Lead Stage vs. Lead Status
Adjust your pocket protectors and get your calculator ready, my fellow ops nerdlings, because we are about to dive deep into the realm of lead sales and marketing cycle indicators.
Before we begin, unless otherwise specified, we'll be using "lead" to represent a person, whether it's really a lead or contact record. While we could argue about the necessity of leads or the evil nature of them regarding B2B (and we will…. one day soon), we're going to try to keep this post on topic.
Many additional lead indicators are useful to support segmentation, reporting needs, and human process organization. For now, we'll compare the two most common indicators and then explore whether these fields work across different use cases.
What's the Difference Between Lead Status and Lead Stage?
The differences are nuanced, but there are differences.
Lead Stage Defined
Lead stage indicates where a person is in the buyer journey. Tracking begins once a name is acquired by Marketing and follows the person as they enter, exit, and re-enter the buyer journey.
Companies often choose to implement demand generation waterfall stages that follow SiriusDecision's original model. Examples of lead stages may be:
- MAL (Marketing Acquired Lead): name acquired (enrichment/prospecting/list purchase) but has not interacted with the brand to the point of becoming an MQL
- MQL (Marketing Qualified Lead): a person has done an activity that meets marketing's definition of a qualified lead
- SAL (Sales Accepted Lead): person fits basic requirements to be contacted by sales
- SQL (Sales Qualified Lead): a person has been qualified by sales for further contact
- TSM (Tele-Sales Meeting): a person has agreed to a meeting set by an inside sales organization
- SAO (Sales Accepted Opportunity): an opportunity has been identified
- LSO (Late Stage Opportunity): an opportunity has progressed beyond the probability of x%
- Customer: an opportunity has closed won
- SRL (Sales Recycled Lead): a sales recycled lead, which occurs after an opportunity is lost
- MRL (Marketing Recycled Lead): a lead is recycled by marketing before generating an opportunity
- Churned Customer - a customer who canceled all services
- Disqualified - opted out, not a person, no longer with a company
This journey is not usually linear. People may move from one phase, drop back to MRL, and then climb their way back up MQL and beyond again. Your system must be constructed with this in mind!
Your business must also define how they want to track expansion sales and renewals. Is it a separate cycle? Do they re-enter the buyer journey once they engage with sales? You'll generally see an account and contact indicator or type to house prospect/customer designations, leaving the lead stage open for upsells. Just be sure that your final indicator when an upsell is lost doesn't confuse the sales team (do you choose SRL or Customer, and what are the assumptions the sales team will make for each?).
Lead Status Defined
Lead status is used by the salesperson who is in the process of working with the prospect. These statuses are intended to help the sales team stay organized. Typically, the status immediately after "Prospect" is set by either marketing automation or sales. Later statuses are automated by Salesforce flows and are based on related object activity (an opportunity is created, closed, or lost). Examples of lead statuses may be:
- Prospect: a person in the database who has not interacted with anyone
- Open - Not Contacted: an MQL that needs to be acted on by sales
- Working: sales is attempting to contact, qualify, and create an opportunity
- Meeting Set: sales has set a qualifying meeting
- Opportunity Created: sales created an opportunity
- Customer: an opportunity was closed-won
- Opportunity Lost: an opportunity was closed-lost
- Not a Target: the person does not fit the profile of someone who would buy the product at this time (to be revisited if new product lines/features added)
- Disqualified: the person no longer is with a company or isn't who they claimed to be when they filled out a form
- Nurture: the person is a potential target but not ready to buy at this time
- Inactive Customer: account churned
These statuses are also not always linear. Again, be certain that your final process indicator when an upsell is lost doesn't confuse the sales team (do you choose Opportunity Lost or Customer -- what are the assumptions the sales team will make for each?)
The two indicators overlap quite a bit. Statuses will drive stages and visa versa. However, the statuses are a combination of segmentation and process, whereas the stages strictly measure where the person is in the buyer journey.
Does This Make Sense for B2B?
::record screech… everybody at the party stops what they're doing::
I'll keep it brief, I promise.
B2B sales target accounts and specific people who work at those accounts. The person at the purchasing account who manages the product is most likely the primary contact on the opportunity, so it makes sense to help sales track where the people they are working with are in the process.
However, buyer committees complicate things significantly. While a champion may be 100% on board, the CFO may pull the budget out from under their feet. An account has a holistic buyer journey that matters more than any individual's engagement alone.
Sarah Sheehan, Senior Manager and Principal Business Architect at Electronic Arts (EA):
“[O]nce you start converting leads, you run into having a lot of failed opportunities, potentially creating duplicate prospects, accounts, and contacts if the conversion process isn't set up properly. For outbound reps, utilizing account-based routing makes more sense than lead-based routing. You want to understand the intent, technographic, and true firmographic aspects of your accounts, not just the people or the leads that reach out to you."
“Utilizing account-based prospecting and customer management in sales allows you to set up campaigns to target accounts that show deanonymized web activity for people at that company which could indicate an openness to buy when you integrate with sophisticated intent systems. It allows you to segment customers that you have and target upsell or cross-sell opportunities before their renewal cycles. The tech debt risk is a lot higher though, and it can really affect your system performance as well as drive up your CRM costs to build in the automation you want to run a smooth marketing demand funnel and sales opportunity conversion processes.”
B2B organizations should measure stage progression and engagement from multiple angles. It's essential to find the right company and interact with the right people. A single demand waterfall following the primary contact simply won't cut it.
You can read my longer argument for expanding on the traditional demand generation waterfall along with how to do it here.
Does This Make Sense for B2C?
Your stages and statuses will differ depending on the product cost, selling method (eCommerce, direct, reseller, etc.), and sale complexity.
If you have a lower price point product that's either direct to consumer website sales or sell your wares on a third-party eCommerce platform, you may use a customer data platform to track buyer journeys and focus solely on stage. If you're selling luxury sprinter vans that are highly customized for each consumer, you may focus more on sales execution and status over a holistic journey.
What you implement depends on how closely you need to track your return on marketing investment, what people in your company need to keep track of their process, and what the company needs in terms of topline metrics.
How Do You Implement Lead Stage and Lead Status?
Always default to a single system to manage a process when it's possible. Your marketing automation platform should have visibility into the full range of fields and activities needed to update the stage, so it's a natural place to manage the process.
Because the two indicators are interconnected, people must land on their data definitions for both metrics before implementation. If people want to change definitions or add picklist values, it's imperative that they understand downstream or upstream impacts and that the logic for the other field is updated appropriately.
Because humans error and are not divine, make sure to automate as much as possible with the lead status field. Lead processes in Salesforce are pretty slick, but salespeople hate what they call "data entry," even if it's intended to help them do their job.
Lead stage and status are a decent start, but several other indicators can make marketing, sales, and customer success more efficient. These additional indicators may even inform lead stage and lead status once they are tried and tested. For example, ICP score and engagement score may be used to gate MQLs (this should only be done if you are absolutely confident in your logic and execution!). More on that later.....