The Customer Journey Explained

Greetings and Welcome!

If you've read any of my previous articles then you already know that I'm a big believer in using examples and illustrations to explain complex ideas. Today will be no exception.

Today's topic is the Customer Journey.

While there are many interpretations on this subject the one I like best is this;

"The customer journey refers to the path of interactions an individual or company has with your brand, product and/or services. It describes both direct interactions such as contacting a customer service team, to indirect interactions such as hearing about a brand at an event."

While that definition is accurate it really leaves you with a lot of questions. Here's where we will fall back on an illustration to explain this concept in simple terms.

The customer journey is a lot like dating. 

As you can imagine the conversation changes at various points in the relationship, thus our marketing messages should change depending on the maturity of the relationship with our customers. Bear with me and I'll explain.

The main characters of our story are Larry and Marie. Gender of course is not a factor - Feel free to reverse the roles if you see fit. This is simply a story to simplify the concept if the Customer Journey.

Customer Journey Phase 1. Identifying the need or desire
Larry has been tasked with finding the "right" CRM solution for his company. Marie has decided that she would like to enter into a serious relationship. Marie is also looking for the "right" fit.

This would be the equivalent of step one in the customer journey; identifying the need. How do Marie and Larry go about this decision making process?

Customer Journey Phase 2. Investigating the available options
Now that the need/desire has been identified, the 2nd step for Marie and Larry is to familiarize themselves with the various suitors/options available to them, to "play the field" as it were, in the hopes of finding the best possible match.

For Marie this comes about as she looks to former acquaintances, perhaps from college, workmates or through online dating or introductions from friends who know her well.

For Larry this may start with recommendations,  online reviews and research, or other professional acquaintances with experience in this area.

Marie and Larry are both now in "investigation" mode. Both Marie and Larry aren't looking for just anyone, they both want to find the best possible fit. Neither of our characters have made a final decision, they are simply weighing their options. This is simply how humans think.

At this point in the relationship the conversation is fairly superficial. General questions may be asked such as basic background Information, history, generally light-hearted getting-to-know-you questions. 

Marie may be interested in where her potential suitor was born, his/her family background, career, etc. (Generally speaking it's not a good idea to ask your date how much they're pulling down every year on the 1st date. Lol. Were just not there yet.)

Larry may want to know about company history, leadership, how long they've been in business, other clients, etc. 

It's important to note that throughout this process, neither Marie or Larry has yet to focus on one prospect. Marie may be dating a number of individuals to get a feel for the options available to her. Larry is also looking for the best options available among a variety of choices. After all this is a serious decision, one wants to gather as much information as possible.

This may seem overly pragmatic, but it is simply human nature. Most of us use a similar criteria when weighing our options be they personal or professional.

Looking to buy a new vehicle? You'll use some similar process. Need a pet for the kids? You'll use a similar process. Its just common human nature.

Understand this one point and you're already the smartest person in the room.

Customer Journey Phase 3. Getting to the short list.
Given the importance of this decision, at some point both Marie and Larry need to narrow down the options available to them. Typically typically this falls to the top 3 choices. 3 is a powerful number and seems to be innate with all humans. At this point the conversation changes to more in-depth questions to determine further compatibility.

Marie may now start asking more in-depth questions such as  employment history, financial aspects and so forth. Whether she knows it or not Maria has a hit list or "requirements" that she is using to evaluate her options and to narrow her list.

The exact same is true of Larry who is evaluating software options. Either formally or informally the evaluator has a mental list of features that are required for the right solution. Unlike Marie, this may even be a formal document.

PRO TIP: 
It should be noted that in the world of business the decision-maker may or may not be the person who is evaluating the options. Therefore it is important to present information in such a way that they can easily share it with those who may actually make the final decision. Make sure to make it easy for such individuals to pass along such information to higher-ups via a video link or a succinct features and benefits pdf or case studies.

Let's assume then for the sake of this analogy that eventually both Marie and Larry are now focused on finding the ideal candidate amongst their short list. 

Being very astute and intelligent, both may ask friends, acquaintances and trusted advisors for further opinions. All of this information is then weighed in making final decisions.

Customer Journey Phase 4. Final Decision
Now the conversation changes entirely. Marie and Larry have already done the heavy lifting. For the prospective mate/software solution, now its all about proving value and why Larry/Marie should choose you over the alternatives.

Now it would be entirely appropriate for Marie to ask more specific questions of her potential suitors, such as past relationship history, life goals, family goals, right down to what religion the children will be bought up in.

For Larry too, the gloves are off. He may ask for a customer list, financial stability, after sale support, professional references, etc. He may call these references to make certain he has the facts.

At this point in the relationship these questions are entirely appropriate. A savvy company will understand this and respond accordingly. 

Customer Journey Phase 5. Advocacy
If all of the above has been done correctly, the prospect has become a customer, but we're still not done. The customer journey extends well after the sale. If the solution provider has proven their value as promised, the customer is now an advocate or champion for the solution provider. This is the best possible outcome for both the customer and the provider. In effect the customer becomes a referral source, even recommending this particular solution to others. 

Here's where the dating analogy breaks down. Its unlikely Marie will recommend her perfect husband to one of her friends ; ). Otherwise its a pretty good illustration and a case study on how humans think.

In next article in this series we'll discuss Marketing Automation. It's a lot more than just setting up a list of emails to go out once a week. By crafting your MA strategy, you can move prospects to a different process stream throughout the sales process and send emails specific to the appropriate sales stage.

For example, as you can see from the foregoing information, most prospective customers follow a specific journey. With Marketing Automation, different information can be sent based upon where they are in the buying cycle. 

There's no point in sending useless or redundant general company information if one of your sales people is actively engaged with the prospect. Or if your company is on the "Short List", you may want to begin sending out messages that compare your service or product to others they may be considering.

We'll do a deep dive into that topic in the next article.

As always I'm always interested in sharpening my sword. If you feel that I have misspoken or I left out something valuable I would appreciate your feedback.

Thank you for your time consideration. 

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