requirements and solve for them first.