Customer Journey may be the buzzword of 2017-2018, but in practice it is one of the oldest and most important principles of advertising. Two years ago it looked as though everyone discovered the world of funnels and started speaking its language for the first time, when in reality it’s often not easy to fully understand the practice behind the principle.
Especially now, when 2020 is almost upon us, while everyone is talking about Amazon and ecommerce and online sales, the vast majority of businesses still regularly rely on getting leads and dealing with them during the sales processes, whether by phone or otherwise. Customer journey still plays a crucial role in the potential for success of their marketing processes.
What is Customer Journey?
Dozens and hundreds of articles have been written on customer journey, and in order to explain it thoroughly we’ll need to write a book (and many fine writers have done so before us). Instead, we’ll survey it with a broad view. When we talk about customer journey, we talk about the path taken by a potential customer, starting from the point in which our business doesn’t exist for him (since he knows nothing about us) to the point in which he is aware of us and our products and buys from us. The most common and well known model that details customer journey is the AIDA model, which details the central steps marketing needs to take a customer through:
Awareness | Interest | Desire | Action
In short, the customer becomes aware. Aware of what? The customer becomes aware of us, aware of the field in which we operate and of course aware of the problem and possible solutions. Afterwards, the customer becomes curious and starts inquiring, then desires what we offer and finally takes action, i.e. buys. Of course this basic model went through developments and modifications and received numerous diverse interpretations (which usually come in the form of beautifully designed colorful funnels). But the bottom line is that the role of marketing is to take the customer through a process that will eventually turn him into a paying customer.
This process, this customer journey, isn’t linear nor uniform, which raises a question: how and where does it start and where does each stage takes place?
Where and When Does Customer Journey Begin?
Many are trying to answer this difficult question, and the answer to it is complex. It changes from person to person and product to product. In the past, the average customer had very few available sources of information before making a purchase decision. Whether it was education, jewelry, buying a new computer or car and of course business services like computing systems, in order to make an informed decision, the average customer need to make direct contact with service providers or merchants, receive information from them and utilize a system of considerations: do I trust and believe this service provider? Is his solution the best in terms of my needs? Is this the best offer I can get?
If you remember Home Center’s mythological “Ask Dudu” commercial, it’s exactly what we’re talking about. The essence of its message was strengthening the trust in the business’ sales and service representatives, who knew how to give their customers all relevant information and steer them to the right product and solution in real time during their physical visit at the place of business.
This process, which we all know as shopping around or market research, was mostly done by phone and then at the point of sale. Its essence was the direct dialogue between business and customer, which turned the sales skills of the business and its employees into the most significant factor in the process. The role of advertising was primarily piquing the interest of potential customers, motivating them to visit the store or the service provider and receive the full scope of information regarding their value proposition. Advertising placed the entire weight of the success of the marketing process on the direct encounter between business and customer.
What Happens Today in the Customer’s Decision Making Process?
As the internet and online advertising expanded and developed, the weight gradually shifted to an independent research process done by the customer much before interacting with the business. There is a basis for almost every consumer decision now, and it is product review websites, rating websites like Zap and of course blogs (whether by the businesses themselves or by self-proclaimed experts).
Of course, customers still ultimately contact one or more businesses, and still verify the information and data that they have collected, because even today the majority of our shopping is done more offline than online. But this means that our customer independently researches, checks and consumes a large amount of information before even contacting us. Accordingly, customers form their decisions before speaking with us. When they reach us, they are loaded with the information they have collected, holding opinions formed on this basis.
Beyond that, it goes without saying that with all matters of online sales and ecommerce or any form of purchase that is done online and independently by the customer, we depend on the customer being exposed to the right information that will steer him towards the decision to purchase from us.
The bottom line is that we have far less control over the customer’s information and decision. In the past he counted on us to give him answers, and today he mostly counts on himself and his sources for information. Accordingly, the way to regain control is to become, whether directly or indirectly, the customer’s data source before he approaches us and reaches the sales stage.
How Does This Subject Affect The Way We Do Advertising and Campaigns?
This is where the game becomes really interesting.
In the past, you could quickly and relatively easily build a landing page (whether long or short, depending on the complexity of the product and the information that must be related at this stage), write ads, target keywords on Google or some relevant interests on Facebook, bring traffic, generate leads and sell to them at a reasonable ratio. All this could be done with small budgets of a few hundred Shekels a month just as with a budget of thousands and tens of thousands. It was simple, short and to the point – and it worked.
The ad and landing page related enough information to the potential customer, and most of the weight was still given to the sales conversation.
The customers who were interested (and by this we mean left their details in order for us to contact them) really were interested in what we had to say and were earnestly looking forward to listening to our information and to consider it. It does not necessarily mean that a greater number of immediate sales were closed in these sales conversations, but let’s admit it, it was relatively easy to generate “cold” leads for a business with average sales skills and generate sales.
Now, on the face of it, in light of what I have written so far, the obvious conclusion is that it is far more difficult today to generate “cold” leads this way. But the opposite is true. This same practice can be used just as effectively today, whether we are selling nutritional supplements, business consulting, or courses with costs of up to tens of thousands of Shekels. The leads will keep on coming.
So where’s the problem?
If you’re business owners who generate large numbers of leads on a regular basis, you undoubtedly have encountered plenty of leads whose levels of interest in you and your services were very low. The sales conversations are brief and the overall approach is one of impatience, and at times also anger. In general, if a number of days go by until replying to the lead, we’re faced with leads that have totally forgot who we are and why they contacted us. In more extreme cases, we’re faced with lead deniers (“Yes, ma’am, sure, it was your kid who left your full name, strange email and phone number in our form, checked the box to receive our promotional emails and clicked on Send”, sounds believable), with leads who never pick up even if we call them back mere minutes after they give their details, and with leads who answer the first call, ask to schedule a call at another time or day and then disappear.
Certainly, there have always been lesser quality leads. Even lead-deniers and people who give their contact details by mistake or had an immediate change of heart are nothing new. But whereas their percentages were relatively negligible, their amount is ever growing. This phenomenon is especially prevalent in campaigns that do not use processes of “ripening” or “warming up” before generating leads, which takes us back to the subject at hand – customer journey.
Cold Leads – An Unpleasant Experience for Businesses
The problem is that generating leads without putting them through a preliminary process of any kind (apart from a few very specific cases) is an almost surefire recipe for sales disappointment. These days, cold leads aren’t simply cold – they’re utterly frozen. The levels of interest and involvement in all matters relating to the business, its service or product and its value proposition are usually very low.
There are of course certain exceptions to this rule, such as Google’s search network in which users clearly declare their intent using their query. In fact, this happens whenever we target users using a stage in their decision-making process as it relates to our product, such as choosing a field of study, wedding preparation or any other subject, instead of targeting them using faint levels of interest (i.e. Facebook interests) or demographic and geographical characteristics.
So What Can We Do? Start Thinking in Customer Journey Terms
When we approach complex campaigns – primarily when Google’s search network cannot adequately meet the customers’ needs in a quick and immediate way, or when it is already used to its full effect – we first and foremost think in terms of the customer’s journey.
This means we inspect our customers’ decision-making process thoroughly and profoundly. We try to form smart conclusions regarding the questions they ask along the way and reach answers that will organize their thinking and lead them through the decision-making process. We do all this while they are building their trust in us, since we present them with valuable information that is relevant to their considerations, helping them shake off their fears and make a decision.
In this context, it is very important to remember that in many cases we aren’t the natural target audience of the products we promote, and so we must be mindful not to base all our planning on our personal thoughts and opinions. The best thing to do is to first of all learn from the business’ existing customers, inasmuch as they exist. The way to do this is to interview the salespeople, who come in contact with customers on a daily basis, hearing the customers’ fears, indecisions and objections and finding ways to neutralize them.
In fact, as we take the challenges encountered in the sales conversations and deal with them in an earlier stage of marketing, i.e. advertising, we make the salespeople’s task so much easier.
How this is carried out
- Hold a lengthy conversation with the salespeople and interview them about the sales processes. The more technically inclined can implement a call recording system and start listening and taking notes. After listening to about ten to fifteen sales conversations you will start to see common motifs in the questions that arise.
- Directly interview existing or potential customers. Contact five customers who had recently purchased from you or received your service or product and ask them questions. What were you looking for? What was most important for you during the purchase process? What other possibilities did you consider? What made you buy from me? What are you most satisfied with today, now that you’ve received your order?
The answers given by these two research processes can be used to create content, whether in text or video, that will help deal with resistance in the sales process early on in advertising and will most of all give you control over the decision making process.
An equally important insight is to choose the characteristics of the most suitable content and the medium to publish it in. Will our customers read articles? Will they watch videos on Facebook? On Youtube? Will they listen to podcasts? Will they attend conventions or open days? The answers are found with your customers and can be gleaned using trial-and-error, handing out content in various media.
The most significant thing you can do to increase your campaigns’ chances of success is to answer your potential customers’ questions fairly early in the decision-making process, in a better and deeper way than your competitors do, and no less importantly – in the time and place that your customers will optimally consume your information.
But what if I’m a new business and have no customers or sales people I can interview?
Assuming you haven’t invented something so new and extraordinary that there’s nothing like it in the market, you’re probably working in an existing business field. That means that as a start, you can definitely find someone in your closest circles – i.e. family, friends and colleagues – who is a potential customer and interview him regarding his consumer habits.
Simultaneously, the best thing you can do is make informed decisions regarding the purchasing process, taking a good look at your competitors and the way they deal with the customer journey and just do it better. In any case, a new business cannot entirely avoid the necessary process of trial-and-error in order to study its target audience and the appropriate messages in the advertising and sales processes.
The Bottom Line: The Customer is at the Center Today, More than Ever
The age of cold leads is at an end. Generating cold leads in the digital marketing process is a fundamental waste of time and money that creates disappointment and crushes successful campaigns and businesses. The essence of customer journey, if we’ll summarize things for a moment, is placing the customers at the center instead of ourselves, and thinking about them and about what they go through in the purchasing process. It doesn’t matter if it’s a diamond ring, makeup, business consulting or higher education: in every consumer decision, great or small, there is a decision-making thought process that our customers go through. The more adept we are at reflecting this process in our advertising, doing it more intelligently and effectively than our competitors, our campaigns’ chances of success will increase – not just in terms of number of leads or price per lead but primarily in improved closure ratio.