Lifecycle marketing uses the inbound methodology to visualize the entire lifecycle of a contact. It starts with a contact's first touch and assists in nurturing them all the way down to their final, closed-won touch.
The process begins when a contact first visits your website. Insights gained through lifecycle marketing provide marketers with a better understanding of how contacts engage with their content. It also allows marketers to segment their database and make more data-driven decisions. With all of this information, you can prioritize high-fit and interested contacts, captivate them with relevant content and, ultimately, close them into customers.
This is important because you should be creating content based on engagement level. For instance, nurturing strategies will differ for individuals who are browsing your blog than those downloading your case studies. Lifecycle stages allow you to curate information for each stage in a contact's buyer's journey and help encourage them to that next step. Let's take a deeper look at all of the lifecycle stages and the marketing content you can provide at each one.
A visitor is anyone who has visited your website, but hasn't converted on a form yet to start building a contact record in your database. Because they aren't yet contacts, visitors aren't considered an "official" lifecycle stage in your marketing automation platform, but they do provide marketers with value. Many leads and customers start their buyer's journey with a website visit, so it's the first touchpoint a marketer can track. While visitors may not give you contact information, they can give insight on your website performance. All visitors to your website — regardless of lifecycle stage — contribute to important website metrics, such as views, bounce rate and time on page. From here, marketers can analyze their website's strengths and weaknesses, and make improvements.
The first "official" lifecycle stage is subscriber. These top of funnel contacts have subscribed to either your blog or newsletter, so they've only provided limited information, such as name and email address. Subscribers are aware of your product or service, but have shown limited interest in it. Due to this, you shouldn't exert a lot of your efforts on them. It's good to be mindful of them though, because with the proper nurturing, they could turn into leads.
Leads are also top of funnel contacts, but are more engaged than your subscribers. They are contacts in the awareness stage of the buyer's journey. This means they're still exploring their problem and learning about the topic. They might even know that your company can help them solve this issue. However, they move beyond subscriber because they've demonstrated additional interest in your solution by converting on a form on your website. In the awareness stage, leads are still researching their problem and possible solutions. It's too early to start encouraging them to request a consultation, but you should send them relevant pieces of content based on what they've downloaded.
4. Marketing Qualified Lead
Marketing Qualified Leads (MQLs) are contacts are in the middle of the funnel and have expressed even greater interest than a subscriber or lead. Unlike the previous lifecycle stages, the criteria for becoming an MQL varies from business to business. It's dependent upon the lead scoring criteria you've determined to be important for your database and goals. Where one organization may mark a contact as an MQL after converting on many top of funnel forms, another may only require a single submission on a middle of funnel form.
While subscribers and leads are important, you should dedicate extra time and effort into your MQLs. These contacts have not only demonstrated high interest in your solution, but they've also been deemed a high fit based on your lead score criteria. At the MQL stage, your nurturing strategy is vital and should include a handoff to sales, so they can also determine the quality of these leads.
5. Sales Qualified Lead
Once marketing has established a contact as a good fit with high interest, it gets passed to your sales team to (hopefully) become a Sales Qualified Lead (SQL). While both MQLs and SQLs are middle of funnel contacts, the way you determine their qualification is different. Where MQL status is determined by the lead score criteria in your marketing automation platform, SQL status is decided by a salesperson. If the majority of your MQLs are also deemed worthy of SQL status, it means your lead score criteria is accurate and your marketing and sales teams are well aligned.
The SQL stage means these contacts have been deemed as worthy of sales outreach. At this point, a sales representative will start a conversation with this contact. However, this definition will also vary depending on your company's buyer personas and sales cycle length.
The Opportunity stage of lifecycle marketing enters the bottom of the funnel. These are contacts who are actively engaged in sales conversation and could soon become a closed-won customer. At this stage, fit and interest have become a mutual understanding between your organization and your contacts. You believe they are a high fit for your solution and they believe you are a high fit for their challenge. Opportunities have narrowed their options and are almost ready to choose a solution — your solution. To help them make a decision, your sales team can leverage case studies from similar companies you've helped and additional assessments of their challenges and pain points to show how your solution can overcome them.
After a long journey through the marketing and sales funnel, you have your customers, or closed-wons. These are the contacts who actually decide to buy your product or service. If you've gotten your contact this far, congrats! Closing the gap between contacts and actual paying customers can be challenging. But this is why all six lifecycle stages are crucial to customer acquisition. With proper segmentation and nurturing, you can guide contacts down the funnel and turn them into customers.
But wait, there's more! While customers are the last lifecycle stage, marketers cannot stop here. It's important to recognize that marketing efforts don't end at customer acquisition. After you've acquired a customer, you must focus your efforts on delighting them. When you delight your customers, they become evangelists.
While evangelism is not an actual lifecycle stage, it plays a vital role in future growth. Turning customers into evangelists benefits your company in many ways. Evangelists market your company in a way marketers cannot. Because they've actually benefited from your services, they generate contacts through one of the most powerful forms of marketing: word of mouth. Referrals are a powerful source of revenue for your company. Evangelists also give great testimonials and make quality case studies that can both be used to instill trust in your product or service, which encourages others to invest in it. Lastly, evangelists award you the opportunity to upsell. Not only is it easier to sell to an existing client, but it's also far cheaper than acquiring a new customer.
One of the most important things to remember about the marketing lifecycle is that it's not one-size-fits-all. The definitions for lifecycle stages will differ for every company. This is due to elements such as: sales cycle length, website content, and the complexity of your product or service. We have described how we at New Breed define our lifecycle stages, but your lifecycle stages could look very different.
Once you've defined your lifecycle stages, you will be able to better segment your contacts. With this added segmentation, engaging with your contacts will become more effective. You will have a better understanding of how to nurture your contacts and with what content. You'll also be able to better track actions taken on your website. You can then leverage those actions to make more data-driven decisions. Without lifecycle stages, you won't be able to determine where there are gaps in your funnel. Closing these gaps is the best way to turn your contacts into actual paying customers. For more tips on how you can improve your inbound marketing strategy, download our Ultimate Guide to Inbound Marketing!