The key to determining what it was that turned a prospect into a first-time customer is a customer journey map that reflects the needs and experiences of your real-life customers. This hypothetical tool helps you visualize the different ways various types of customers engage with your brand – and whether or not their experience ultimately encourages a sale. Here's how to develop a customer journey map for your small business.
What is a customer journey?
A customer journey describes how your prospects engage with your brand from the moment they become aware of it to when they become a customer and beyond.
"The customer journey is essentially the complete experience your customer goes through when interacting with your company," said Nell Lanman, head of marketing for Squarefoot. "Instead of just looking at the transaction itself, it's looking at the full experience and every touch point along the way."
That means the customer journey starts before the customer is even aware of your brand and extends well past their first purchase. It includes how you acquire new leads and how you retain existing customers.
Why is a customer journey important?
The customer journey is important, because understanding how and why a prospect engages with your brand helps you serve them the right information, which improves the odds of ultimately making a sale. That usually takes some time, but every step of the customer journey should be specifically tailored to supporting your prospects on their path to becoming a paying customer.
To better understand your typical customer journey, and thus how to move prospects through your sales funnel, it is helpful to create a visualization, known as a customer journey map.
What is a customer journey map?
A customer journey map is a visualization that tracks the various ways a customer might encounter your brand and the experience that follows.
"A customer journey map helps you understand all the ways in which your ideal customer can find you or enter your sales funnel," said Heather Lodge, chief marketer at Click and Mortar.
These entry points could be an advertisement that a customer clicks through to land on your website, a post you made on Facebook, or an introduction email sent after a prospect subscribes to your newsletter. Customer journey maps are unique to each business and largely depend on the types of customers being targeted and their specific needs.
"When you think of a customer journey, you should think about something visual," Lanman said, adding that businesses should literally map their customer journey. "Especially in today's digital environment, there are so many different channels at the top of the sales funnel. Visualizing it really does help."
So, what should a customer journey map entail? It starts with understanding the seven steps of a customer journey.
The 7 steps of a customer journey
To better understand the various phases of a customer journey, it helps to break it down into seven general steps. Think carefully about your unique circumstances and the circumstances of your buyer personas to craft a detailed and effective plan for each stage of the customer journey. Start with these seven steps as a general framework and then adapt them to the realities of your brand.
According to Lauren Patrick, vice president of marketing at Curricula, the customer journey includes the following seven steps:
- Introduction: This is the first time a potential customer interacts with your brand. This should be an opportunity to provide some introductory information about your company, as well as gather some basic information about the prospect.
- Discovery: This is where a lead and your brand learn more about one another. Prospects might read blog posts on your website or search for customer reviews of your company on Google or Yelp. Meanwhile, your brand can gather data on customer behavior if you've implemented tracking through tools like cookies and pixels.
- Purchase: At this stage, a prospect becomes a customer. They have purchased one of your goods or services.
- Adoption: This stage could also be called "onboarding." It occurs when a customer is first using your product or service. It includes elements like implementation assistance or installation guides. For example, a SaaS business might include a welcome guide covering the major features available on its platform. For more complicated software, a company might offer one-on-one training. It is also an opportunity to solicit feedback on how well your brand supported a customer in their early experience.
- Engagement: This stage occurs after your customer has spent some time with your product or service. You might choose to keep them engaged by extending special offers or discounts to them. Or you might choose to tease upcoming new releases. At this stage, you want to stay relevant to a customer by continuing to provide value.
- Renewal/churn: At this stage, you will see which customers renew their subscription or make an additional purchase, and which do not. Both types of customers are important. Consider what the repeat customers liked about your process and product or service. Find out what dissuaded the customers who dropped out. Use this information to refine your buyer personas and adapt your customer journey map.
- Advocacy: Advocacy includes providing customer service and technical support to customers, as well as supporting their business beyond your immediate product or service. Advocacy is about cultivating and strengthening an emotional tie between customer and brand. For example, offer genuine responses to negative comments or critical reviews online and do something meaningful to resolve the issue.
An important element to notice is that "purchase" is only step three on the customer journey. That's because driving a customer to a sale is only part of the journey, Lanman said.
"You don't want to forget the customer journey doesn't end at the initial transaction," she said. "Stay in front of the customer and nurture them. It's easy to say you've succeeded in reaching the clear objective you've set, but that success can happen more than once – in an ideal world, it would."
How to create a customer journey map
Set your objective.
The first step you should take when creating your customer journey map is to determine your objectives, Lanman said.
"Before you even [create a map], set your objectives," she said. "What is the end goal? What are you trying to accomplish?"
Your goal might be as simple as driving sales, but a customer journey map can articulate many different types of conversions. For example, a conversion could be a phone call to book an appointment. It could be responding to a survey. Clearly define your goals upfront and allow them to inform the development of your customer journey map.
Develop buyer personas.
Next, identify and describe in detail the type of customer you are targeting.
"The process starts with knowing your target customer really well," Lodge said. "Build out a buyer persona to understand their challenges, pain points and needs."
A buyer persona is a fictional representation of your ideal customer or customers. According to Lanman, buyer personas are fictional characters complete with names, occupations, hobbies and specific needs. She recommends starting by developing a thorough persona for your single most important type of customer. [Read related article: 8 Ways to Build Customer Personas]
Identify the touchpoints between the persona and your brand.
Think about how your business first comes into contact with a given persona. Maybe your buyer persona is active on Facebook and saw an advertisement, or maybe they're most likely to encounter you through a web search. Consider as many channels as possible by which a given persona might find your brand.
"Highlight the ideal persona and start from there," she said. "List out the potential touch points you think your customer will engage with."
From each of these starting points, consider how a customer might continue interacting with your brand. For example, a potential customer sees your Facebook advertisement with the call to action (CTA) "shop now." The potential customer clicks the advertisement and lands on your company homepage. Where do they go from there? Was that the best landing page for them to arrive on?
Track user behavior in the real world.
The answer lies in data. Maybe you find that the click-through rate of the Facebook ad is high, but so is the bounce rate on your homepage. What would happen if you had users who clicked the ad land in your e-commerce store instead of on your homepage? Would the bounce rate decrease?
Ask these types of questions for each stage of your customer journey map – and realize the answers might change over time.
"Once you've created a buyer persona, you can know a bit about your audience," Lodge said. "If it's moms between 35 and 50, you can assume they're on Facebook … take yourself through that process. How might they find you on Facebook? What actions do they take? Once they find you, how do you learn about them? Do you create a chatbot? Do you have an ad they see and fill out their info?"
Refine your customer journey map.
In asking these questions, refine your customer journey map over time. Never assume your customer journey map is "finished."
"Something that's very common, even for myself, is you assume too much about your customer," Lodge said. " An educated assumption about your target audience is fine … [but it's] important to get feedback from loyal customers or people you know."
When you receive feedback from your customers, document it, and use it the next time you revisit your customer journey map.
Example of a customer journey map: Nextiva
It can be helpful to review a case study when considering your customer journey map. Nextiva, a prominent VoIP company focused on the provision of cloud-based communications, maintains more than 150,000 customers.
Yaniv Masjedi, chief marketing officer of Nextiva, said the customer journey-mapping process has been a work in progress since 2009, and it has undergone many iterations. Today, their customer journey has seven steps, though they are unique to the company's client base and business model. Their model is:
- Exploring and engaging
- Convincing and captivating
- Buying your product/service
- Using the product
- Getting help
- Building brand enthusiasm
Nextiva has five buyer personas that articulate a specific job or task a client might need to accomplish that Nextiva can help them achieve. Each one navigates these seven steps differently, Masjedi said. Determining whether your personas, and the assumptions behind them, are accurate takes time.
"We started to profile customers based on the size of their business but quickly realized size, location and industry don't really tell you what customer is looking to do with your product," Masjedi said. "We adjusted our personas to really align with the objective a customer has in working with us. What's the job they want to accomplish?"
Refining personas never stops, Masjedi added, but now Nextiva has a clearer picture of how their customers approach them before making a buying decision. The best way to do that, Masjedi added, is to put yourself in customers' shoes.
"What we do is we personally go through the customer journey and experience it ourselves," he said. "We literally shop our own product and go through the experience. That's something we consistently do, not just at the beginning, but as an ongoing effort to consistently evaluate what the experience is like."
The company regularly solicits customer feedback to ensure the accuracy of its assumptions and identify gaps in its model where it has room to improve.
Customer journey map templates and tools
These customer journey-map templates and digital marketing tools can improve your visibility into the way your customers engage with your brand.
- Funnelytics: This tool has a free plan that you can use to map customer journeys and sales funnels with easy-to-use drag-and-drop functionality.
- Google Analytics: You can use this free tool to examine search patterns of users on the internet. What are your customers searching on Google, and how can you use that to reinforce the customer journey?
- HotJar: This company offers website heat maps to show you where users are viewing a webpage and which elements they are most engaged with. For example, you can see which links are clicked the most on your homepage and determine whether your CTAs are in the optimal location.
- LucidChart: Using the free version of this simple visualization tool, teams can use a virtual whiteboard to start mapping. LucidChart also offers a customer journey map template.
These tools can inform your decision-making and make it easier to create your customer journey map. However, you can also map a customer journey using a physical whiteboard, markers and sticky notes. Employ a method that works for you and your team; after all, if you want to do it right, you'll be revisiting and revising your customer journey map time and again.