Whether you’ve consciously defined them or not, your contacts, leads, and customers have unique stages they progress through before making a purchase. The actions taken — like filling out a form or starting a conversation with your live chat — and length of the stage will vary greatly depending on your industry, products and services, buyer personas, and more.

HubSpot refers to the steps in this process as lifecycle stages. And as a key player in the marketing software game, we trust HubSpot to know what they’re talking about.

In fact, many of HubSpot’s reports are based on the Lifecycle Stage property.

Here at Horseshoe + Co, we’ve worked with dozens of businesses from many different industries to help them implement and optimize their HubSpot portals. We hear some of the same questions when it comes to these lifecycle stages:

“What’s the difference between a lead and a marketing qualified lead?”

“Aren’t contacts just customers and not-yet customers?”

What do lifecycle stages do? What’s the benefit of using them?”

So buckle in. We’ll address each of these common questions (and more!).

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How Does HubSpot Define Its Lifecycle Stages?

To properly categorize your contacts, leads, and customers — and move them through the funnel — it’s imperative to know the difference between each stage, and more importantly, what triggers a move from one stage to the other.

Below you’ll learn how HubSpot defines lifecycle stages. Later, we’ll get into how to customize each lifecycle stage.

To simplify the way you use lifecycle stages, we’ve divided them into three main categories: visitors, leads, and customers.

Visitors

  • Subscriber: 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.

Leads

  • Lead: 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.
  • Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL): 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 fills out a specific form in a marketing campaign.
  • Sales Qualified Lead (SQL): 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.
  • Opportunity: contacts with real sales potential.

Customers

  • Customer: contacts with closed deals.
  • Evangelist: customers who advocate for your business and whose networks may be leveraged for further leads.
  • Other: a wildcard stage that can be used when a contact does not fit any of the above stages.

Now that you have a clearer idea of how a contact can be categorized into lifecycle stages, let’s talk about variations — sometimes the stages your customers go through might not necessarily fit Hubspot’s default lifecycle stages definitions.

Maybe you’re a B2C company that sells handmade necklaces. Your marketing qualified leads might not go through the SQL stage because they won’t necessarily need a sales follow-up.

Instead, a lead fills out and responds to a specific marketing campaign form turning them into an MQL — the next stage that they go through before becoming a customer might be visiting the Reviews section of your page to help them finally make a decision to click the Order Now button. They’ve skipped the SQL and Opportunity stages. What can you do in this case?

Can You Customize HubSpot’s Lifecycle Stages?

In short, not exactly.

An attempt to edit a Lifecycle stage triggers the notification "This property is provided by HubSpot and cannot be edited."

But, don’t panic — there’s a workaround. You can create a custom contact property with “stages” (fields) that fit your needs.

Follow these steps:

  1. In your HubSpot account, navigate to Contacts > Contacts.
  2. Click the Actions dropdown menu and select Edit properties.
  3. Make sure that you are viewing the Contact properties filter and click Create a property.
Image showing the steps described above.
Then,
  1. Enter your Label, such as 'Custom Lifecycle Stage Property' or 'Contact Type.'
  2. Click the Field type dropdown menu and select Dropdown select or Radio select to give users or tools the option to identify one single option per contact record.
  3. Click + Add an option.
  4. Enter your first option in the Label field that appears. Continue to add property options.
  5. If you want to use this property as a field in your forms, make sure ‘Display Externally’ is switched on.
  6. Select the Group you wish this property to appear within your contact records and elsewhere in HubSpot.
  7. You can enter a Description to help users understand what this property is used for.
  8. Click Create.
Image showing the steps described above.

Why Use HubSpot Lifecycle Stages?

In a nutshell, using the lifecycle stage property will allow you to segment your contacts, categorize them accordingly, and ultimately grow your business.

Here’s how:

  • Allows everyone on your team to identify where a specific contact is in your sales or marketing process
  • Helps your team better understand when to make the handoff between marketing and sales
  • Optimizes processes and your use of HubSpot’s software. It’s a central function of HubSpot and not using them properly might mean you need workarounds and fixes later
  • Collects insights to improve your sales process
  • Helps you understand your sales cycle
  • Identifies bottlenecks
  • Guides future decision-making
  • Allows you to target your contacts with the right message at the right time

Learning what Hubspot’s Lifecycle Stages property can do for your company is one thing, but actually using the property correctly is another.

Let’s dive into some best practices that will help you make the most of Lifecycle Stages.

Best Practices for Using HubSpot’s Lifecycle Stages

Using HubSpot’s Lifecycle Stages for the first time can be a bit confusing. These five best practices will help you get started.

  1. Map out the HubSpot stages and what each one means for your company. For example, how does a lead differ from an MQL? What actions or behaviors indicate a lead is further along in the buyer’s journey?
  2. Create workflows to assign lifecycle stages based on your contact’s demographics or behaviors.
  3. Be mindful of the lifecycle stage you assign to contact imports. Sometimes you might have varying types of lifecycle stages in one spreadsheet. For example, if you met 50 people at a trade show, are all 50 of them in the same consideration stage of the buyer’s journey? Not necessarily.
  4. Leverage the hidden form field feature. This means that when someone fills out a key form on your website (like a demo form), you can automatically assign a stage to that lead — no workflows required.

Here’s how to do it:

  • In your HubSpot account, navigate to Marketing > Lead Capture > Forms.
  • Click the name of an existing form or create a new form.
  • In the form editor, hover over a form field and click the pencil icon to edit.
  • In the left pane, select the Make this field hidden checkbox.
Sample form titled 'Cake Preference' followed by "Choose your favorite cake!" and multiple options of cake types to select.
  • Next, specify the value to pass into the property on the contact record when the form is submitted. This varies depending on the property field type:
Date picker/Number/Single-line text/Multi-line text: enter the value in the Default value text field.
A sample Default value with text "Northeast"
Dropdown select/Multiple checkboxes/Radio select: select the value from Field options.
A sample list of Field options with various types of cake available to add to the dropdown menu

Single checkbox: click to toggle the Select checkbox by default checkbox on.

Toggle slider to turn on Select checkbox by default

Know that, by default, if someone fills out a non-HubSpot form on your website, they’ll get tracked as a lead in HubSpot. You’ll need a hidden form field or workflow to override it.

5.  Finally, click Publish.

Using HubSpot’s Lifecycle Stages properly will help with segmentation, personalization, reporting, and overall optimization of your investment.

Understanding of Hubspot’s Lifecycle Stages helps identify where leads and customers are in your sales process. This allows you to make accurate decisions and helps your contacts move down the funnel by receiving the right information at the right time.

Want to connect with others on HubSpot tips, tricks, and updates? Head over to the HubSpot Community to join a conversation or start one of your own. 

Originally published Mar 10, 2020 9:00:00 AM, updated March 10 2020