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Buyer Lifecycle Stages Explained! [and how to market accordingly]

Your customers take quite a journey before they become your customer. It's much more complicated than simply, "I want to buy something and I know exactly from who", especially for those industries with long buying cycles.

It is important to categorize your audience by buying cycle (and persona) because this will help you optimize your marketing and sales approach to best fit the information they want and need for each stage.

In this blog we are going to break down each one of the stages and explain the mindset of each and how to properly market and sell to them.

Prospect

A prospect is anyone who has visited your site. At this point you really won't have any information to tie to them, but you know that they are at least somewhat interested because they had come to your website. At best, you might be able to tie their IP address with a business so you know where and what business is visiting your website.

At this point there isn't much marketing that you can specifically tailor to them other than simply trying to get them to convert into a subscriber or lead.

Subscriber

A subscriber is someone who has signed up for your content notifications. Typically this will be someone who as subscribed to your blog or newsletter, however, you could even extend this definition to RSS and Social subscribers.
At this point they are simply interested in learning more about what you have to say. They may not be the most engaged, but like what you're talking about and want to keep their eye on you and your content.

Your goal should be to try and create great content to get them to keep coming back to the website over and over again with the hopes that they will eventually convert on a premium content download and become a lead.

Lead

A lead is someone who has converted on some type of premium content download or form on the website. They have expressed enough interest in your industry, products/services or your company to input their information and start learning more.
As far as marketing to a lead, this will depend on what type of a lead they are. There are three general types of leads that you will want to organize them by.

Top Funnel Lead

A "top funnel lead" or "Information Seeking" lead is someone who is simply looking for very general information so they can identify and confirm if they indeed do have a problem, need or want.

At this point you should not be pushing any sales based content and simply be doing your best to provide great quality educational information for this person. The content that you create will depend on what persona they fit in, but in general think very high-level, global type content.

Middle Funnel Lead

At this point in the buying lifecycle a middle funnel lead or "Criteria Building Stage Lead" has confirmed that they do have a problem, need or want and now are creating criteria on who they should purchase from.

Again, at this point the information you provide should be 100% educational and have no sales push to it. If you try and push sales too early in the buying cycle the lead will get annoyed and go elsewhere for information.

You will want to help educate them about what are the important things to look for in a vendor, product or service and help them start building criteria that they can start thinking about who to buy from. But again, not in a way that pushes your brand in a promotional way.

Bottom Funnel Lead

A bottom funnel lead or "Evaluation Stage Lead" no understands that they do have a problem, need or want and know what to look for in a company/product/service. At this point they have probably narrowed their choices down to 2-3 different vendors and yours is one of them.

This is the point where you can add in a bit of "Sales" into the process and will want to offer bottom funnel offers like a trial, demo, consultation, promotional offer, etc.

Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL)

Once they have converted on a bottom funnel offer, it will then be the job of your marketing team to review the information that has been collected from the lead over the course of the lead's lifetime up to this point.

Based on the information, the marketing team can decide if this is a qualified lead or un-qualified lead. A qualified lead is one that meets all of the general criteria of your idea customer. If the lead does in-fact match those criteria you will mark the lead as a "Marketing Qualified Lead" or "MQL" meaning that your marketing team has reviewed this lead as good quality.

From here, you will hand the MQL lead off to the sales team so they can start the second half of the sales process, the first half being all the previous stages in their lifecycle.

The marketing materials you will want to send will be building your company's credibility, trust and authority. These will be things like testimonials, case studies, awards, etc.

Sales Qualified Lead (SQL)

Once a lead is handed to the sales team they will review the lead to see if it indeed matches the criteria of a qualified lead. Many times they will start doing more in-depth sales based research to dig a bit deeper into learning about the lead.

After this sales based research has been done, the sales team can then confirm that it is indeed a qualified lead. If they confirm this, then they will mark them as a "Sales Qualified Lead" or "SQL" in the system.

Opportunity

After the sales team has been talking to a SQL for some time and have continued them through the sales process, there will be a point where the lead asks for a quote or shows signs of being close to close.

Once they get to this point, the sales team will mark the lead as an opportunity. This simply means that this lead is very close to closing and may be in the last 1-2 stages. These are your highest priority as sales people.

Customer

This stage is pretty easy to identify, simply whether someone has purchased from you or not. Once someone has purchased from your company, you will mark them as a customer.

Your marketing effort doesn't stop simply once they become a customer, it simply takes a new dynamic. At this point we want to keep engaging customers to stay top of mind and to continue to build our relationship. This will not only boost repeated purchases and customer lifetime value, but also help turn them into a brand advocate which is our ultimate goal.

Advocate

A brand advocate is the highest level in the buyer lifecycle and is our goal as marketers to create. These are the people who eat, sleep and bleed your brand. These are the people who would turn down a better product, at a better price simply because they love your brand too much.

Now that you know this information on how to categorize your customers, it's important that you build this into both your marketing and sales system. Create a drop down option that will allow you to assign what stage they are in based on their interactions with you.

jInbound Administration Lead Manager

 

Once you have this organized and you have truly adopted this customer lifecycle system it will not only allow you to market and sell better, it will help increase your conversions and make happier customers.

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Luke Summerfield
Luke Summerfield

Luke is an industry leading Inbound Marketing specialist and an expert in progressive strategies integrating content, relationships, automation and communities to drive lead generation and build brands people love.