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HubSpot’s lifecycle stages explained


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 isn’t fixed, it’s open to interpretation and adaptation.

If you use HubSpot as your marketing automation system or CRM, the lifecycle stage property is central to it. It’s built into many of its features and reports.  

The meaning of a HubSpot lifecycle stage is open to debate. Some aspects of it can be customisable, while other parts are hard-coded by HubSpot.

And sometimes the software implementation of specific lifecycle stages will differ from HubSpot’s own definitions or popular use cases. This can make them even more confusing.

To make your HubSpot configuration as simple as possible, you need to understand what the HubSpot lifecycle stages really do. And how you can customise them.

What are HubSpot lifecycle stages?

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 you through, hopefully, to becoming a customer. Or even evangelist for your brand.

You cannot 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

Subscriber

HubSpot’s definition: A contact that has opted in to hear more from you by signing up for your blog or newsletter.

Blend’s definition: The first/earliest lifecycle stage. Automatically applied to contacts who submit HubSpot blog subscription forms. Sometimes more broadly used to identify all contacts for whom you may only hold email addresses. Sometimes applied to contact imports when the past level of engagement is unclear.

Lead 

HubSpot’s definition: A contact or company that has converted on your website or through some other interaction with your organisation beyond a subscription sign-up.

Blend’s definition: The lifecycle stage that’s applied automatically (by default) to all contacts submitting HubSpot forms and to contacts manually entered into the CRM. Basically, a new contact from online or offline sources.

Read our introduction to B2B content marketing here and start creating inbound  traffic and leads today.

Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL)

HubSpot’s definition: A contact that your marketing team has qualified as ready for the sales team.

Blend’s definition: There’s no universally agreed definition of MQL, and the status isn’t applied automatically by HubSpot. Most marketers agree that an MQL is a lead that is handed off to sales. However, many try to predict which leads are likely to purchase based on online behaviour (combined with demographics and firmographics), often using lead scoring. This approach is rarely fruitful and instead, we recommend that you let leads tell you when they are ready to talk to sales, applying MQL stage to leads that complete specific bottom-of-the-funnel actions.

Further reading:

Why lead scoring doesn’t work, and what to do instead

What is a Marketing Qualified Lead (Really)?

Sales Qualified Lead (SQL)

HubSpot’s definition: A contact or company that your sales team has qualified as a potential customer. This stage includes sub-stages that are stored in the Lead Status property.

Blend’s definition: There’s even less consensus about the definition of SQL than there is for MQL, and it isn’t applied automatically by HubSpot. Many businesses agree that an SQL is a Sales Accepted Lead, a label or flag that is applied by sales to indicate that an MQL has passed some further qualification. This warrants further time and effort from sales. In many organisations, this is almost equivalent to an opportunity – if this is the case for you, don’t worry about skipping SQL and going straight to the opportunity lifecycle stage.

HubSpot’s assertion that the stages of the lead status property exist within the SQL lifecycle stage is a viable approach, particularly if the leads at SQL stage haven’t specifically expressed a desire to purchase. However, we also see lead status applied at the MQL stage as sales attempt to follow up with and engage hand-raisers in a sales conversation.

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

Opportunity

HubSpot’s definition: A contact or company that is associated with a deal (e.g., they’re involved in a potential deal with your organization).

Blend’s definition: A contact or company that is associated with a deal or deals that are not, as yet, ‘closed won’. By default the opportunity lifecycle stage is applied automatically by HubSpot when an associated deal is created. Opportunity can also be applied manually without a deal, in HubSpot, being created.

When should a deal be created?

In our view, the right time to create a deal is when there is a definite interest to purchase expressed and the likely cost known and understood, not before or too long after. Prospecting (using deal stages like ones-to-watch or likely suspects) is not the best use of deal records as it can result in contacts and companies leapfrogging other valuable lifecycle stages.

Customer

HubSpot’s definition: A contact or company with at least one closed deal.

Blend’s definition: Contacts or companies with a least one closed won deal, or otherwise known to be a customer of your organisation. By default, the customer lifecycle state is applied automatically when an associated deal is moved to a closed won deal stage. It can also be applied manually.

Evangelist:

HubSpot’s definition: A customer who has advocated for your organisation.

Blend’s definition: You should aim to have advocates. But for most SMEs, the need for these to be separated from customers in the CRM isn’t especially clear. Use this term at your own discretion. Later, you may be in the position to run evangelist-specific marketing campaigns, at which point the case for using this lifecycle stage will be more justifiable.

Other

HubSpot’s definition: A contact who does not fit any of the above stages.

Blend’s definition: A useful collection area, at the logical end of the lifecycle property, that can hold contacts and companies that are not potential buyers of your offering. We recommend moving internal staff, supplier team members, partners, and certain disqualified leads here (automatically if you can). ‘Other’ can form a useful component of a global workflow and email suppression list. Segmenting contacts in other with the use of a customer ‘Other category’ property may be useful.

Should you use every HubSpot lifecycle stage?

You don’t have to use every default lifecycle stage simply because they are there. Not only can you customise certain aspects of the default implementation and the way lifecycle stages are automated (see below), you can also omit stages from your application.

In most cases, we would recommend using Lead, Opportunity, and Customer as they come out of the box. But if Subscriber, MQL, SQL, Evangelist and Other don’t work for you, don’t feel obliged to utilise them from day 1 – you can always add them in later if it makes sense to do so.

Customising HubSpot’s lifecycle

HubSpot allows users to create and customise lifecycles stages, and change how default automation is applied.

Users can create completely new lifecycle stages, delete default ones, or even reorder them altogether. Potential applications of this include:

  • Creating new stages – like Onboarded or Lost Customer – to create a clear customer journey.
  • Deleting unused stages – like SQL or Evangelist – to create a cleaner CRM.
  • Adjusting default stages – such as Lead, Opportunity, and Customer – to create your own rules for them. 

The introduction of this functionality creates interesting possibilities to align HubSpot’s lifecycle stages to the needs of your business. However, HubSpot did a pretty good job of describing the customer lifecycle in a logical, reliable way that has more-or-less stood the test of time. And unnecessary complexity rarely produces better results in the long term. Make sure you have a rock-solid business case and have understood how they affect the functionality of your portal, like your lists, workflows and reports.

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