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How to optimize your customer journey phases to boost revenue (with free template)

Customer Journey
What does customer journey mean?
What are the five stages of the customer journey?
How to identify touchpoints to map out your customer journey
5 ways to better connect with prospects and buyers across all customer journey phases
Final thoughts

No matter how good your solution is, you won’t stay in business long without satisfied customers.

To understand your target market and meet their needs, from first impressions as prospects to repeat buyers, you’ll need to know the customer journey.

This article will look at what the term “customer journey” means, how you can identify the different phases in your business and how you can use it to optimize your sales and marketing efforts.

What does customer journey mean?

The customer journey (also known as the buyer’s journey) is the complete process people go through when interacting with your brand, from discovery to recommending you to others post-purchase.

Businesses will often use a customer journey map to visually represent every touchpoint along this decision-making journey, including behaviors, objections at the stage and other relevant considerations. We’ll explore how to create one for your brand in a moment.

Businesses often focus the customer journey on the steps a new customer or first-time buyer goes through to make an initial purchase. However, you can (and should) use it to track behaviors and actions beyond the purchase to explore opportunities (e.g., for repurchasing, cross-selling and upselling).

These insights give you a more comprehensive understanding of the types of customers, their behaviors and their actions while engaging with your company.

With this data, you can reduce friction points, optimize what’s working to improve your current customer experience and, ultimately, increase sales and decrease churn.

As a bonus, studying each customer journey phase allows you to make improvements and reduce unnecessary steps, leading to a more efficient sales cycle and potentially lower costs.

What are the five stages of the customer journey?

It’s important to remember that each customer journey is unique and people may go through the phases at different speeds.

In B2B sales (business-to-business sales) in particular, the buying journey is also often non-linear, with customers dipping in and out of journey phases as they make a buying decision. Likewise, they may appear to go “dormant” for a time before repurchasing or recommending your product.

Broadly speaking, all customer touchpoints will take place within five key stages:

  • Awareness

  • Consideration

  • Decision

  • Retention

  • Advocacy

Let’s explore each of the phases of the customer journey in more detail.

Awareness stage

The awareness stage is when a potential customer notices your company (e.g., on social media or through creative content marketing efforts).

This might be the typical experience for a software customer entering the awareness stage:

Jane gets a reminder that the tax return for her business will soon be due. She hates filing tax returns and worries that she’ll get something wrong and receive a fine.

She starts looking for solutions using a search engine, where she sees paid adverts for accounting software and a blog post with a roundup of top tax return solutions. She also asks her network on LinkedIn for recommendations.

At this stage, the customer doesn’t know much about your solution or perhaps even your brand. To reach customers here, you’ll want to share educational content (e.g., blog posts or YouTube videos) and show how you relate to their specific problems.

Consideration stage

In the consideration stage, the potential customer researches and compares your company to other offers.

Let’s continue with our accounting software example above. Here’s what Jane might be doing in the consideration stage:

Jane looks up the companies on a trusted review website, paying close attention to those that mention compliance with tax returns.

She then visits each company’s website and searches the product and blog pages for any mention of tax compliance. She arranges demos with the three companies that best meet her needs.

In this stage, you’ll need to outshine the competition, so bring out your best tactics to demonstrate why you’re the better option. In our example, this includes relevant terminology in reviews and on the website, plus demos with a dedicated salesperson.

Decision stage

In the decision stage, the potential customer has finished weighing up their options and is ready to buy. They may still have a couple of options on their shortlist, so this is where you’ll try to win prospects over with top-tier service and a chance to try out the product.

Here’s Jane’s experience at the decision stage:

After the demos, Jane tries out two of the options for free. Jane decides to go with the solution that best fits her business needs now and lets her add more features if she needs them later.

She replies to a follow-up email from the rep who handled the sales demo and confirms she’s interested in purchasing. The rep walks Jane through the next steps to set her up with the platform.

When customers are making the final decision, there may be some last-minute hurdles to jump over, like whether or not they’ll need certain features or whether the tool will integrate with another they’re already using.

Allowing customers to try the solution for free during a trial period gives them a feel for how it slots into their everyday lives. This is also a great stage to leverage reviews, as the social proof can help prospective customers over the line.

Retention stage

In the retention stage, existing customers stay with your company and continue to spend through repurchasing or buying new products. It often takes effort from the sales, marketing and customer support teams to nurture happy customers who stick around.

Here’s how Jane might be influenced in the retention stage:

Post-purchase, the sales team onboards Jane and walks her through setting up the software to best suit her needs. However, when Jane sits down to complete her tax return, she gets an error message when submitting it.

She searches the website’s support section, but there are no results for the specific error message she’s seeing. She opens a live chat with the support team who resolve her issue quickly.

Jane submits her tax return in record time and throughout the year, she gets helpful tax advice newsletters and updates through the company. When it’s time to renew her plan, she receives an email reminder and a special offer to upgrade to the annual plan at a reduced rate.

Companies often neglect the retention stage because the customer has already converted in the initial sale, – but keeping your customers is a critical part of business growth.

Top-notch customer service, feedback-related product development and helpful articles can go a long way in keeping your customers happy.

Advocacy stage

In the advocacy stage, a loyal customer actively promotes your company to friends, relatives and colleagues.

Here’s how Jane might share her experience with her contacts:

Thanks to her excellent support experience and after being prompted by an in-app notification, Jane happily shares a positive experience of the company on a popular review site.

When peers in her network mention their fear of tax returns, Jane shares her positive experience and directs them to the software she uses.

As we’ve said above, social proof can help customers over obstacles when purchasing. You can get that social proof from your happy customers in this stage by asking them. A good time to do this is after a good customer service interaction or after a renewal.

How to identify touchpoints to map out your customer journey

While you might imagine your customers taking the most direct route from awareness to advocacy, the customer journey is often more of a series of loops. Individual behaviors vary and people hop back and forth between phases, involving several stakeholders at times before making decisions.

Your job is to identify the complete journey from beginning to end, including all the touchpoints between your target market and your brand.

You can start making educated guesses of the steps involved by looking at your own data and website. For example:

  • Google Analytics can show you what pages a customer visits before making a purchase or attempting to solve a problem

  • Customer surveys can help you uncover what steps people took to carry out a particular action

  • User experience (UX) testing gives you real-time insights into consumer behavior

However, not all touchpoints will take place on your website or involve direct contact. For example, potential customers may first become aware of your product through word of mouth or a referral, then search for mentions of you on social media and look you up on a review site – all before they visit your site.

To determine these touchpoints and how they fit into each stage of the customer’s journey, you need to research deeply. Identify what a typical prospective customer is doing, why they’re doing it and how they feel about it.

These stages and actions will also look a little different depending on your business model.

For example, repeat e-commerce purchases that indicate customer retention usually happen when people are at home on a smartphone or laptop.

On the other hand, a brick-and-mortar store should consider the customer’s physical journey, such as how long it takes them to travel to the store, parking facilities and nearby competitors.

If you’re struggling to document all these moving parts, you can use a simple customer journey map template to ensure you don’t miss anything.

Complete one of these templates for each type of customer (you can group these into segments), as they will all approach and experience the journey differently.

Note: Get started mapping your customer journey with our free Customer journey template.

Customer journey template

5 ways to better connect with prospects and buyers across all customer journey phases

Data-driven research allows you to understand your customers and their needs on a deeper level so you can align the user experience to help them achieve their business goals.

1. Create accurate buyer personas

Before starting the customer journey mapping process, you first have to understand who your customer is.

These people are more than just an account number – they have their own goals and objectives, with different concerns, motivations, challenges and roadblocks to overcome.

To track all of this information, you can create “buyer personas” or “ideal customer profiles”. If you don’t already have these in place, now’s the time to establish them.

For example, suppose you sell accounting software to small business owners. As part of your buyer personas, you’ll want to record relevant demographic and firmographic information to ensure you’re targeting and talking to the right people, including details like:

  • Where they’re based

  • What industry they work in

  • How many people they work with

  • How much they or their company earns

However, to lay the foundation for your customer journey, you’ll need to know more than just the who – you’ll also need to know the why.

For example, say you work for a company that develops and sells customer relationship management software. You should consider:

  • Why do they want to buy CRM software?

  • Why would they choose your solution over the competition?

  • Why is it a priority now?

Go beyond the obvious “to manage their customer interactions” and try to uncover the underlying motivations.

For example, maybe your buyers are looking to increase customer retention and need to understand their current accounts, or they’ve been using spreadsheets and the company has grown beyond that.

Maybe a lack of documentation is causing problems, investors are complaining or they can’t understand why churn is so high in their business.

Note: These answers might seem like unnecessary information. However, those motivations are integral to how they experience that customer journey.

Knowing the “why” allows you to tailor the journey to the customer’s needs.

To continue with our example, if your buyers are worried about retention, ensuring information about current customers and interactions is readily and easily available will make their journey more pleasant.

On the other hand, if your buyers want a better understanding of why sales are low, then you can use your marketing and onboarding emails to highlight sales pipeline management features.

2. Use different forms of research for a complete picture

Your buyer personas, as well as every other aspect of the customer journey, need to be based on facts.

By combining quantitative and qualitative research to achieve this, you’ll better understand your customer behavior.

Quantitative research is all about the numbers, revealing detailed information about your customers’ actions with hard data.

For example, Google Analytics can tell you how many people visit your site, how long they spend there and how they move from point A to B.

Quantitative research can also be survey-based, using metrics such as customer satisfaction (CSAT) and Net Promoter Score (NPS) to collect customer feedback.

Qualitative research is ideal for discovering how your target audience feels, giving you insights into customer emotions and motivations in ways that can’t be expressed in a numeric survey.

Interviews give you a chance to hear about the journey in the voice of the customer, while social media and review sites can uncover more details about their pain points.

Customer-facing team members, such as salespeople, customer success and support teams, are also a valuable resource of qualitative data, as they can share first-hand how customers react at different points in the journey.

3. Monitor your customer journey to learn where to improve

A map is only valuable if you use it correctly to navigate to your destination. Similarly, knowing the different customer journey stages is only worthwhile if you use it to improve your processes.

As you’ve compiled your journey and touchpoints, you’ve likely seen both positive and negative aspects. Rather than brushing any issues under the carpet, your job is to find ways to eliminate or reduce them.

For example, your sales metrics might show that a significant number of potential customers spend a short amount of time on the product page before navigating away from the site, never to return.

Clearly, this is a problem, but why is it happening?

Rather than guessing, examine your research to diagnose the issue. In this case, arranging customer interviews and walking through the process yourself might reveal that the page is slow to load, doesn’t contain necessary information or isn’t displayed correctly on mobile devices.

By identifying the exact point where customers are most likely to give up on the journey, you can use your resources effectively to make the necessary changes and optimize the buying process.

4. Use the customer journey to optimize marketing and sales

Prospective customers often carry out varying amounts of initial research before contacting a supplier. For example, Gartner found that B2B buying groups spend the largest portion of their buying process (27%) independently conducting research online.

What that means is your reps and their sales tactics may not have much direct influence over purchase decisions.

Marketing teams can mitigate this by creating relevant content for each part of the sales funnel. For example:

  • Top-of-funnel content that answers the most common questions (e.g., ads, articles, FAQs and social media posts)

  • Middle-of-funnel content that helps prospects evaluate your product against the competition (e.g., e-books, webinars and email drip campaigns)

  • Bottom-of-funnel content that gives them the information they need to make a decision (e.g., case studies, product comparisons and customer testimonials).

These digital marketing resources can then be sent directly to the customer as part of an email marketing strategy or shared with sales as part of your sales enablement program.

When marketing is successful, your salespeople are usually the first point of human contact for potential customers. As such, your sales team should thoroughly understand what stage of the journey the customer is at.

Most of the time, sales will usually be primarily involved in the consideration and decision phases, nurturing leads from the marketing team until they’re ready to close the deal.

To surpass customer expectations, you’ll need to know and optimize each touchpoint within these phases.

For example, if customers find your sales demos are irrelevant to them, concentrate your efforts on better tailoring the demo to the prospect. If certain questions keep coming up in the initial touchpoints, you may want to build a knowledge base of relevant material to reduce friction.

You could also use this information to improve your personalized emails and phone scripts for cold outreach, giving customers the exact information they need before they have to ask.

5. Create an ongoing commitment to customer experience

Changes, both in your customers’ lives and how you carry out your business, can all significantly impact the customer experience and journey.

For example, the pandemic greatly impacted global business and how we shop. McKinsey reported that digital interactions with sales reps became an increasingly popular way of selling products in 2020, with a 41% rise in video conferencing and a 23% rise in online chat.

Some of these changes will be permanent, while others are only temporary. To find out the difference, you’ll need to talk to your customers regularly.

In addition to such global events, other smaller changes are happening all the time that may still be significant to your customers. New technology, changing prices and new competitors can all have an impact.

However often you can review your customer journey, whether monthly or quarterly, take the time to assess what’s going on with your business, industry and customers.

Although this takes more effort, the results will allow you to create an optimized journey and experience that always keeps your customers front of mind.

Final thoughts

The customer journey is more than just a roadmap of different touchpoints between you and your buyers.

Done correctly, your map will give you deeper insights into customer engagement with your company. From this understanding, you can create processes that prioritize the customer’s end-to-end experience.

By thoroughly researching your target market’s background, objectives and pain points, you can streamline their journeys and remove any unnecessary friction, resulting in a new customer-centric journey that can lead to more sales, greater satisfaction and less churn.

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