The buyer’s journey is a hot topic in marketing circles. A Google search brings up nearly 500,000 results. Marketing conferences, blogs, and social media all abound with mentions of it. All marketers strive to understand how prospects reach the point of choosing to make a purchase. Few have successfully figured it out.
Automated customer journey maps make it possible for marketers to answer many of the common questions they face and do so in a way that requires little extra work. Right now you see small parts of the story of how your leads become customer advocates. That’s like seeing individual scenes rather than a whole play. You need the full picture.
The Buyer’s Journey is Complicated
The common story marketers tell is one of prospects starting in the awareness stage when they’re first learning of your brand, moving into the consideration stage when they’re starting to think about buying, and finally educating themselves on all the details needed to make a decision in the final stage.
Awareness » Consideration » Decision = a nice, simple narrative marketers can build their campaigns around.
For most businesses, and particularly B2B ones, that easy (and linear) narrative is often a fiction. Buyers take many journeys.
Sometimes they come upon a website for the first time when they’re already in the consideration stage and researching their options.
Sometimes you’ll have ten contacts for one account that need to make a decision together, some of them with different goals and priorities than others, and all of which need to be addressed in your marketing.
Sometimes you’ll have a lead that happens upon some of your content, signs up for the mailing list, but isn’t in a position to consider buying until years later when there’s a change in the budget at their organization or they take a new job.
Sometimes your prospects are already customers of one of your products but have a need for another, or are seeking an upgrade to their existing investment.
Those are four possible variations of thousands. Customers aren’t always conveniently predictable. Often what marketers believe they’ll do doesn’t come close to matching up with how they actually behave. You may be throwing money at campaigns based on a fiction that doesn’t lend any real insights.
Stop Making Assumptions
The fact is that as long as your marketing team is guessing at what your buyers are doing or basing your marketing planning on the journeys you hope buyers will take, you’re not providing your leads with the best experience to get them through the pipeline to the point of sale. And there’s no reason in this day of surplus data for marketers to depend on guesswork anyway.
If your marketing metrics are siloed so that you can’t see how they relate to sales and customer support metrics, then you won’t be able to track which metrics lead to your most valuable customers – that is, the ones that not only buy a product and become loyal customers that keep buying, but also become active advocates for your brand and help do some of your most effective marketing for you.
One customer advocate can be worth the cost of several marketing campaigns. You have to recognize how you landed the ones you already have before you can understand how to attract more customers like them.
CX and Marketing
The buyer’s journey may be a hot topic, but it’s got nothing on customer experience. A Google search for customer experience returns over 131 million results. Perhaps it’s no surprise then that a Forrester surveyi found it to be the number one priority of global business leaders.
Can you think of a brand you’ve had an especially good experience with in the past few months? If someone asks you what the worst customer experience of your life was does a sour memory immediately leap to mind? Brand reputations are made and destroyed on the kinds of memories that you just revisited. Which category is your business going to be in?
Customer experience isn’t just about marketing, but if marketing isn’t a part of your company’s CX efforts, then you’re doing it wrong. Your company should be working to craft a positive experience for customers from the first moment they learn of your brand onwards.
Marketing owns part of that process. It’s your job to make sure all of your marketing campaigns are carefully designed to deliver your prospects the right piece of information at the right moment. To do that, you need to have a clear picture of your buyer personas and buyer’s journeys – neither based on assumptions; both based on data.
That’s where customer journey mapping comes in.
What is a customer journey map?
A customer journey map is the visual display of the steps a prospect takes from the first interaction they have with your company up to the present day. It’s basically the visual representation of the buyer’s journey you hear so much about, but it does something important that some marketers miss out on: it doesn’t stop at the moment of sale (or the moment when you pass leads over to sales).
To really be valuable, a customer journey map needs to extend to the entire life of your relationship with a customer or prospect. You want it to show you the progression from one activity to another so you can see the relationships between all the types of work your various departments are doing.
What Customer Journey Maps Can Do for Your Business
If your company’s been making do without customer journey maps, you may wonder what difference they’ll really make. Marketers encounter new trends all the time and every CMO and marketing director has to sift through the buzzwords of the moment to determine which items are actually worth the time and effort.
What’s so great about customer journey maps that make them worth trying out?
They make you more customer centric.
When your team is putting together your marketing campaigns, how often are you truly thinking about the prospects on the other end of them? Most marketers can honestly answer that they do think about their audience, but few are really basing all their marketing decisions around how they know their customers behave.
That’s not because they’re choosing not to, it’s because it’s hard to know exactly how customers behave. You probably have a lot of data, but without taking the step to put it all together to tell a story, it’s hard to turn those numbers and charts and graphs into true insights about a person’s experience.
Customer journey maps help you do that. When you know which paths your prospects actually commonly take, you can start to create marketing campaigns that are centered on what you know people do.
They give you a structure to plan around.
A customer journey map shows you the path customers take, so you know which actions lead to other actions. Maybe you’ve always assumed that before someone will attend a webinar, they’ll sign up for the email list first. If your journey map tells you that the leads that typically become valuable customers go from reading a blog post to signing up for a webinar, then you know to promote your webinars on the blog. Pushing them toward downloading an asset or subscribing to your email list first may be wasted effort.
When you know the structure that works – which step A normally leads people to steps B, C, and D – then you can make sure your marketing campaigns are set up to mimic that structure and lead your buyers through the journey that makes the most sense to them.
They unify your company.
Many companies suffer from a disconnect between different departments. Marketing, sales, customer support, customer experience—each group has its own processes, goals, and metrics for success. If each team is happy to meet their own insular goals and hand off responsibility for the rest to someone else, then you’re definitely missing out on opportunities to do better.
Marketing departments exist to help a business earn more sales and revenue. So why are so many marketing teams content to look at activity-level metrics like social shares or leads generated and call it a day? You should care about the quality of those leads and whether or not they turn into a sale as well.
Customer journey maps help to connect the activities and results of all the departments in your business so you can start to see the bigger picture.
If your marketing team’s been feeling pretty good about metrics that look fine in isolation, but aren’t paying off in sales, a customer journey map will help them shift their focus to the activities actually paying off.
If your sales team has unknowingly been prioritizing the kind of customers that often cancel after a year rather than those who become committed advocates of the company, a customer journey map will show them which types of leads should really take priority in their efforts.
They help you make better, data-driven decisions.
Chances are, different personas respond to different marketing activities. Your prospects that buy one product probably take a different path than those that buy another. With the right technology, you can segment your customer journey maps based on persona, region, product, and any other factor that will help you better understand what’s working and how.
Digging deeper into the data makes it easier for you to ask and answer the important questions in your analysis, like why customers are taking the journeys they do and what they’re thinking and feeling each step of the way. The story the data tells you, when combined with human analysis and interpretation, can ensure your business starts making better decisions that are more likely to lead to further success.
They help you reach the ultimate goal of landing customers that become advocates.
The customers who not only make a purchase, but also keep coming back while singing your praises to their colleagues are worth far more to you than the amount of their first purchase.
Customer journey maps don’t stop at showing you who buys, they help you track prospects beyond that point to see what they’re like as customers. Not all customers are created equal and your brand should pay attention to which ones are bringing you the most value over time.
When you can see the full journey that leads to netting you those customers, then you’ll really start to see which marketing activities pay off the most in the long term.
What to do with customer journey maps
None of those great benefits will come automatically with the introduction of customer journey maps at your business, but having journey maps will equip you with the information you need to start making decisions to improve performance.
Finally See Which Marketing Activities Are Working
In spite of the many marketing analytics we now have access to, marketing professionals still consider proving ROI the top challenge they faceii. Journey maps make it easier to make the connection between individual marketing activities and revenue generated.
Where many of your analytics will simply show you the success of a marketing activity in isolation, customer journey maps show you how the success of each individual activity and channel contributes to the success of your overall revenue goals, and in what sequences they work best.
Always Know the Next Best Message to Deliver
Customer journey maps show you the sequences that lead to successful results. If your current most valuable customer followed up downloading your eBook with signing up for a webinar, then there’s a fairly good chance that future prospects will respond well if presented with the same path.
Identifying your next best message allows you to target your CTAs more effectively to push your leads along the sequence most likely to lead to them to join the ranks of your most valuable customers.
Using your marketing automation system, you can program delivery of the best asset or message at the best time to each lead based on the combination of:
- What their past behavior tells you about who they are, what they need, and which of your current customers they’re most like.
- What your past data tells you is the typical next step in the sequence that’s most likely to lead to success.
If you’re guessing at what works, you’ll never really know what to do next. If you have clear, easy-to-visualize data on exactly what works, then you’ll always be able to identify your next best message.
Where to start
While it may be possible to create customer journey maps manually by sifting through the data your team has, making the connections, and bringing in one of your graphic designers to work up a visual representation of what you find – it’s difficult and static. Getting that done requires a significant number of steps, the skills of multiple team members in your marketing department, the data that’s been collected by departments across the institution, and just an awful lot of time and effort once you add it all up.
As with all marketing tools, customer journey mapping has to be done right in order for it to pay off. And now there’s an easy way to do it right: automated customer journey maps.
Forget the long list of steps and excessive commitment of employee time, automated customer journey maps take the data you already have and turn them into journey maps for you.
Before you can take advantage of this possibility though, there are a few steps you need to take to ensure the automated journey maps you create are accurate.
Step 1: Make sure your goals are clearly defined
Part of what journey mapping helps you do is create goals that track what you really care about: revenue. While activity and campaign-level metrics can help with that, you also need higher-level goals that look at what your whole organization wants to accomplish.
Customer journey maps will help you realize both how well you’re doing at achieving those goals and whether or not you’ve been making the right goals to begin with. Once you get a clearer picture of what’s causing the most success when taking a long-term view, you may find you should shift the focus of your intermediary goals entirely.
But that’s down the line. First things first, you need to make sure you have clear enough goals now that you can use your journey maps to measure your current success against.
Step 2: Create well-researched personas
Customer journey maps are one important tool for making your marketing more customer-centric, but you won’t get very far with them unless you bother with making accurate buyer personas first. Buyer personas are one of your strongest resources for getting inside the heads of your prospects and better understanding what they think, feel, and want.
Most B2B companies likely have more than one buyer persona they’re targeting, so your customer journey maps will be much more valuable if you’re able to segment them according to which customers they apply to. If different types of businesses typically take different journeys to reach the point of sale, you want different journey maps that show the progression of both. In order to be able to do that, you need to first define those different customer types so you know how to differentiate the relevant data for each.
Step 3: Tag all your content and campaigns with relevant categories
Getting the data you need to create useful journey maps requires doing just a little extra work at the time you’re putting your marketing campaigns together. Figure out all the relevant criteria that will help you analyze your results and tag each piece of each campaign accordingly. This can include:
- The persona targeted
- The industry targeted
- The geographic area targeted
- The product promoted
- The type of marketing activity (e.g. webinar, blog post, conference presentation)
- The phase in the buyer’s journey you think the activity belongs in (e.g. awareness, consideration, decision, purchase, use, or advocate)
- Where in the waterfall an activity falls (e.g. marketing qualified lead, sales qualified lead, etc.)
- Anything else you can think of that may be useful – it’s better to have more tagging than you need than not enough.
You and your team should work together to determine what specific criteria you want to track and which categories will be the most useful to you for analyzing your results. Use that information to create a standardized tagging process and train everyone in the department to use it consistently.
Step 4: Invest in the right technology
If your data mostly lives in spreadsheets, then you’re doing more work than necessary to make sense of it, and you may be missing something. Technology is crucial for helping marketers collect the right data, but it can also serve the equally important role of helping you analyze the data you have.
Customer journey maps can take a lot of work to put together, or you can invest in marketing technology that will do all that work for you. Hive9’s automated customer journey maps take all the data you already have and turn them into an easy-to-read visual story of what your current leads and customers have done to reach the relationship with your company that they’re at now.
All you have to do is turn the insights the customer journey maps provide into actions that make your marketing campaigns more profitable.
How automated journey maps work
To take advantage of automated customer journey maps, you want to make sure that all of your relevant data is in the system. That doesn’t just mean your marketing analytics; you want all your sales and customer support data represented as well. This shouldn’t require any manual input. As long as you have good records in your CRM, the solution can include that data in the journey maps with minimal effort.
Hive9 will produce a visual map that shows you how each marketing activity fits into the larger buyer’s journey. And it’s important to note here that what it’s showing you is the actual buyer’s journey, not a guess at what customers might do.
But this doesn’t just tell you the story of what people have done; it also shows you what’s worked.
The activities highlighted in orange are the ones that most consistently lead people to take the next step in a journey that leads to success – success in this case going beyond purchase and onto regular use, then advocacy.
View the Different Buyers’ Journeys
Your customers from Washington may well take different steps to get to the point of advocacy than those from Mexico. The customers in manufacturing who use product A probably respond differently to your marketing than those in health care that tend to purchase product B.
Your customers don’t all take one journey. The size of the business, the type of work they do, the professional positions they’re in – these are just some of the many factors that can influence how your prospects behave and what works for them.
Hive9’s automated customer journey maps therefore let you choose different journey maps to view based on the criteria you’ve chosen to tag your data with. You can view the journey maps of specific personas, those of the buyers in a particular geographic region, or those that lead to the purchase of a particular product.
You can also view maps based on the results you want to achieve. Which journeys are most likely to lead to that final goal of customer advocacy? You can create a whole new persona based on the actions of your most valuable customers and see what steps commonly lead prospects up to that point.
Develop Important Marketing Insights
Your journey maps can answer a lot of the questions marketing teams regularly have in one simple visual:
- Which marketing activities are driving the results we want?
- Which are underperforming?
- At what point in the journey do many leads drop off? And what should we be doing to get them to continue to the next step?
- How should our marketing campaigns differ for different personas, regions, industries, etc.?
- How long does the journey to purchase typically last?
- How do our most valuable customers behave and how do we target more customers like them?
- And crucially, what’s the next best message that we should deliver for each lead based on what’s been shown to work best?
Turn Those Insights into Action
None of those insights will matter much if you don’t then do something with them. Use the information you learn to make changes to your marketing campaign. Base the CTAs you use on the next best message the journey map shows you. Make sure you’re pushing each lead toward the steps most likely to keep them moving on the journey.
Every change you make will lead to more data and even more accurate journey maps. The larger a sample size you have, the more useful the trends you find in the data will be to seeing the big picture.
Your goal is long relationships that are equally beneficial to you and your customer. Journey maps give you a clearer picture of what those look like so you can up your odds of achieving them.
Automated journey maps are a big step for marketing, but as marketers use them more and more, you’ll be increasingly able to do more with them. As the amount of data available increases and the technology is able to spot more trends within them, you can expect to see:
- Self-learning tagging: A person might forget to include a relevant tag for something, but if your software knows what to look for, it could fill in the gaps and help ensure all your data is included in the right categories.
- Automated application of next best rules: If your marketing automation software is linked in to the automated journey maps, then the process of identifying the next best action and updating the campaigns you have going to match it could become increasingly automated.
- Self-improving journey maps: Once your data’s put into journey map form, it’s often clear what needs to happen for better results. With time, the journey maps can automate some of those actions to ensure they’re constantly improving.
None of this means there will be less of a role for marketing professionals, simply that some of the work you do now can be simplified in ways that mean less work and better results for everyone.