Understanding who your customer is, where they are and what their goals are are the foundation for a successful marketing plan.
Last Updated:December 1, 2018
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The customer journey is the beginning and end of a thorough and complete digital marketing plan.
With marketing, your hope is to convert people and businesses from strangers to loyal customers. But customers, both business to business and business to consumer, naturally follow a set of steps from originally noticing a need for something to satisfying that need.
As a business, think about how you would go about signing up with a new payroll service company, for example.
Maybe you become aware of the need to find a new company because the previous company you worked with went out of business or increased their rates.
Then you decided to talk to your friend who works at another company to see who they use, or you perform a search on Google to see and consider what may be out there.
After weighing some alternatives, you decide to sign a short-term contract with a reputable payroll service company that looks to be a decent fit for you.
Finally, after 6 months of meeting your needs and even going above and beyond at times, you decide to renew with the payroll company for a lengthier contract and consider your need satisfied.
Generally, this is the natural journey that a customer takes when purchasing or signing up for a new product or service. Because we understand this and are making the decision to improve our digital marketing performance, we want to help our customers comfortably through this journey.
Here is what our customer journey roadmap will look like:
Let's map out how our payroll company example fits with the roadmap above.
When we became aware of our need we stepped into the awareness stage. When we looked for and compared solutions to our need we fit inside the consideration stage. Then, when we decided to sign up with a company we entered the conversion stage. Lastly, when we stayed on with the company after determining that they did, in fact, help to solve our problem, we settled into the retention stage.
You could break down this roadmap into additional sub-stages, but I think that these 4 steps clearly define a goal and purpose from the business's perspective.
Our job in marketing is to make people aware of us, consider us, choose us, and then stay with us.
That's easy enough to understand and probably no one would disagree, but why go through the process of building and writing down a customer journey map for my business when the concept itself is so simple?
A few advantages for creating your own customer journey maps include:
In addition to an understanding of the 4 main stages explained above, there are a few other components that we'll need to consider about both our customer and our marketing before building out our roadmap.
Understanding the specifics of your target customer based on a detailed buyer personaA buyer persona is a semi-fictional representation of your ideal customer based on market research and real data about your existing customers. (Hubspot) can give us the knowledge of where our customer will be looking during the awareness stage, or how they'll go about making a decision at the end of the consideration stage. Preparing the demographics and psychographics of our target market can help us to be sure our marketing activities aren't too broad to be effective. More about buyer personas to come in our next chapter on B2B digital marketing content strategy.
It's helpful to understand the goals your customers have at each customer stage. These goals should alter the roadmaps that you build for the customers, as you make sure to help them accomplish their goals.
Maybe your business sells industrial-strength adhesives and you've created a high-quality piece of content on your website outlining why your adhesives are the best in the industry.
Unfortunately, you're not getting many customers requesting your adhesive.
After diving into your web analytics data it turns out that the vast majority of your audience to the web page is acquired when they search for something like "low cost industrial adhesives" in search engines. While you may want to focus on quality of your adhesives, your audience is more concerned with the price.
Now that you've become aware of this, you can either change your content to adapt to the goals of the potential customers or try to shift their thinking to be more focused on quality. Perhaps, if your adhesives are not on the low-cost side of the market, you could explain how the quality of your adhesives will help them to last longer, which will save money in the long run.
Touch points are the interactions that the customer has with your brand at different stages of the customer journey
These touch points could be on your website or social media accounts, advertising, emails, videos, webinars, or any other asset that your company has produced. As we deep-dive into each stage of the customer journey below, we'll share some examples of touch points common in each stage.
How long does it take for a customer to traverse through your customer journey? How long should it take?
Answering these questions can be tricky because, whether we like it or not, the customer journey often doesn't usually both start and end with us.
According to ConversionXL:on average, consumers visit three websites before making a purchase
And we can expect that to take much longer for business to business companies given the typically required RFPsA Request for Proposal, or RFP, is a document that a business, non-profit, or government agency creates to outline the requirements for a specific project. They use the RFP process to solicit bids from qualified vendors and identify which vendor might be the best qualified to complete the project. (WordRake) that are sent out to multiple potential suitors.
The point here isn't to have a firm grasp of exactly how long it takes for the average company to decide to sign up for your business's services. Rather, you should be measuring how well your touch points are working based on the time it takes to get responses.
And keep the journey simple, really. Don't add unnecessary stages or touch points that could cloud the process.
Since the journey is all about the customer, it's beneficial to understand it from their perspective and the emotions that they may be experiencing within each stage.
For example, if you run a forklift maintenance company and receive a message from a customer that one of their lifts is down, and the company that usually helps them is too busy to make it out, their emotion is likely to be one of stress and anxiety. They're probably trying to figure out how they're going to be able to finish pulling orders before the day is over.
On the other end of the spectrum, let's say that you run that same forklift company and you also sell new forklifts as part of your product offering. You get a message from a potential customer saying that they'd be interested in checking out one of your latest models available for lease.
Maybe they even went so far as to say their fiscal year is ending soon and they ended up with extra room in the budget. They're probably feeling pretty good about themselves and excited about upgrading their warehouse with a new lift.
What would you do differently in building your customer journey to prepare for these differing emotions?
Maybe you could build a web page with content that's focused on emergency repair and shows multiple ways how someone can get in contact with you ASAP. And for the happy customer looking to upgrade, it would make sense to have content on your website that shows off the cool, high-tech options on your latest forklift model.
Regardless of what you do, it's clear that understanding our customer and the emotion's that they'll be feeling will greatly alter how the customer will approach the journey.
Due to different conditions that face each set of customers, every customer journey roadmap should be personalized.
This personalization should be determined by the factors mentioned above, including elements such as your target market and buyer persona, the customer's goals and their emotions.
By taking the time to go through the steps above and diligently build and understand your potential customers, you can determine if your prospect is more likely to be in a hurry and desperate for a solution, eager but willing to take the time to weigh alternatives, or just testing the waters - unsure if they really need your product or service.
And once you know that, you can start building out the journey for your customers.
In the first stage of your customer's journey, the customer becomes at least a little aware of the fact that they have a problem and they need to start looking for a solution.
The customer's research at this point is purely educational. They've become aware of a problem in their business and are looking to find out more about it - how it's affecting their operation, top or bottom line, etc.
The primary touchpoint at this stage is your digital advertising, specifically search engine marketingSearch engine marketing is the practice of marketing a business using paid advertisements that appear on search engine results pages (SERPs). (WordStream) (SEM). Digital advertising and SEM for B2B is explained in full in chapter 3 of this guide.
The reason why it would be a good idea to focus on SEM here is because a lot of B2B decision-makers use search engines to assist with the research process.
In fact, according to Google:89% of B2B researchers use the internet to gather information about purchases and 90% of them use search engines to do so.
Actually, they perform a lot of searches online before even landing on your website.About 71% start on a generic query, so they're looking for product first, not for you. Based on our data, we can see that, for large and medium enterprises, generic paid search factors in strongly toward the beginning part of the business/industrial path to purchase.
Searches then become more specific and targeted until the prospect engages with your website.
Since the prospect is in the awareness stage, you'll want to make sure that your ad copy is geared towards education and satisfies the customer's goals and emotions that you've already determined they're experiencing in this stage.
Once your ad has worked at piquing their interest and they've clicked on it, you should have a landing pageA landing page is a standalone web page, created specifically for the purposes of a marketing or advertising campaign. It’s where a visitor “lands” when they have clicked on a Google AdWords ad or similar. (unbounce) on your website set up and dedicated to the sole purpose of satisfying the customer in the awareness stage of the customer journey.
The reason why you shouldn't link your ads to your homepage is because it likely isn't as specific or personalized to the customer journey and buyer personas belonging to your customer journey. Also, you don't want to make these prospects have to click around your site's navigation to find the right place to go. Send them there directly!
The content on your landing pages should be short and include an offer such as for an ebook, infographic, or other free content that can be acquired after entering their contact details.
Let's say that I'm a construction company looking for flooring materials for a project that my business is working on. I search "wide plank flooring" in Google and see an ad that offers me a free catalog.
The landing page that is connected with the ad offers visitors a free catalog that features the materials that they sell and how they look finished in homes and other living areas.
The business, Carlisle Wide Plank Flooring, is doing a good job of soft-selling at this stage. They've offered a free resource and once I, as the customer, am warmed up they'll be ready to come in with the hard-sell.
Landing pages in the awareness stage shouldn't blatantly promote the brand or the product/service, but rather be educational and offer customers the necessary information they need to make an informed decision before advancing to the next step of the journey.
For example, I've designed a template to help businesses construct a complete marketing plan easily in only 1 page. This worksheet doesn't feature my at all but rather offers businesses a resource on starting a marketing plan or improving their business's current marketing plan.
By telling customers how important it is that they have a marketing plan and invest in marketing for their business, this worksheet sets the right precedent for when customers are ready to invest in a solution.
Use the awareness stage to inform business customers of the consequences of the issue they're facing and how they can go about solving it.
Going back to our "wide plank flooring" example, the catalog will, I'm sure, help educate me about the different material possibilities, product dimensions, availability, and maybe even pricing. Having this information, I'll feel educated and ready to take the next step in the journey.
In the consideration stage of the B2B customer journey roadmap, the customer knows who you are and, to some extent, the solution you have to offer, but they are still considering whether or not you're the right business to help them.
In this stage, the customer compares your products or services to your competitors to determine if you're the right fit for them.
The primary touch points here get a lot more specific. Since the customer knows a little about us now, and they're no longer in the awareness stage where they seeking basic education, we want to focus specifically on our brand and what we and our solution does better than our competitor's solution.
The touch points could look like digital ads that focus on the value that our products and services provide as well as supporting information like customer reviews and successful case studies.
For example, let's say that I run a land surveying business and I need to purchase a new theodoliteA theodolite is a basic surveying instrument used to measure horizontal and vertical angles. In its modern form it consists of a telescope mounted to swivel both horizontally and vertically. (Civil Simplified). I go to Google and start my search by typing in and searching for "high quality theodolite".
I'm expecting to see a listing of my different theodolite options, but one sticks out to me - the one saying "Easy & faster than theodolites".
I'm not a theodolite snob, and I'm always looking for ways to make my job easier, so I check it out by clicking on the ad and am brought to a web page explaining the product in detail and why it's better than a theodolite. The content also contains information on how the L-730 Leveling Laser Alignment System works well with different industries. Very useful information as I consider my different alternatives, that is ... if I was looking for a new theodolite.
Let's say that the customer found us during the previous awareness stage and that we were able to get their email address via our opt in formAn opt-in is a form of consent given by web users, acknowledging interest in a product or service and authorizing a third party to contact them with further information. (BigCommerce). Since we have this email address and know, to some extent, the customer's activities during the awareness stage of the customer journey, we can touch base with the prospect directly.
I like what Salesforce.com does with this email:
As a business with a new prospect, you can gain credibility quickly by displaying your knowledge of the industry in blog posts or revealing statistics. Instead of sharing content from your blog, you could also try to share some of your first-hand customer experiences as well - showing the work that you've done and how they would be helpful in your relationship with the customer.
Use the consideration stage to separate yourself from the competition and make it clear why your brand is the one to work with.
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In the conversion stage of the customer journey, customers have pretty much all they need in terms of education regarding the problem at hand and the various solutions available to them.
Now they just need a little nudge to get them to sign up.
At this stage, we as the business are trying to make it as easy as possible for our potential customer to make the decision.
The number 1 fear of making a purchasing decision is confidence. Confidence that we're making the right decision. Confidence that we won't have buyer's remorseSometimes our decisions don’t lead to desirable outcomes and we wish we had made different choices. When this happens we are experiencing buyer’s remorse. (Psychology Today) in the near future. Confidence that the product is worth the price. Confidence that this is what we need at the moment.
touch points during the conversion phase could include free demos or private consultations.
Salesforce.com has a great Facebook ad that was created to focus on customers in the conversion phase of the customer journey. In the ad, they promote the opportunity to receive a free consultation from one of their experts.
Miller Fabrication has a landing page set up where they also offer free consultations to review short- and long-term fabrication goals and solutions.
If the prospect is truly ready to convert then situations where they will have nothing to risk will help them to take the next step to actually converting. If they still don't convert, then it might be a good idea to take a step back and assume that the customer is still in the previous consideration stage.
Use the conversion stage to make it as simple and painless as possible for the customer to grasp the solution to their problem.
Lastly, in the retention phase of the customer journey the goal for you as a business is continued success for the customer. As long as the customer continues to find success using your products or services, they should stay and remain with you as a customer.
Unlike the others, the retention stage doesn't have a planned endpoint. It continues on until the customer decided they no longer wish to remain a customer.
touch points that you'll want to use during the retention stage include a customer support page, a knowledge base, emails, and a blog.
When you succeed in onboarding a customer you ensure that they are aware of how to use your product properly and how to get the most out of it - use it to its full advantage to solve their problem.
Onboarding could be really simple like this email from SumAll reaching out to a new customer about the next step to take on their platform:
Or it could be a bit more complicated like Slack's onscreen onboarding navigator:
This is also where your customer service department comes in to play. You see, the customer journey isn't just about the marketing and sales teams.
Not only should the customer service team reply promptly to questions and requests, but they should do a good job of proactively reaching out and communicating via email about new updates, news or opportunities.
In the final retention stage, your goal is to delight your customer so that they will stay with you for a long time and maybe even share their positive experience with your brand with others.
To be sure we have a practical understanding of what the customer journey is and how we can apply it directly to our business and marketing, let's summarize what we've learned in this chapter by applying the Think, Do, MeasureThe Think, Do, Measure method is a practical tool that I use with clients to develop a simple strategy, decide exactly what we're going to do to accomplish the strategy, and identify how we're going to measure our success. method of learning to this important marketing concept.
Everything that happens in digital marketing (and even just marketing in general) happens within the customer journey whether you realize it or not.
Because we want to do good marketingMarketing that actually increases your sales and/or saves you money., we want to be sure we first of all know who our target audience is and secondly, what their goals, emotions and general needs are before we try to approach them with our solution - our products and services.
Once we have that knowledge we're able to create marketing plans containing focused tactics that are designed to solve the customer's problem at their specific point in time.
To get started with applying the customer journey strategy to your company's marketing, you should take the time to create a template that includes details about the buyer persona that fits inside of your target market as well as how you will market to them in each of the 4 stages of their customer journey.
It will make sense to have multiple templates created if you are planning on running multiple marketing campaigns at the same time, however, it might be a good idea to start by filling out just one roadmap template and getting some practice with the decided-upon marketing tactics first.
Different marketing tactics have different ways to measure effectiveness - for example, with a Facebook digital advertising campaign you'll have a dashboard on the Facebook website where you can review dozens of helpful metrics and then you can also use your web analytics to determine how the traffic generated from the Facebook ads is converting to leads or sales.
With the customer journey, however, we want to take a step back to review all 4 stages of the roadmap so that we can determine if there are any roadblocks to completing the journey.
These roadblocks will be apparent by seeing fewer signups or opt-ins in the advanced stages of the journey and failure to convert traffic to leads. For example, you may have a landing page in the conversion stage that is trying to entice the individual to sign up for the free trial. Looking at your web analytics you see a lot of traffic signifying that your consideration stage tactics are working, but your conversion stage tactics (in this case the landing page with the free trial) is not finishing the job.
As stated in the beginning of this chapter, the customer journey is the beginning and end of a thorough and complete digital marketing plan. Whether you're learning about new digital marketing concepts or implementing existing marketing activities, you need to keep in mind who exactly your customer is, where they are and what they are experiencing at their stage in the customer journey.
Remember that this is the customer's journey, not your business's. Because of this, while you may have the opportunity to shape the journey a little, ultimately, if the customer's needs aren't being met and they're not feeling confident then they won't convert.
Now that you understand the business to business customer journey, let's move on to discuss the biggest, the most popular and, perhaps, the most influential digital marketing tactic - content marketing.
Hey, I'm Tyler
I help businesses use digital marketing to generate leads & sales.
Former Operations Manager at Pepsico, I understand the difficulty and hard work that goes into changing the culture of management teams and business systems that are content with the status quo. Why is that important? Because I'm passionate about empowering individuals and companies to build and consistently manage marketing systems unique to their brands even if it means making radical changes.
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