Lead Stages – a Deep Dive Into What It Is and Why It’s Important
When you define lead stages, you can track them from the moment they enter your funnel to when they move to the opportunity stage — basically, end-to-end through various stages.
Lead Stages — Not all the leads you acquire will purchase
The internet is filled with ads, on social media, on search engines, and even websites. You must have seen this yourself many times.
You won’t click on all these ads, but when one incites your interest, you’re likely to do so. Once you do, you’ll be typically taken to a landing page or an article by the company.
While you may not be ready to purchase the advertised product immediately, you’ll likely enter your email address in exchange for a newsletter or some valuable content, like a free eBook or a checklist.
You have now become a “lead” for the company. In the upcoming days or weeks, you’ll receive different kinds of content through email communication. Over time, you are likely to be asked for a meeting or a call.
Based on your engagement with the company, you are now at a particular stage in their sales funnel. This is known as the lead stage.
Similarly, you can define lead stages in the sales funnel for your company. This will help you plan your sales process and understand what steps you need to take to convert your leads into paying customers.
Defining your lead stages — the process
Before you start creating the lead stages for your business, understand how your sales process works. What kinds of customers do you serve? Direct consumers (B2C), or other businesses (B2B)?
Here are five lead stages involved in the buyer’s journey that both B2C and B2B businesses often use:
- The Subscriber Stage
- The Lead/Nurturing Stage
- The Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL) Stage
- The Sales Qualified Lead (SQL) Stage
- The Opportunity Stage
Besides, there could also be some custom ones, apart from default stages that companies can use as per their specific needs.
The Subscriber Stage
So, let’s say a user clicks on your ad and gets directed to your website. That user browses through what you have to offer, but they don’t take any immediate action to show that they are interested in your product or service.
This is the first lead stage and is consistent for every sales process. This is when your target audience gets introduced as a “new lead” to your business by your marketing efforts from social media channels like LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, or even Google Ads.
(You can also call this stage the “lead generation” stage.)
However, they may enter their email address for a newsletter subscription (either through a smartly deployed exit-intent pop-up or a non-intrusive call-to-action).
At this stage, you only have their email address and no other information. The user is now a subscriber or said to be in the subscription lead stage. They are not yet a qualified lead whom you can call up for prospecting.
The Lead Stage/Nurturing Stage
Let’s face it: there are chances that your subscribers will initially ignore many of the emails you send, mostly because she doesn’t know you well. Eventually, however, that changes. The open and click rates may improve, and they may start interacting with your emails and visit your website more often.
As you start engaging with your subscriber through valuable content, they’ll start visiting your website more frequently. They may download an eBook or register for a webinar or online event.
At this stage, you’d have captured more details about your subscriber, such as their name, phone number, and perhaps even their region. Now, your subscriber is a lead in the nurturing stage, and you can engage further with them by sending articles, infographics, checklists, and more, based on the kind of content that interests them.
In fact, at this stage, you can also get them to sign up for a trial or request a demo of your product.
In such cases, you can use a marketing automation tool to further qualify these leads and send the best of the lot to your sales team for follow-up. Did you know that companies that do great lead-nurturing generate 50% more leads?
And if you are a sales rep, as soon as a lead is assigned to you, you need to establish contact with them and nurture them through different channels such as email, LinkedIn, Facebook, or phone calls to ensure that they convert.
Here are some follow-up email templates you can use to do this.
You need to keep in mind the following:
- Your first touch needs to be within 24 hours of the lead coming in. Use a personalized introductory email welcoming them to your company.
- Ensure that call reminder and follow-up emails are set up in your lead management system.
Here’s a sample email sequence scenario for you to get an unresponsive lead to engage:
The MQL Stage
Once your lead signs up for a free trial or requests a demo, they become an MQL or a marketing qualified lead.
You’ll need to get some information such as their name, email address, company name, company size, the company’s domain, whether they are the decision-maker, their target audience, and even their engagement levels to see if they are fit to qualify as an MQL for your organization.
Here are three ways to check for MQL qualification:
- Check if the lead matches your buyer persona (ensure if you have one)
- What’s your sales team’s definition of an ideal lead? So, ask them what a “qualified lead” is for them and work your way from there.
- Determine the right demographic factors for your purpose, such as the lead’s company size, industry, location, and their role in the company.
Some companies refer to this process as lead scoring. Based on these rules, go ahead and create a scoring system to rate MQL qualifications.
This ensures that your sales team gets only the high-quality leads that can improve their productivity; it also helps the sales and marketing teams remain focused on their goals.
During this stage, the lead would have started reading about your product or service and would know exactly what you’re offering. If your product has different subscription plans, there are chances that the lead would be aware of the exact set of features available on each plan.
These activities increase the lead’s engagement with your company, and their chances of converting will increase. One more thing you should do is offer a free product consultation or walkthrough to take them through a guided tour of the product.
When the lead accepts this invitation, they become a prospect or a potential customer with your company.
Learn more about managing leads with a lead management software.
Sales Accepted Leads
In this stage, your sales team receives the leads from the marketing team and decides whether or not to pursue them, mostly through a discovery call.
A sales accepted lead or SAL is an MQL that has been thoroughly reviewed and passed on to the sales team for approval.
Now, why is this stage critical? Mainly, this stage helps align the sales and marketing functions in your company by ensuring that they are on the right track and on the same page.
Two parameters for the sales team to accept an MQL:
- Accurate information – The contact information has to be accurate. If some leads are disqualified, the marketing team has to go back and verify the information again.
- Fitting the ideal customer profile (ICP) – If the lead meets your ICP, verticals, company size, engagement, or budget to purchase your product or service, or they have a requirement currently, they can be passed on to the sales team.
If a lead is routed too early to the sales team, it can be disqualified immediately.
A standard process that salespeople use to qualify a sales accepted lead is the budget, authority, need, and timeframe method, commonly known as BANT.
These four parameters help organizations determine the number of salespeople they have to deploy to explore a lead and allocate all the resources available in the company for different leads in different stages of the sales lifecycle.
Once this is done, your sales team will determine if the prospect is ready to buy your product or service.
Note: When your lead does not respond to emails or calls and follow-ups, this means that they are not interested. You can mark them as “Unqualified” and move on.
These are the leads usually ready to have a conversation—having responded positively to you when you requested them for a quick call or a meeting.
“Meeting Scheduled” leads can move on to the next stage and labeled as sales-ready.
Related article: Why BANT isn’t dead but evolving
The Sales Qualified Lead Stage
The sales reps in your company will still have to qualify the lead and assign them to a dedicated person in your company. Sales qualified leads, or SQLs, represent a substantial business opportunity.
An SQL is a prospective buyer that is ready to have a chat with your sales team. And they’ve expressed enough interest in your product or service to warrant this.
If your lead enters this stage, you can say that they are now more likely to become a paying customer than the other leads in your pipeline.
These leads have precise needs, a timeline for implementation, and a proper budget, and more importantly, they are ready to make a final purchase decision.
Related article: Identifying and nurturing SQLs
The Opportunity Stage
A product consultation call does not necessarily mean that the lead is immediately ready to buy your product. However, they might still get competing alternatives that fit their budget better and can go back.
But this is where your effort matters. There is a chance that they’ll buy your product or service, and you have to spring up to this opportunity. The fact that they’ve agreed to listen to you demoing the product means they’re either ready to buy your product or switch from a competitor.
This means that the lead is now a prospect for your sales team and an opportunity for your company. This call is significant, and you have to ensure that you offer as many value additions as possible to convince them that your product is the right fit for them.
One way you can do this is to make your conversations or demonstrations highly personalized, i.e., tailored to their pain points. Discuss with them how your product will help their particular business, how they can create custom modules to fit their business environment and other value propositions.
Related article: How to generate and nurture ToFU leads
Examples of two custom stages you can create
Once you’ve won or lost a deal, you can create two optional stages where the lead is either marked “won” or “lost.”
If you’ve succeeded in your efforts in nurturing your prospect, they’ll buy the product from you. You can make this the final stage of your lead stages. But it’s not over yet. You’ll still need to check in with them from time to time to ensure that they’re satisfied with your offering. So, provide all the necessary support and be quick to respond when they raise queries and help requests. This can help you retain the customer for a more extended time.
There are chances that you may not be able to convert the customer. Your leads may change their mind just before close, at the end of the funnel, or they might have chosen a competitor’s product. In this case, you can mark this lead as “Lost.”
Mapping out your lead stages like this will help you stick to your sales process better and separate the good leads from the rest. Although these stages represent the usual approach taken by many companies, you can mix and match the lead stages for your company, depending on what kind of a product or service you provide, and even cut out or add some new steps. What’s important is that you are very well aware of each stage your lead goes through to engage more meaningfully—and effectively—with them.
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