Knowledge Hub

Inbound & Hubspot 

How to Define Lead Lifecycle Stages

Defining the lifecycle stages of your leads is an essential step in creating a sales cycle that will align your marketing and sales teams; helping your organisation to deliver on your goals and objectives.

As HubSpot Partners, we strive to help our clients achieve growth from their digital channels through the acquisition, nurture and conversion of relevant leads. This is achieved through a balance of inbound marketing, marketing automation and, most importantly, through a well-defined sales process.

What is a Lead?

Let’s start with what we mean when we talk about leads. Simply put, a lead is any contact that has been generated by your marketing efforts. In other words, an individual that has been acquired through any one of your marketing campaigns, and their details have been captured in your Customer Relationship Management tool (CRM).

Lifecycle Definition Matrix

Below is the Lifecycle Definition Matrix which illustrates each of the key steps of the sales cycle, how they are defined by internal processes and what the mechanism (in this example, within the HubSpot CRM) is to qualify the lead at each step.


The two key steps within this process are Marketing Qualified Leads (MQL) and Sales Qualified Leads (SQL). These are the points at which firstly your marketing and then your sales team qualify a lead as being ‘Sales Ready’.

The main difference here is that an MQL is automatically qualified by the system whilst an SQL is qualified by a human. Remember, marketing is about 'one to many' communication and sales is about 'one to one' communication. So, you can think of an MQL being a lead that has fulfilled certain criteria and been automatically qualified and an SQL as being the stage at which a sales rep manually verifies the suitability of the lead.

Defining a Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL)

What makes a lead ‘sales ready’ will vary from organisation to organisation. However, the basic criteria that define when a contact is ready to talk to a salesperson are always the same.

Buyer’s personas and profiles

We’ve spoken before about creating buyer’s personas and how they can be used to help focus marketing efforts on the right audience. However, we now want to create buyer profiles to determine whether or not a lead is sales ready.

A buyer’s persona is about defining need, touch-points and aligning your offerings with your audience’s pain points, whereas a buyer profile defines whether or not a lead is actually a good fit for your business. These profiles can be broken down into 3 basic elements:

  • Fit – In simple terms, is the lead a good fit for your product or service? Are they able to become a customer? This might be defined by their geographical location, the number of employees they have or their industry. For example, if you can only sell your product or service to customers in the UK, a lead based in Canada would not meet your criteria and therefore would not qualify to become an MQL.
  • Quality – Again this will vary between organisations, but the quality of the lead might be defined by elements including job title, whether they’re part of the Decision-Making Unit (DMU) and annual revenue.
  • Engagement – Finally we can measure a lead’s engagement and use automation to score or qualify a lead based on how they interact with the business both on and offline. This could include engaging with outbound email campaigns, visiting the website and downloading premium content pieces.

Once a lead satisfies all three of the above criteria as defined by your buyer’s profile, we can define them as sales ready and use automation to change their lifecycle to MQL. This in turn acts as the trigger for marketing to hand the lead over to the sales team.

How to Deal with Leads that Don’t Fit the Mould

Every organisation’s sales cycle is different, with unique nuances and challenges. This means that leads do not always perfectly fit into one of these predetermined lifecycles and can push sales teams to want change or add to these lifecycles in order to fit their specific needs.

Within HubSpot there is a property call Lead Status. This a customisable field that can help us to further categorise and define different stages of the user journey within the CRM.

Using Lead Status to monitor activity, engagement and opportunity

As the Lead Status field is customisable (where Lifecycle is not, at least within HubSpot) we can now add a custom list that will allow further granularity in terms of defining where the lead is within the sales cycle. Depending on your organisation these might include:

  • First contact made
  • Poor timing – try again in 6 months
  • Poor timing – try again in 12 months
  • Attempted to contact
  • New
  • Unqualified

Using Marketing Automation to improve your sales process

These in turn can be used to automate tasks and nurture workflows within HubSpot, allowing the sales team to engage with the right leads at the right time. For example, once a lead has been defined as an MQL by the system and then qualified by a sales rep to SQL, a member of the sales team should now reach out to make contact with the lead.

During this first contact, the lead might reveal that they’re interested in your product but are in the middle of making budget decisions for Q1 and Q2 next year and won’t be in a position to make any decisions for 6 months.

By assigning this SQL with a Lead Status of ‘Poor timing – try again in 6 months’ the sales rep can automatically trigger a workflow within HubSpot that will send the contact nurturing content for 6 months and then create a reminder task to reach out to them again when the timing is right.

Find Out More

If you want to find out more about how using marketing automation and a CRM like HubSpot can help to align your sales and marketing teams then please do get in touch . Innovation Visual is a certified HubSpot Partner with the technical skill and expertise to help you deliver a sales process that acquires, nurtures and qualifies leads in line with your organisational goals and objectives.