Every good customer service professional knows that business is about more than closing a one-time deal. The best companies build mutually-beneficial relationships with customers that equate to a higher customer lifetime value — meaning, these customers are going to stick around for a while.

Enter the customer lifecycle. Analyzing the customer lifecycle allows you to better prepare your marketing, sales, and customer service teams to turn one-time purchasers into loyal promoters.

We'll walk you through the definition of a customer lifecycle, the process of conducting a customer lifecycle analysis, the best tools for managing it, and the top lifecycle marketing strategies that can increase your customer retention rates.

Let's get started.

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More simply, it outlines the steps taken by a customer as they progress through the flywheel and sales funnel. It gives marketing, sales, and customer service teams a complete picture of the customer's journey and highlights areas for improvement.

Your team can leverage the lifecycle to create lead acquisition content and deliver customer experiences that delight customers at every stage. 

Before we go over the customer lifecycle stages, grab your free customer journey map templates so that you can map your customer's journey as we go along. 

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With your templates in hand, let's go over the lifecycle stages. 

Customer Lifecycle Stages

As mentioned, the customer lifecycle has five stages: reach, acquisition, conversion, retention, and loyalty. While it's similar to the buyer's journey, the customer lifecycle takes into account what happens long after a prospect makes a purchase.

We'll walk through these stages one-by-one.

1. Reach

In this stage, a customer searches for a product after becoming aware of an issue or problem they need to solve. This stage is called “reach” because it's your chance to reach the customer while they're deliberating.

In this stage, your customer is comparing products across competing brands (including yours), carrying out research, and reading customer reviews. Social media marketing, SEO, search engine marketing, and other inbound and outbound methods should place your brand on this customer's radar.

This stage is successful when the customer reaches out to you for more information, looking to either educate themselves further or get a definitive price.

2. Acquisition

When the customer gets to your website or calls you on the phone, they've officially entered the acquisition stage.

This stage will look different depending on the acquisition channel the customer has used. If they called over the phone, for example, you'll need to respond to the customer's questions and concerns, as well as inquire for more information on the customer's needs. Following that, you'll offer the best products or services to satisfy their needs, as well as educate them on the uses of those products or services.

If they've found you via your website, they should come across helpful, educational content that can help them make a purchasing decision. A content offer, pricing page, or blog post should give the customer what they need to decide on making the purchase.

Some of this content should be gated so that you can get the customer's information. Don't forget: your service team should be available via live chat to answer urgent inquiries. In many ways, all interactions are customer service experiences — even something as simple as someone accessing and using your site is a customer service touchpoint.

3. Conversion

Having gained all necessary information and being delighted with your brand's customer experience, the prospect makes a purchase. They've officially converted and turned into your customer.

In this stage, you want to make it clear that you're providing value. They've entered a relationship with you, not just made a purchase.

But the work doesn't end here. It's time to retain the customer so that they continuously come back to your brand.

4. Retention

Customer retention starts by finding out how the customer feels. Check in with them to ask how they've enjoyed their new product or service. Carry out customer service surveys, measure your Customer Satisfaction Score, and establish a Voice of the Customer program to find out what you can do better.

Using information directly from them, you can continuously make improvements to your products and services, as well as the customer service experience.

In this retention stage, you'll want to offer exclusive perks that only your customers have access to. 24/7 support, product discounts, and referral bonuses are all perks that can take your customer from a plain purchaser to a brand promoter.

5. Loyalty

In this stage, the customer becomes an important asset to the brand by making additional purchases. They might post on social media about their experience with your company and write product reviews that inform a future customer during the reach stage.

Brand loyalty is of the utmost importance. Here's a common example.

In the automobile industry, there are dozens of brands selling similar vehicles for similar purposes. So, what helps a customer choose an SUV between, say, Toyota and Chevrolet?

The answer is brand loyalty. For instance, the customer's first car could have been a Toyota Camry back in the 90s. The car was reliable throughout and beyond their college years. Now, as an experienced car-buyer looking to invest in a new SUV, which company are they going to go with? The brand that has been there for them for the past three decades, or the one that's completely new to them? Probably the former.

Your customer reaches this stage after being influenced by the previous four stages. In other words, you can't create brand loyalty out of nowhere. It must be nurtured and instilled in the customer through service experiences that solves for them and proves the value of your product (and of your brand).

Although these are the typical stages that a customer follows in their journey with a brand, this process can be fluid. Customers can come to learn about a brand in several ways: family or friend recommendations, social media, advertisements, research, and more.

Overall, it's essential to be aware of the customer lifecycle. But, you can't really apply it to your brand, unless you carry out a customer lifecycle analysis.

Conducting a Customer Lifecycle Analysis

Knowing how you're faring at every stage of the customer lifecycle is essential to leveraging it for your brand's benefit.

Below, you'll find a list of questions for each stage that can help you analyze your current customers' journey. These questions should help you identify problems in the customer lifecycle — and come up with solutions that can lead to a better experience overall.

Reach

When analyzing the reach phase of your customer lifecycle, you'll seek to figure out whether prospects can find your company.

You'll want to answer these questions:

  • Where does a prospect first hear about your company? TV channels, social media platforms, sponsored ads, or search engines?
  • How are you performing on these channels? Click-through-rate and impressions can be indicators of reach.
  • What are your competitors doing to reach customers that you're not doing?
  • Are you known for a good or bad service experience?
  • Do you post regularly on social media?

Acquisition

The acquisition phase is all about the information and tools you offer. This information then allows prospects to become leads and get close to making a purchasing decision.

You'll want to answer these questions:

  • What kind of content is on your website right now that can help make a customer make a decision?
  • Do you have a blog? Is it easy to navigate and read?
  • Have you created content offers that can entice a prospect to convert?
  • Is your pricing available on your website? Do customers have the opportunity to call your sales team, should they choose or need to?
  • Is your site easy to navigate, and is your service team easy to reach?

Conversion

In your analysis of the conversion phase, your goal is to understand where there might be barriers to making a purchase.

You'll want to answer these questions:

  • Is the purchasing process easy and straightforward? Do you offer an option for guest checkout, if applicable?
  • Are there blockers to making a purchase? A buggy site, an outdated checkout page, or an insecure domain?
  • Have you created a privacy policy that protects your customers from abuse and theft?
  • Do you have a clear refund policy, product guarantee, or try-it-before-you-buy-it program that makes it easier to do business with you?
  • Can your customers tell the quality of your product based on your product descriptions?

Retention

When analyzing the retention phase, you'll want to surface where you can make your customer's experience better, so that they stay with you for longer.

You'll want to answer these questions:

  • How do your customers feel about your business?
  • Have you made it easy for customers to do business with you again? For example, do you include a one-click reorder button in your user portal?
  • Do your customers have a dedicated customer success manager that can help them navigate their new product, if applicable?
  • How do customers like their new product after they make a purchase from you?
  • Have you personalized the customer's experience so that they feel seen and appreciated by your brand? For example, do you deliver product recommendations based on their previous activity?

Loyalty

Inspiring customer loyalty is difficult. To improve this phase of the lifecycle, you'll want to analyze how likely it is that the customer will return for another purchase (and bring others along, too).

You'll want to answer these questions:

  • Have you included social media follow buttons on your website and marketing emails?
  • Do you engage with current customers in your social media profiles and comments?
  • Do your current customers experience unique perks such as exclusive offers, discounts, and birthday gifts that can keep them coming back?
  • Is there a referral program in place that makes it easy for your customers to bring you more prospects?
  • Have you made your company easily accessible to your customers via email, phone, and live chat?

After you define what your overall lifecycle looks like, it's time to delve into customer lifecycle management. This will turn your answers to these questions into measurable action.

Every company has the opportunity to control and guide the customer journey.

Most customers follow a similar set of steps when it comes to choosing a brand's product or service and, eventually, becoming loyal to that brand. Rather than leaving that to chance and hoping that customers will choose you, you can guide them in your direction.

You're not manipulating prospects. Rather, you're intentionally giving them the kind of content they're looking for and thus providing value. In doing so, you prove that you're a reputable, transparent brand that has its visitors' and customers' best intentions at heart.

For each aforementioned stage, a company can plan the best ways to strategically lead strangers to its business. Let's review a few of those techniques in the section below.

1. Identify your target audience.

Customer Lifecycle Stage: Reach

Before your customers discover your company, you need to determine who you're trying to reach. Rather than marketing to everyone, identifying a specific target audience, which will help you create content that's relevant to your customers.

The easiest way to define your target audience is to create buyer personas. Buyer personas are fictional people that represent the demographic and behavioral characteristics of your customer base. They have names, backstories, and even hobbies. Everything you need to know about your customers is found in these personas. Remember, however, that they're fictional, and that the needs of your customers may evolve.

2. Share relevant content.

Customer Lifecycle Stage: Reach

Give your customers a reason to trust you before they invest in you. By putting out lots of useful, engaging, search-engine-optimized content, your company will pop up more frequently when customers are searching for related topics.

Content can include original blog posts offering industry information; templates for email, infographics, and other marketing tools; and online courses, such as those offered by HubSpot Academy.

Later, when customers are looking for certain products or services, your company will be the first that comes to mind. This is the basis of the inbound marketing methodology.

3. Provide self-service resources.

Customer Lifecycle Stage: Acquisition

Once a customer has gotten acquainted with your brand and its content, it's time to take it a step further by providing self-service resources that go over every detail of your product. You'll make potential customers' lives easier by offering as much information as possible. It limits their need to reach out to your customer service team and will facilitate a well-informed purchasing decision.

For example, you can create a knowledge base — a centralized, online database offered by your company containing extensive information on the uses of your products and services and answers to FAQs. Customers like to handle as much of the purchasing process on their own, so providing them with a means to educate themselves will further attract them to your brand.

4. Use proactive customer service.

Customer Lifecycle Stage: Acquisition

Even if people haven't bought your product, they may still have questions about it or your company. They may not know how it works, or even what it does, and this can lead to potential customers walking away from a purchase.

Rather than relying solely on self-service tools, your customer success team should be working proactively as well. They should be reaching out to leads and offering them trials or demos that help familiarize customers with your products. This not only promotes your product line but it also establishes a personal relationship with the customer.

5. Remove friction from the purchase stage.

Customer Lifecycle Stage: Conversion

Build a simple, online ordering system. That way, the most difficult part of the purchasing process is the customer writing out their credit card number. While it may seem obvious; the easier it is to add items to a cart, add shipping and card information, and press "submit," the more likely it is that a customer will make a purchase.

6. Provide support options during the purchasing decision.

Customer Lifecycle Stage: Conversion

Depending on what you're selling, the purchase stage can be a high-stress moment for the customer. No one wants to have buyer's remorse, and this fear of regret can act as a major point of friction during the customer experience.

One way to counteract this is to provide support options during the purchase stage. For example, you can add a live chat widget to your website that links to a support rep. That way, customers can easily contact your team when they have questions while they're shopping. Instead of navigating away from the page they're on, they can just click on the chat widget, ask a question, and return to their purchase.

7. Personalize the customer's experience after a purchase.

Customer Lifecycle Stage: Retention

Don't forget about your customers after they've made a purchase. If you do, that usually ensures they'll be a one-time customer.

Make the customer feel just as cared for post-purchase as they are pre-purchase. Set up an automated email system that immediately thanks customers for their orders post-purchase. Or you can personally reach out after their product has been shipped to ensure they got exactly what they wanted and are happy with their purchase.

8. Invest in automation.

Customer Lifecycle Stage: Retention

Personalizing your post-purchase engagement is easy when your team only works with a handful of customers each day. But as your customer base grows, you'll need to scale your efforts accordingly to keep pace with customer demand.

This is where marketing automation comes into play. Pairing it with your contact base and CRM allows you to quickly access user information and turn it into personalized content.

For example, you can set up a workflow that automatically sends customers an email whenever a new product or service is released. This keeps you in steady communication with your customers and helps you maintain an active relationship with them.

9. Invite customer reviews and encourage referrals.

Customer Lifecycle Stage: Loyalty

A customer will need that final push to encourage them to go above and beyond for your brand. Encourage happy customers to share their experiences by making it simple to do so. Email them brief surveys, link them to your Yelp or Google Reviews sites, and offer them discounts or compensation for referring friends.

Managing the customer lifecycle is critical to guide customers to your brand. You can follow these steps to ensure you're always maximizing the effects of customer lifecycle management.

Next, let's go over some of the tools you can use to manage the customer lifecycle and encourage customer engagement.

Customer Lifecycle Software

Using customer lifecycle software can help you automate the customer lifecycle management process. There's no need to remember each customer by name — so long as your software does it for you.

Here's some software you may need:

1. Content Management System

Customer Lifecycle Stage: Reach, Acquisition, Conversion

Most customers find companies online — meaning you'll need a website and, more specifically, a content management system. With a CMS, you'll be able to reach customers via search engines, acquire them with tailored content offers, and convert them with an easy-to-navigate site that facilitates the purchasing process.

It should also give prospects immediate access to your service team. You should have the option to add live chat, lead capture forms, and click-to-call buttons.

Here are some CMS resources to get you started:

2. Marketing Automation Tool

Customer Lifecycle Stage: Reach, Acquisition, Conversion, Retention

After acquiring or converting a prospect into a customer, it's time to nurture and retain them. You'll need a marketing automation tool that allows you to send emails, gate content, provide personalized experiences, and segment your customer list based on behaviors and attributes.

Here are some marketing automation resources:

3. Customer Relationship Management (CRM) System

Customer Lifecycle Stage: Acquisition, Conversion, Retention, Loyalty

A CRM keeps track of prospect information and activity in a unified database. In their contact card, you'll have access to their name, email, and phone number, as well as their activity on your website.

You'll use a CRM after the customer submits a form or signs up on your website. In other words, you'll use it after the reach stage. It should allow you to collect leads, assign contacts to team members, and create automation workflows.

HubSpot allows you to keep all of your prospects' information in one simple-to-use platform, keep all conversations in one inbox, and automate follow-up emails. You can start with our all-in-one CRM for free, then scale up as your business grows.

Here are some CRM resources:

4. Customer Service (Help Desk) Software

Customer Lifecycle Stage: Conversion, Retention, Loyalty

Last but certainly not least, you'll want a customer service tool. While it only applies to the last three stages of the customer lifecycle, a help desk software is arguably the most important tool for customer lifecycle management. Customer service experiences can deter a customer from returning to you — worse, they might tell others to avoid doing business with you.

A customer service software tool should allow you to create tickets, communicate with customers across platforms, carry out customer experience surveys, and create a knowledge base.

Here are some customer service tool resources for customer lifecycle management:

Grow Your Business with Customer Lifecycle Management

Every customer progresses through the five stages of the customer lifecycle. While it seems like that process is a result of chance, you can take control of your customers' lifecycles by analyzing your current performance, initiating lifecycle marketing campaigns, and using the right tools to manage each stage. Use customer lifecycle management to create a loyal customer base and grow your business exponentially.

Editor's note: This post was originally published in January 2020 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.

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Originally published Apr 8, 2021 4:45:00 PM, updated June 15 2021

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