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The Customer Lifecycle: Think Circular and Forget the Straight Line

Remember that age-old science lesson on how a caterpillar becomes a butterfly? We learned about the many stages that a caterpillar goes through to transform into a magnificent flying insect. Within each phase, we come to understand what has to take place for metamorphosis to occur. They start as an egg, feed as a caterpillar, wrap themselves in a silk cocoon, and grow parts that morph them into a butterfly. Moral of the story? Butterflies aren't born overnight, and neither are customers.

Before our target audience can be defined as customers, they take a journey with our organizations involving many stages, similar to the caterpillar. What happens in each phase determines whether or not conversion will take place. Then if it does, it also affects how long they will stick around. Understanding our audience's journey with us is of most importance if we desire to win them over and keep them long-term.

This journey is called the customer lifecycle. It's the process of how prospects first become aware of your organization's brand, the product and service offered, that moves them to make a purchase, and ideally, become your customer for life. That is the ultimate goal, of course, or should be. Successful businesses know that closing a one-time deal isn't enough. The best of the best develop mutually beneficial relationships with their audience to generate a higher customer lifetime value.

Knowing your organization's specific customer lifecycle allows you to be better positioned to turn a one-and-done customer into a loyal fan. What transpires in each company's customer lifecycle and how your audience shows up within each stage will look different. There are multiple species of butterflies and though the steps from caterpillar to beautiful winged creature are the same, what happens in each is unique to that species.

Let's talk about the stages of the customer lifecycle and generally what should be occurring.

Stage 1: Awareness

To convert your target audience into an acquired customer, they must first know you exist. Your organization must invest in helping your audience become familiar with who you are. From your visuals to your mission, when they first encounter elements of your brand, there should be some familiarity.

The last thing any organizational leader wants is to be a well-kept secret. How are you creating public awareness even before your audience realizes they need you? In this phase, you are just making your existence known to the world—showing up without a direct invitation.

If a tree falls in the forest with no one around, does it make a sound? Yes, but no one is there to hear it, and no one cares. Don't be that tree.

Stage 2: Reach

After becoming aware of a problem or need, your target audience begins to search for a solution. That recognition of lack happens in various ways. It is either internal—something that affects your audience's life, or external—an effect you sparked through your awareness efforts. In this stage, your organization has an opportunity to reach your audience while they're weighing their options.

Here's why your engagement in ongoing marketing is so vital. You want to ensure you're included in your audience's decision-making process. If they're conducting an online search, you want to be sure your target audience is finding you. Google might not be their thing. They may take the route of asking colleagues and friends—you want your organization's name thrown into the hat.

Your reach phase has progressed to the next step when your audience abandons their search and decides to connect with you.

Stage 3: Acquisition

This phase is the "call to action" stage. Your potential customer has inquired directly with you about your offering. They filled out a form on your website or have called to learn more. This direct interaction has triggered the acquisition stage.

Every touchpoint from this day forward should take on the form of customer service communications. How your inquirer has entered this stage determines what transpires here. If their entry point was social media, the channel should be housed with valuable resources to lead them to and through your purchase funnel. If a phone call opens the door to you, respond to the questions, and ask for more information on the customer's needs.

Stage 4: Conversion

When all the questions have been satisfied, and your brand's customer experience has wowed, and your prospect makes the decision to buy, you now have an official customer. Conversion has taken place. Your caterpillar evolved into a butterfly.

Here is where real relationship dedication begins. This purchase isn't a transaction that took place. Your now customer just said "I do" and made a commitment to your brand. It is now time to make clear to them that they made the right decision, and you can provide them the value they desire.

The work isn't over. It's just beginning. Next is to put in the energy necessary to keep your customer happy so they will return and this time, bring a friend!

Stage 5: Retention

Another term for retention is maintenance. Fine-tuning and upkeep is the ultimate objective of this stage. Creating avenues for dialogue is essential for staying close to your customer. The line of communications must be established and remain open at all times between your brand and your customer.

Learn regularly from your customer, find methods for continually checking in to see how they feel about your product or service, and invite them to give feedback. This input can happen through surveys, social media polling, email submissions, and user-generated content.

The last thing you want to do is gather the insights and make zero change. Use the information directly from your customer to help you continuously improve. It also sends your customers an indirect message that you are listening to their needs and you care. This builds trust and loyalty, two critical ingredients needed for repeat purchases and referrals.

Stage 6: Loyalty

Here is where your customer turns into a raving fan. Your customer is now an advocate for your organization and has become a vital asset to the brand. They are making additional purchases and repeatedly showing up at the conversion stage, posting on social media about their experience with your brand, and writing reviews that a potential customer in the reach stage encounters.

Your customer only arrives at this stage if they are influenced well by the previous five. Loyalty does not happen overnight. You must nurture your relationship with your customers and create an experience that garners a perpetual commitment by consistently meeting their needs and providing them value.

The caterpillar's life doesn't end with becoming a butterfly, and neither does the relationship with your audience at purchase. The butterfly must sustain its life by doing what's necessary to flourish and grow. You, too, must do what's required to experience growth— build an unbreakable connection with your customer leaving them no choice but to become your #1 fan.


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