A guide to managing the customer journey from buyer personas through marketing automation

buyer personas and mapping the customer journey

What is the customer journey?

The customer journey is a path that customers travel along, from discovery to engagement and beyond.  Managing the customer journey is a critical aspect of your business, and it’s vital to get it right. Many companies put little-to-no thought into their customer journey and still manage to grow organically.  While this approach is ok for some small businesses, it’s just not good enough for long-term success.   Therefore, if you want to maintain success over the long term, then you need to plan the customer journey carefully.  Then you should optimize that plan where possible to maximise the ROI of your marketing efforts.

In fact, recent statistics show that over 50% of organizations will implement business model changes in an attempt to improve customer experience, while 72% of businesses cite improving customer experience as their top priority.

Why is it essential to managing the customer journey?

Your customers may already be trickling in.  But imagine what would happen if you combined that with a strategic customer journey to make the process more efficient.  Getting started isn’t always easy, especially if you’re not too sure what you’re doing.  Luckily, we’re here to help take your brand to the next level.   We’re about to walk you through the process of creating and managing the customer journey.  Learn how to control the way that people interact with your company from a passive observer to an active customer.

Getting started with buyer personas

Before you can map out the process of managing the customer journey, you need to understand who your customers are. Now, the chances are that you’ve already got a pretty good idea of who buys your products.  Therefore you don’t need to start from scratch.  You can leverage data on existing customers such as the industries they work in or the most common job titles.

From this, you can create as many different buyer personas as needed.  Some companies have a more varied customer base than others. The goal is to put commonalities together into a short profile. Give them a name and a brief biography so that it’s easier to talk about them internally.  Make sure to consider where they are on the buyer’s journey.  Have they only just heard of you or are they almost ready to make a purchase?

Important factors to consider when documenting buyer personas include:

Capture demographic information such as age, gender, and income.

This data is widely available and will help guide and shape your marketing strategy.    Hence customer demographics will determine how you build your website, how you advertise online and even your target market.

Learn where your customers are.

Location information such as geographic data will help you know where your customers are and how different locations may have different purchasing patterns.   This information can be used to target specific areas where you have a business presence and can support their needs.

Managing the customer journey includes knowing your customer goals and values.

Many try to use demographic information to make assumptions about customer goals, but this does not always work.  Instead try to get detailed information about your customer ‘s family structure, professional and personal goals and values.  This information can be a great indicator of buying behavior.

Create a buyer personas template

You can get started by Googling for buyer persona templates and picking one that works for you.  Customize it if you need to so that it includes all of the information that’s relevant. Then circulate those buyer personas, so you align everyone on your team with who you’re trying to reach.

Your buyer personas will eventually become one of your most valuable assets.  These assets will help both marketing and your company as a whole. For marketers, buyer personas allow them to target every message and every campaign towards a specific type of customer. For R&D departments, personas can be used to make sure that there’s a market for products and services before creating them.

Managing the customer journey involves identifying customer buying stages

When you’re starting to map out the customer journey, it can help to turn to an existing model to highlight specific steps along the way. One of the most popular models is the AIDA model: Attention, Interest, Desire, Action. Here’s how that works:

• Customer Attention

The first stage is to attract the customer’s attention. After all, they can’t buy from you if they haven’t heard of you! You can draw your customer’s attention in many ways, from running banner ads to getting lucky with a viral video. However you do it, you need to get the messaging just right so that you take that attention and turn it into interest.

• Customer Interest

When someone is interested in your company, they’ll be ready for a different type of content. They might want to get to know your team through reading a blog post or watching a YouTube video. Remember, though, that at this stage they’re not ready to buy. Your calls-to-action should focus not on scoring a direct sale but on persuading the customer that your product can help them.

• Customer Desire

Once someone is interested in your product or service, the next step is to create excitement. You can do this in many ways, from just showing how your offering can improve their lives to catching their attention through working with an influencer. Once the desire is there, your calls-to-action should switch so that they focus on pushing people to make a purchase.

• Customer Action

In this phase, your prospect becomes a customer by making a purchase. Remember, though, that your relationship isn’t over once they buy from you. In fact, it’s only just beginning. It falls on you to encourage them to spread the word about your company by turning them into brand advocates.
By using the AIDA model, you can identify areas of your marketing efforts that apply to different regions of the buyer’s journey. You can also make sure that your customer journey lines up with the buyer’s journey.  This alignment prevents sending out the wrong message and creates positive brand awareness.

Remember the Pareto principle as well. That means that 20% of your customers create 80% of your revenue.  Your job is to figure out which customers that 20 % are.  When you do, you will want to focus most of your budget towards winning their business. Measure your marketing and do more of what works.

Retention and advocacy complete the customer journey

The problem with the AIDA approach that is it doesn’t consider what happens after the purchase.   We know that after the sale is made a customer journey continues.  Your relationship with the customer will grow and change. Successful companies always need to retain and sell to existing customers.  Also, social proof is a huge part of marketing in the digital age. Therefore recruiting your customer as an advocate for a customer advocacy program is also essential for your brand.  Thus a better approach is displayed in the graphic below.  We replace the AIDA model with awareness, consideration, purchase, retention, and advocacy.   At the “customer advocacy” stage the buyer journey starts all over again at “awareness” in a cycle of events.

Managing the customer journey includes creating buyer personas grid

Once you’ve identified who you’re trying to reach, and you’ve mapped out their personas, the next step is to place them on a grid.  One approach is putting your personas along the X-axis. Then your buyer journey stages are along the Y-axis. Then marketing teams focus on one cell at a time and brainstorm content ideas that could cater to that specific persona at that particular stage of the process.

mapping the customer journey

Great marketing involves creating the right content for the right person in the right place at the right time. For example, if you’re trying to reach a busy executive then sending them an email at 8 AM on a Monday morning is probably a bad idea.  While just after bedtime could be a great time to reach stay-at-home parents on Facebook. Restaurants could post food photographs just before lunchtime to lure office workers with rumbling stomachs.  Mapping out this process on a chart allows you to double check that you’re creating food that people will want to consume.

Buyer personas create sanity checks and stop bad ideas

The buyer personas grid is also a great tool if you have an idea, but you want to sanity check it. Have you ever had to create a piece of content because your boss had a “great idea” or someone told you to do it?  If so, you’ll know how useful it can be to have something to fall back on when you need to say no.

Getting the place right can be difficult, especially in our modern omnichannel world. Consider offline channels such as direct mail and traditional advertising.  You need to make sure you’ve included a call-to-action with each piece of content.  Doing so will usher people along to the next stage of the customer journey.   Then you determine an ROI by comparing the results generated with the amount of time, money and resources used to fund your campaign.

Marketing automation and CRM systems

By now, you’re probably starting to worry about how you’re going to handle all of this.  Reaching the right person with the right message at the right time is the goal, but it isn’t easy. The process gets more confusing as you add more personas and more marketing outlets.  This confusion is why most serious marketers turn to automation.
Automation is significant because it allows you to set up triggers in advance.   Triggers can send an email campaign or automate your website to display different content for different customers. This benefit means that you can serve up optimized messaging for your target personas at any stage of the buyer’s journey.

In fact, automation tools can even help you to manage the customer journey as a whole. If you use a customer relationship management (CRM) system, you’re able to create records on every prospect.  You can even track every interaction they have with your brand. If they download an ebook on a particular topic and then they request a consultation call.  You can refer back to that download while simultaneously thanking them for sharing your company’s most recent social media post.

Lead scoring and beyond

Many CRMs come with built-in lead scoring systems.  Lead scoring allows you to assign points to prospects based their readiness to buy. In the example above, sharing a social media update might score one point while downloading an ebook scores five and requesting a call scores ten. There could also be a threshold in place when a lead hasn’t asked for a call; they receive one anyway because the CRM knows that they’re ready to buy.

In fact, lead scoring can be one of the most effective ways for B2B companies to boost their conversion rates.  It helps them make more money by being more strategic about controlling the customer journey.   For B2C companies, though, it can be less practical to use lead scoring campaigns.  It starts to make more sense to use retargeting and other technologies to push for a direct sale.

Managing the customer journey through change with online tools

A customer journey is never static, so you’ll never have it in full control. Instead, online marketing automation tools and customer relationship management systems allow you compensate.  Most online marketing automation tools help you gently nudging customers and potential customers along by providing relevant, personalized content.  This content, when done right, can cater to their needs and smoothly move them through the buying cycle.

Automation tools won’t help unless you’ve created buyer personas and mapped out the customer journey.  Don’t buy expensive software and fail to generate buyer personas or map out the customer journey.

While there are plenty of expensive tools to help companies to be more efficient, there are also lower-priced alternatives. MailChimp has even made some marketing automation tools available for free, a move which has shaken up the industry. This upgrade means you can take steps to manage the customer journey without expensive tools.  Furthermore, just having the buyer personas in place will change the way you do business.

Managing the customer journey that is always changing

Creating personas and managing the customer journey will help you deliver the right content to the right people. It can add a little backbone to your marketing strategy when done right.   But you will need to revisit your customer journey regularly to confirm that it’s relevant. The reason for this?  Explained in the words of Amazon’s Jeff Bezos:  ” If your customer base is aging with you, then eventually you are going to become obsolete or irrelevant.  You need to be constantly figuring out who are your new customers and what you are doing to stay forever young.”  

Conclusion

Knowing who your customers are and what they want from you is the first step to managing the customer journey. Creating buyer personas and managing the customer journey is the formal process needed to make it happen.   Hence if you’re not taking steps to map out and to optimize the customer journey; you’re going to be left behind by competitors who are.

Then double check that you’re using it to make critical decisions. After all, a strategy is only useful if you apply it.  Your customers and their journey are always changing.  Hence, this is a process you need to do every couple of years to keep on target.     Good luck!

Do you need help managing the customer journey?  We can help everything from creating a dynamic website to creating engaging content for your blog.  Contact our team at 978-851-9077 for a consultation.