What are your lead lifecycle stages? Full stop. Do you even know what they are? (Hint: You  should.)

A lifecycle stage represents how far your lead has moved through their buying journey — having undefined stages in your lifecycle means a lot of missed sales opportunities.

Plus, get this: Forrester Research says only 8% of B2B companies have sales and marketing departments that are tightly aligned. With stats like that, do we even want to know the closing ratios for sales teams who don’t work alongside the marketers? Nope. 

But if that’s you, know this: Your undefined lead lifecycle stages aren’t doing jack shit for your sales goals — and it’s all because there’s zero harmony between the core teams that need to decide how to successfully take a lead through all the stages of a lifecycle. 

Don’t get caught slippin’ — know your lead lifecycle stages 


The lead lifecycle begins when your system pings you and says, “Hey, someone’s interested!” Except, it might not be as exciting as when Tinder says so.

Managing that lead through each lifecycle stage (that has been jointly defined by your sales and marketing teams) is all part of it, too. 

Take the advice of tech marketing specialist Julia Payne and use lead lifecycle stages to:

  • Strategically deploy highly targeted content.
  • Prevent marketing qualified leads (MQLs), sales accepted leads (SALs), and sales qualified leads (SQLs) from slipping through the cracks — and getting snatched up by a competitor. Ouch.
  • Create reports on conversion rates through each stage of the lifecycle. 

Lifecycle stages won’t be the same for every company — probably because it’s not a one-size-fits-all swimsuit. But here’s a SmartBug example to give you an idea:

The buyer’s journey — the other half of the lifecycle 

Don’t get the lifecycle and buyer’s journey confused; they’re not the same. But are they both important? Hard yes.

Your lead lifecycle stages and the buyer’s journey work together like this: The lead lifecycle determines what stage your lead is in along the buyer’s journey. When you know their position, you also know which marketing tactics to use to target them and move them to the next stage of the journey. 

The buyer’s journey is made up of three stages: 

  1. Awareness: Leads are trying to understand a specific problem, AKA Googling all the blog posts, reviews, and Reddit threads. 
  2. Consideration: Leads know their problem and want solutions. (Hint: This is who’s downloading your educational content to learn more!)
  3. Decision: Leads have found their solution — now you need to show them why you’re the best vendor to buy from. 

Aligning a contact’s lifecycle stage with their position in the buyer’s journey allows you to curate content specific to their needs and challenges at specific stages of the decision process,” says New Breed Marketing’s Amanda Nielsen

And that’s just one easy way to streamline the lead nurturing process to drive more conversions.

MQL vs. SAL vs. SQL vs. opportunity

Did you know 61% of B2B marketers send all leads directly to sales? Here’s the kicker: Only 27% of those leads will be qualified. Damn.

Clearly, too many sales and marketing teams aren’t on the same page — or even reading the same book. So how do you avoid this faux pas? 

Clearly outline the definitions and differences of each lifecycle stage. Sorry not sorry, but a magic wand isn’t going to do it for you. (Unless… you know something I don’t?)

The only right way to do that is through a partnership between sales and marketing — #smarketing! When everyone understands the difference between MQLs, SALs, SQLs, and opportunities, you get to worry less about working leads who aren’t ready to buy.

Marketing Qualified Leads (MQL)

Imagine your MQL as someone who’s raising their hand and wants to be engaged with. 

These folks are identified as sales-ready contacts (more so than usual leads), but they still need a few more nudges before they get to the opportunity stage of the lead lifecycle.

Hubspot says you might classify a lead as an MQL when they’ve:

  • Downloaded more than one “awareness stage” offer
  • Viewed your products page 10 times in two weeks
  • Downloaded the “consideration stage” offer 

To make your job (day, life…) easier, make sure only certain forms trigger the promotion of a lead to the MQL stage, like demo requests, buying guides, and other sales-ready calls to action. 

Sales Accepted Leads (SAL)

SALs are the marketing and sales handoff sweet spot. 

Smack dab in the middle of MQLs and SQLs, SALs are MQLs that are given the green light and accepted by the sales team for follow-up action

Sales Qualified Leads (SQL)

In a game of Monopoly, SQLs would get to pass ‘Go’ and collect $200 — every time. 

These vetted leads have been accepted by the sales team and deemed worthy of a direct sales follow-up. Having a unified sales and marketing front during this stage lets you stay three steps ahead of the quality and volume of leads being handed to the sales team at this stage.


This lead is super interested and has become a real sales opportunity in your CRM. 

By the time they get to this stage in the lead lifecycle, it means your soon-to-be customer is familiar with your content, prices, and services, and has even downloaded several of your offers

But your job isn’t done — opportunities still need an extra nudge; just don’t be surprised if you close the deal with no hassle. 

Define your leads (the right way)

Now for the fun part. 

As you and the marketing team figure out the best way to define lead lifecycle stages for your business, here are some key considerations to keep in mind:

  • Lead behavior – What’s their behavior on your website, or how do they engage with your company?
  • Lead demographics – Information like pain points or a persona are great ways to qualify a lead as an MQL or SQL.
  • Lead scoring – Combine attributes and behaviors to see the value of each lead. 

To manage your leads better, create a winning lead management process. Lucky for you and your sales teams, VanillaSoft can help with that. What are you waiting for?

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