Is there any HubSpot feature more misunderstood than the lifecycle stage property? When we get questions about how to improve HubSpot reporting, the first thing we review is how the client is using lifecycle stages. HubSpot’s default property doesn't always match their specific customer journey, leading them to create custom properties or manually force contacts backward through the stages, essentially disabling some of HubSpot’s most valuable reports. Because of these limitations, HubSpot customers have been clamoring for years for the ability to customize the property.
And now, as of March 31, beta users are able to customize the original property by adding, removing, or even rearranging stages. But is a customized property really necessary? Or do the default lifecycle stages just suffer from a PR problem?
What Are HubSpot’s Lifecycle Stages?
At first, customizing the property seems like an easy choice. But to know if it’s the right choice for your organization, let's first go back to the basics and explore the stages that already exist in HubSpot.
Subscriber - Contacts who’ve signed up for your blog or newsletter, but haven’t indicated any real interest in your brand, products, or services yet.
Lead - Contacts who’ve shown some initial interest, but are still early in the awareness stage. This can include lead form submissions, a sync from Salesforce, or preliminary conversations via email or in person.
Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL) - This is where things get a little complicated. There are two schools of thought here:
- Contacts who’ve already been qualified by the marketing team and are being worked by sales to be further qualified, or
- Contacts who’ve begun engaging more with your content and shown stronger interest, and are actively being qualified by the marketing team before becoming a sales qualified lead. In this case, this stage would function more as “marketing qualifying” rather than “marketing qualified.”
This stage is often underutilized or skipped altogether, especially when there isn’t a clearly defined handoff between marketing and sales, or if there's misalignment between the two teams. At this point, however, the prospect is typically defined as being in the consideration stage of their buyer’s journey.
Sales Qualified Lead (SQL) - Similarly, there are two different approaches to the SQL definition based on how your team handles the MQL stage. Ultimately, SQLs should be contacts who have shown true sales readiness and defined a problem that can be solved by your product or service. Through this stage, both you and your prospects should be able to decide if you are a good fit for each other.
Opportunity - Contacts who are actively in the sales process and have a high probability of closing. These prospects are including their final decision-makers in conversations and should be aligned with the proposed budget and timeline (as needed). If your team uses HubSpot’s Sales Hub, these contacts should have a Deal associated with them as well.
Customer - Contacts who have closed, whether they've completed a signed agreement, received their purchase, or made some other clear indication that they’ve committed to your product or service.
Evangelist - Contacts who are so thrilled with their purchase or partnership with you that they’re now promoting you to others. Even if there isn’t an opportunity for upselling or additional purchases, these contacts can reach leads who may not find you otherwise.
Other - Contacts who don’t fit into any of the other stages. These can include job applicants, vendors, employees, or even competitors.
While these stages can initially seem pretty straightforward, they get more complicated when applied to the ways your team is already working with contacts. And while you aren’t required to use all of the stages to get the lifecycle funnel reports, you are required to have a lifecycle stage defined for every single contact. New contacts have a lifecycle stage automatically assigned to them as they are added to HubSpot.
Therefore, the most important thing to remember is that these stages are only supposed to represent forward progress in the buyer’s journey. It can be tempting to manually update a contact’s lifecycle stage when a lead cools off, for example, but that’s where lead statuses can help.
Lead statuses are best defined as the individual activities that could contribute to moving a prospect through the buyer’s journey.
While both lifecycle stages and deal stages should only make progress forward through the funnel, lead statuses are much more flexible. Contacts can jump forward or backward, skip statuses altogether, and even enter into the same statuses while in different lifecycle or deal stages. This property can also be used to segment prospects into different marketing audiences or help your sales team prioritize their outreach.
How to Change Your HubSpot Lifecycle Stages
Now that we’ve got the basics down, we can explore what’s different about lifecycle stages with this rollout.
HubSpot beta users can now add, remove, rename, or rearrange their lifecycle stages. If your team doesn’t use the MQL stage, you can remove it. If you have a more involved sales process, you can add new, personalized stages. No matter what your buyer’s journey actually looks like, the lifecycle stages can now be set to match.
As with nearly any other property, you can update your lifecycle stages manually. In your Settings menu, navigate to the Data Management section, then Objects, and finally to Contacts. There you’ll see a new tab for Lifecycle Stages (pictured here):
After you scroll, you’ll be able to modify your lifecycle stages as you see fit, as well as set some basic automation.
Editing an Existing Lifecycle Stage
If you’d like to rename any of your current stages, select Edit to the right of its name to change it. However, HubSpot will populate a warning:
“If you're currently using lifecycle stages to track things like conversion rate, a name change can lead to inaccuracies in your reports. To avoid issues, only change a stage name if the new stage is similar to the old one (like Customer to Client or Lead to Hot Lead).
If the stage you want to create is functionally different, create a new stage.”
To clarify, HubSpot is recommending that you don’t repurpose an existing stage for something completely different – instead, you should create a new stage and rearrange it accordingly.
Adding a Lifecycle Stage
Underneath the existing stages, you can select “Add stage” and provide the name for your new stage.
Deleting a Lifecycle Stage
Because everyone in your contact database should have a lifecycle stage defined for them, deleting an existing stage takes a little more legwork. All of your contacts currently within that stage will need to be migrated elsewhere before you’re able to delete them, as well as any workflows, reporting, or other assets where it’s used.
Rearranging Your Lifecycle Stage
To move your lifecycle stages around, select the group of ten dots to the left of the stage name and drag the stage to your desired position.
Other Lifecycle Stage Changes
- If you’re currently using a custom property for lifecycle stages, it is recommended that you migrate to the default property and modify it as needed.
- If you’re currently using an API to update your lifecycle stages, you may need to update your integration to use the CRM Properties API to get the details of the property.
When Should You Change Your HubSpot Lifecycle Stages?
While it may seem exciting to have the whole world open to us now as far as custom lifecycle stages, it doesn’t always make sense to move away from the original.
Pros for Changing Your Lifecycle Stages
- You can now match the lifecycle stages exactly to your buyer’s journey and any related internal processes.
- Any changes you make are reflected across the portal, allowing you to use your custom stages for additional segmentation or filtering.
- Both default and custom reports will expand and contract to accommodate any changes without losing valuable funnel conversion data.
Possible Cons with Changing Your Lifecycle Stages
- Migrating contacts to a new lifecycle stage will update the related timestamps with a date unrelated to actual progress through the buyer’s journey.
- Any new stages you add aren’t supported for calculation properties, such as the “Became a (stage) date” property. So while you’ll be able to see the total conversion rates through your funnel, you’ll lose the ability to see how much time on average your contacts spent in the new phases. While this may not be an issue for everyone, it’s a crucial piece of data for many others.
- As of now, if you have access to the beta, you can no longer set lifecycle stages through a form field.
- Deleting or creating new stages will likely affect numerous reports that can disrupt your team and make reporting messy.
Do Custom Lifecycle Stages Make Sense for Your Organization?
Ultimately, you’ll have to decide with your team whether or not it makes sense to change from HubSpot’s default lifecycle stages.
If you’re just wanting to update the names of each stage to something that makes more sense to you or your team, it’s not likely to cause any problems. But if you’re already feeling challenged by HubSpot and hoping this helps, you could end up making things worse.
In any case, working with a trusted HubSpot expert or partner agency will help you determine how to get the most of your portal and how to best use lifecycle stages, customized or not.