Before we can talk about the sales funnel or buyer's journey we need to identify the different stages of a customer's lifecycle. Each stage represents a different interest level in your company's products, services, and solutions. When you understand where each prospect is in their customer lifecycle, you will better understand their needs, and what sales enablement strategies it will take to advance to the next stage. Each potential customer in your sales funnel is going to go through six stages on their way to becoming an evangelist for your brand.
Depending on your products and services the customer lifecycle may be very short and repeatable, or they could stay in each stage for an extended period of time before making a decision to move into the next stage. A person who is thirsty and in need of a beverage is going to have a very short lifecycle, where as someone buying a house may have a long lifecycle. While these two examples are very different both of these potential customers will go through the same eight stages in their customer lifecycle.
- Stranger - "A stranger is a friend you haven't met yet" in terms of the customer lifecycle a stranger is a person who is not yet aware of your brand.
- Subscriber - The subscriber is someone who is aware of your brand. Every dollar your marketing team pumps into brand awareness should directly impact your subscriber list. This will include social media connections and followers, blog/newsletter subscribers, and people who have seen or heard your branded advertising. Subscribers know you or your brand before you know them.
- Lead - A lead is is someone known to you. It could be someone you met at a trade show or event. Anyone who is on your radar as a person you could do business with.
- Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL) - An MQL is where subscriber and lead have come together. They know about you and/or your brand, and you have identified them as a prospect. A lead or subscriber engages with your brand by showing interest in your products or services, this could be through social media, or your website. In order to be considered an MQL the engagement level should be significant, like downloading a piece of content or revisiting your website looking for answers to their questions.
- Sales Qualified Lead (SQL) - SQL's are ready to talk to you or your sales team. They are actively searching for a solution to a problem and are interested what you have to offer. They have raised their hand and implied that they would like to speak with you. Any subscriber or lead who calls you, replies to an email with a request for more information, or fills out a "contact us" form on your website should be considered an SQL and immediately handed over to your sales team.
- Opportunity - When a prospect has entered the final stage of their buyer's journey by requesting pricing or a quote for your services, you may now call them an opportunity. This is the stage where all previous research is complete and the prospect needs to make a simple yes or no decision about your product or service. Lost opportunities should be moved back to one of the 5 previous lifecycle stages, you need to decide which one based on what actions would be required to get another opportunity.
- Customer - Anyone who gives you money in exchange for products or services. Customers can often be recycled through the stages to become repeat customers for products and services which are consumable, and need to be replenished. Depending on your business "past customers" may be put back into one of the previous stages to become repeat customers.
- Evangelist - Most commonly Evangelists of your brand are those people who leave you positive reviews and referrals. Happy customers make the best evangelists, as they will likely offer up referrals for new business, and share a testimonial of their success using your solutions.
Your CRM should provide you with the tools you need, to segment your contact list into one of these eight lifecycle stages. By segmenting your list you will be able to offer each contact the right content for where they are in their buyer's journey and move them to the next stage, one step closer to becoming a customer.