Inbound marketing works great to attract website traffic and convert anonymous visitors in to leads. But the difference between a well-planned and executed online marketing campaign, and one that simply captures information from a contact form, is its ability to sort out the truly qualified leads from the tire kickers.
From the perspective of the marketing department, the eBooks, whitepapers and other offers on your website should appeal to website visitors at the various stages in their buying cycle, and the automated lead nurturing campaigns associated with each offer should speak differently to people who are just browsing than to those who are ready to make a purchase.
On the sales side, tagging the sales qualified leads and opportunities in your Customer Relationship Management (CMS) software, can streamline the sales process, allowing sales reps to focus on the leads that have the greatest likelihood of closing.
Here are the typical lifecycle stages for inbound marketing leads.
Think of subscribers as those folks who know about you and have opted in to hear from you, usually via email, from time to time. In many cases your subscriber base is the segment of your contacts database that has only signed up for your blog or newsletter and nothing else. You should nurture a long-term relationship with subscribers and offer them content that will increase the chances that they will move forward in the customer lifecycle.
Leads have shown more interest in what you offer than have subscribers. Typically a lead has filled out a form with more than just an email address, often for some sort of content-based offer on your website. We see companies use the lead lifecycle stage for what we think of as general, broadly appealing, or top of the funnel offers. As each lead demonstrates a higher degree of sales readiness and qualification, they will move to further stages.
Marketing Qualified Lead
Marketing Qualified Leads, commonly known as MQLs, are those people who have raised their hands (metaphorically speaking) and identified themselves as more deeply engaged, sales-ready contacts than your usual leads, but who have not yet become fully-fledged opportunities. Ideally. You should only allow certain, designated forms to trigger the promotion of a lead to the MQL stage, specifically those that gate bottom of the funnel offers like demo requests, buying guides, and other sales-ready calls to action.
Sales Qualified Lead
Sales Qualified Leads are those that your sales team has accepted as worthy of direct sales follow up. Using this stage will help your sales and marketing teams stay firmly on the same page in terms of the quality and volume of leads that you are handing over to your sales team.
Opportunities are contacts that have become real sales opportunities in your Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software. These contacts have indicated their intention to make a purchase, whether from your company or a competitor.
This is everybody’s favorite lifecycle stage: an actual, paying customer.
Evangelists are those contacts that are advocates from your business - they sing your praises from the rooftops! They are usually a small but vocal group who will refer new business to you unsolicited and post positive comments about your company on their social networks. Leveraging your evangelist’s networks often brings in new customers and helps you reach leads you may not have been able to otherwise
Other is the wildcard lifecycle stage. Examples of what this stage has been used for include closed lost opportunities, customer renewals, and key accounts.
Whether your company is a one-person shop, or employs a marketing staff and sales team, knowing the lifecycle stage of your leads helps you create the right content for the right people, and helps align marketing goals with sales expectations. Marketing automation software, like Hubspot, makes it easy to segment your contact lists according to their lifecycle stage, then, using workflows, send highly targeted email marketing campaigns automatically. Integrating marketing software with a CRM system, such as SalesForce, provides a powerful process for attracting and identifying leads early in their online product research, and working them all the way through their buying cycle.