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Customer Journey: What It is and How to Define It in Your Strategy

Have you ever thought that all purchases of products or services that we do, whether for our personal or professional life, involve a purchase process prior to the time of the transaction?

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Have you ever thought that all purchases of products or services that we do, whether for our personal or professional life, involve a purchase process prior to the time of the transaction?

This buying process can be as short as a few minutes in the case of low-cost products and that we buy impulsively (food in a supermarket, for example) as it lasts for months or more than a year (for example, when buying a car or hire a business management software with a cost of thousands of euros).

In these situations, the buyer lives a journey that goes through several phases, in which their needs and activities change. To this what we call ‘customer journey’.

In this article I will define what the customer journey is, what phases it has and how we can define it in our marketing strategy. If you’re working on your strategy, keep on reading!

Before continuing, I recommend to watch the following video about how to create a Customer Journey Map:

Customer journey: definition and what it is used for

We can define the customer journey as the process through which a person buys a product or service based on a need that arises, and all the research and consideration of alternatives in between.

In the past it was understood that the purchase cycle or process coincided completely with the sales cycle, but now the consumer investigates and gets informed before starting any commercial process. In fact, it is said that 70% of the customer journey has already been completed even before the consumer gets in touch with any sales person.

Likewise, defining and mapping this consumer journey allows us to understand the entire purchasing process, what the buyer’s needs are at all times, how he researches and what kind of information he needs in each phase in order to move forward.

All this, in an inbound marketing strategy, helps us to understand the subjects of the contents that we are going to create, also about which content formats we have to create and in which channels we have to distribute it.

Therefore, we need to have our buyer clearly defined before we can build the customer journey. As you may have read, the buyer persona is the ideal customer profile on which we rely to create an inbound marketing strategy, since all the content and actions revolve around it.

In addition, the definition of the customer journey can also help us to better understand our buyer people and get more out of them. How?

One of the central elements of the buyer are the pain points, which are:

  • Frustrations.
  • Inefficiencies.
  • Needs.
  • Problems.
  • Lost opportunities.
  • Excessive costs.

What pushes the buyer to start an investigation to obtain information are these pain points. For example, imagine that a young person is worried about his own image and wants to improve this aspect. You can start an investigation and discover that a possible solution to your pain is to have an eye surgery so you can definitely remove your glasses.

The research comes to show you which providers can help you solve the pain point, and then decides a solution and makes the final purchase.

Phases of the customer journey

One of the issues that leads to confusion is about which is the first phase of the purchase cycle.

We can say that phase 0 of the customer journey is the awareness phase. In this phase the consumer realizes that he has a latent pain, but he does not know if he should do something about it, what is causing it, how to solve it or how to define it. It may also be that the consumer does not even realize he has this pain point.

The buyer who is in this phase is not looking for solutions or doing any research, until there comes a time when he starts looking for solutions. It may be because the pain has increased, out of curiosity, etc. It is important to mention that we are referring to pain points as “pain” but obviously it does not have to be a physical pain, but a need or a problem to satisfy.

The phases detailed below may correspond to marketing or sales activities, and there is also a part of the customer journey that goes beyond the transaction, such as the implementation of the chosen solution.

Marketing phases

Right after the awareness phase come the customer journey phases on which our marketing actions can affect. They are the phases of discovering and learning.

First, in the discovering phase, the consumer is already aware that he has a need and seeks information about the subject. In this research the problem is defined, causes are understood and how other people have dealt with it, and good practices are learned. It is, therefore, a great opportunity for the marketing department to present educational content that covers this need and create an urgency to solve it.

And, secondly, we find the learning phase in which the consumer learns about what solutions exist to lower his pain point. The different options are taken into account and a list with them begins to be created. From marketing we can influence this phase with MOFU content, focused on establishing a purchasing criterion and identifying business and technical needs.

Sales phases

Immediately after the learning phase takes place the election phase, which requires an active involvement of the commercial team. The consumer reduces his list of options and possible solutions to the pain point to a small group and begins to make product tests and evaluate suppliers, and finally makes a final decision. The company has to prove that it is the best provider thanks to the content, which will validate its experience in the field and show that the investment will be profitable.

And, finally, we have the purchasing phase, in which the consumer prepares itself to own and maintain the solution.

The subsequent phases correspond to the departments of customer service, operations, accounting… and are based on maintaining customer satisfaction and implementing the solution chosen successfully. That is why here we will not focus on these phases or develop them.

Dimensions of the customer journey phases

Once we have the phases defined, we must obtain information on each of the phases of our buyers. To do this, we need to capture 4 key dimensions in each of the phases, which will allow us to understand our buyer people and how they advance in the customer journey.

Understanding these dimensions gives us information on how to inform and influence consumers and develop messages for the right person at the right time. These dimensions are:

  • Level of participation: refers to the role played by the buyer within the decision circle, whether within the company in B2B or with friends, family, partners, etc., in the case of B2C. This level of participation can be:
    • Drivers: direct the process in the current phase.
    • Participants: take part in activities in the current phase.
    • Gate-keepers: they do not participate in the current phase, but their approval is needed to pass phase, so we have to take into account their needs.
    • Not involved: they do not participate in the decision.
  • Needs: what the consumer needs to advance to the next phase of the customer journey. It can be information, budget approvals, alignment with your team, etc.
  • Activities: this is what the buyer does in the current phase of the customer journey to move forward. They can be internal meetings, gather information, meet with other team members, etc.
  • Content preferences: what type of content the buyer wants to receive in each phase, including the depth of the content, the format, etc.

The description of the buyer tells us who we are going to, what are their attributes, their psychology, their profile, etc. On the other hand, the customer journey tells us what path this buyer is following, what phases it passes before buying a product or contracting a service, what it needs at all times, etc.

Both are necessary elements in a marketing strategy. If we only have the buyer, we lack a lot of information to adapt our message, our communications, etc., and know how to adapt the contents to each case. Obviously, the opposite is also not possible: mapping the customer journey without understanding the buyer will prevent us from knowing how the profiles are going through those phases.

How to gather information to map the customer journey

Now that we have explained what the customer journey is and what information we need to know about each phase to map it correctly, we only need to know how to get all this information.

An option that we have already commented on other occasions to collect this information is to have internal meetings with other people in the organization who have direct contact with our buyer person:

  • Commercial team.
  • Customer service department.

Obviously, each team will have more knowledge of the phases in which they intervene, for example, the commercial team will be an expert in the phases of election and acquisition.

On the other hand, a great option is to interview our existing clients. We have to remember that the buyer person is always going to be our ideal customer, which does not have to be all the customers that we currently have. In case of not being aligned, we should try to interview customers who do coincide with our buyer to know the customer journey accurately. With a couple of interviews per buyer person we will have enough.

However, at this moment we will have our buyer defined person, the customer journey mapped with its phases and the dimensions of each phase, and we will have the information in each of the latter. We only have to integrate everything and build the customer journey map with all the information and start using this powerful tool to create a better content strategy for our company.

Conclusions

Creating relevant content for the buyer’s needs allows us to establish trust and stand out from our competitors. Who does not want it?

In addition, knowing the customer journey also allows us to know how to impact the decision making of our buyers thanks to this valuable content.

We will also know the way of thinking, needs and actions of buyers and we can anticipate to help them in their customer journey to finally show them that we are the best solution for their pain points.

Are you ready to identify your customer journey and plan your strategy based on the results obtained? If you still have doubts or you want to tell me your experience, add your comment!

Customer Journey: What It is and How to Define It in Your Strategy
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