Think back for a minute to the last product or service you bought.
(For me, that was the impulsive purchase of an ebook boxed set about a supernatural catering company. It looks hilarious.)
At some point, you’d never heard of this product or service — but now you’re a customer. Ask yourself: How did you first hear about it? How long has it been on your radar? How much research did you do before buying? What prompted you to finally pull out the credit card?
If you think hard enough about the steps you went through, you can probably see a coherent journey from completely unaware to a (hopefully) satisfied customer. You may even be telling your friends about it already. That path — from Awareness through Consideration, Purchase, Retention and Advocacy — is your customer journey.
The customers of your business go through that same series of steps. If you’ve ever wondered how your customers are finding you — and how you can get more of them to do so — it helps to understand their journey.
- More effective content marketing: When you understand what information your customer is looking for — and where they’re looking for it, you’ll have a better sense of whether your blog, YouTube channel, podcast, or lead magnet is doing its job.
- More effective advertising: Along the same lines, you’ll also be able to better gauge the ROI of taking out an ad in a specific location.
- Better conversion rates: When you understand your customer’s journey, you can identify moments of conversion between stages and work to optimize them with better CTAs, education, and incentives.
- Improve you sales funnel: You’ll also start to see where customers are falling out of your sales funnel, so you can start filling the gaps.
But the main reason is that when you spend time thinking about your customer journey, it creates an important mental shift in the way you look at your business. Rather than thinking about your content marketing and advertising strategy from an internal point of view, it forces you to look at it from your customer’s point of view.
Defining the customer journey
There is no one singular journey. Every business is different, so while the latest social media trend or advertising fad may be drawing customers into your sister-in-law’s construction business, it may not work for your software startup.
While there may not be a single path to purchasing (even within your own customer base), there are five common stages that every customer goes through:
- Awareness: Your potential customer learns about your brand or product. They may already be aware of the problem you solve, or they may not have realized their need until they learn about your product.
- Consideration: Now that they know you exist, they need to figure out if your product or service is for them. They’re taking a look at your benefits, your pricing, and your competitors. (This stage may involve deliberate research, or a more subconscious thought process.)
- Purchase: Success! They’ve decided to buy. Often, the initial purchase is something smaller that they can use to validate whether or not your company is a right fit.
- Retention: Once they’ve used your product or service for a bit, the customer becomes brand loyal. They’re more likely to purchase other products or services from your company, because they trust your brand’s quality.
- Advocacy: They’re really digging the experience they’ve had with your brand. This leads to them referring your product or service to others, whether in person, on social media, or through your referral program.
Every customer goes through those same stages, whether you’re selling books about supernatural catering companies, software-as-a-service, or high-end architectural design. The trick is in finding out what those stages look like for your specific customer.
One way is to scope out your competition. Where are they focusing their marketing and advertising efforts? Are they taking out ads on certain websites? Do they have an active blog? Which social media platforms are they using? Don’t simply copy their marketing plan or you’ll still be behind the curve. But seeing what they do can help you understand how customers in your industry think.
You can also look for hints in case studies and industry research put out by big firms like Deloitte, Accenture, or whatever the big name is in your particular industry. Sometimes these customer trend reports can be pricey, but you can often find press releases or articles in industry trade journals that can give you the highlights.
My favorite way is to simply talk to your customers. Get in the habit of asking new customers how they found you, and send out periodic surveys to your email list quizzing them about their buying habits. You can also invite some of your best customers to have a heart-to-heart about their experience, whether in-person or over the phone.
Once you have a good idea of your customer journey, you can focus your advertising in places your potential customers hang out, use content marketing to help them through the consideration and purchase stages, and then give them a stellar customer service experience to retain them and transform them into brand advocates. We’ll cover that in a later post. Stay tuned!