Most startups dream of hitting the “shut up and take my money” phase with prospective customers as soon as possible. This is a function of product market fit. In order to get there, it’s important to ask questions that will show where to allocate resources to convert and retain customers. What are the steps your prospects take to research, evaluate and purchase a product? Which customer journey results in the highest conversion? Which journey generates the most revenue and the lowest churn net dollar and account-based churn?
Understanding the customer journey looks different, depending on the maturity of your business or industry. If you’re a startup, identifying the customer journey for your prospects is critical if you’re going to quickly scale acquisition marketing efforts (time is of the essence, in this case!). Since startups don’t have the luxury of relying on existing customer behavior, mapping out the customers’ journey usually means employing a mix of qualitative research methodologies, such as observational research and live user testing.
For companies with new product or service offerings, understanding the needs and behavior(s) of existing customers along with potential new customer segments will define your new product launch marketing strategy.
At any stage, each new product launch should integrate customer journey mapping so your marketing launch strategy is tailored to your prospects’ priorities.
When you set out to compose a customer journey, you must identify the group of users that you’d like to go on the journey. User and customer personas represent a group of the ideal buying patterns, behavior, motivations, interests and needs.
Most user personas are mediocre or ineffective, but many are outright damaging to your marketing strategy because they overlook the true motivations of your target customers. This happens most often when companies give too much information about how they currently perceive their product’s value, and dive into the problems that they believe it solves before understanding the most important problems customers face — irrespective of your product. An effective user persona should extend beyond just their motives for buying your product, and delve into their life or business goals, challenges, as well as their interests and passions. Most likely your product will have more than one type of customer persona. For insights on how to build your customer persona groups, check out our journal article, How to Create a Brand Persona. Once you have identified the similar traits of each customer persona, then you should be able to methodically apply the unique selling proposition that attracts them to your product (and gets them to keep using it, of course!).
Now that you have identified your customer personas, it’s time to list the interactions these personas have with your product, brand or company along their journey to purchase. Each interaction is a touchpoint with prospects and it’s important to align the message of each touchpoint with your buyers’ needs to keep your prospect moving towards a final purchase.
At the top of the funnel, the user becomes aware of your product — even before they consider using it or are aware of its value. They might browse social posts, see a paid ad, run google searches, read a white paper, or talk to someone at a trade show booth.
In the middle of the funnel, the user considers which products match their needs. They may be comparing features, benefits and pricing. This may involve fact-finding sales calls, reading industry research, google searches for similar products, attending a webinar, reading white papers, and maybe even consulting with a third party expert.
For the purchase stage or bottom of the funnel, a user might talk to a sales rep, review contracts and discuss onboarding.
List all the ways customers interact with your brand, product or people at each of these stages. Remember, these engagement touch points are not mutually exclusive to each stage. A google search can be made in all of these stages, else a sales call might only be in awareness and consideration stages.
Once you have identified your customer personas, their goals, and listed the touch points per stage, it’s now time to map out the customer journey for your top personas. This is a great exercise to ideate and iterate with your marketing team while using sticky notes. Once you finalize the sticky notes, then you can create a flow chart.
Under each stage (awareness, consideration, purchase, retention and advocacy), create a row for goals and touch points. Identify the goals for each persona and the touch points they use to reach that goal for each stage. If you have three main customer personas, you will have three customer journey maps.
One mistake we see is mapping the customer journey but not testing it. The results of this process should be considered a new hypothesis to test, while you uncover baseline benchmarks associated with each value proposition. Open rates, click-through rates, and conversion rates all fall within this purview.
It’s now time to implement the customer journey as a customer to make sure your messaging and branding reflects the goal of each stage — and works. Sometimes links are broken and emails are not active. Test and refine to make sure all touch points in the journey convey your brand, overcome purchase decision roadblocks and move your customer to the next stage. And remember, rarely is this journey linear. Plan for back and forth movement and stalled behavior, and look to understand common problems or sources of friction in the user journey.
Every part of this process is iterative and intended to become the benchmark to beat. Product market fit isn’t constant: you don’t find it and then retain it by doing the same thing for years. Adapt to changing use cases, market landscapes, and customer priorities by talking with users, surveying them, and adding in-product analytics to indicate common behaviors that could be leading indicators of highly engaged or at-risk customers.
A little bit of expertise can be worse than none at all, because it tends to drive decisions based on anecdotal evidence or small sample sizes. Even if you started a company and developed your flagship product to solve a problem that you had at the time, you are no longer the expert in it by the time you’ve been out of the field for a couple of years. But your sales, support and other customer-facing teams are. Bring them into board meetings, audit their calls: you’ll uncover integral patterns and opportunities that your competitors miss.