Customer Experience


Customer-In, Not Seller-Out: 5 Realities of the Customer Journey

I was doing a little reading about the concept of the customer journey. I have distinct opinions about it, and I was looking for things that might challenge or validate those ideas when I stumbled across a blog post from a major CRM vendor that got my goat.

The post proclaimed that 2015 was “the Year of the Customer Journey!” Really? This year? What about the many years before this?

This goat-getting post went on to talk about “integrating touchpoints into a cohesive customer journey” and “connecting to customers through multiple channels and touchpoints.” In other words, it was fully involved in describing the customer journey in terms of the seller.

This is where many businesses blow it. “Creating a great customer journey” is not about creating a single, simple, linear pathway that customers follow like spaces on a Candyland game board. That approach is insulting to your customers — each of whom have distinct need and desires — and the emphasis is totally wrong. It’s based on a desire to do what is expeditious for the seller, not what is best for the buyer.

If you get wound up about “integrating touchpoints” and such, you’re going to miss the point of what a great customer experience is about. Yes, you must try to anticipate what customers need, especially in an era when customers complete much of the journey without the assistance of the seller. That requires you to think like your preferred customers, develop personas, and then develop the components of customer journeys that serve those personas.

Your company is present on those journeys — and hopefully, each journey involves a sale at some point. However, you are not the main character — your customer is. Following are five realities that show why it’s so important to consider customer journeys from the customer-in rather than the seller-out:

1. Customers Create Their Own Journeys

When you’re doing research on a purchase, do you mindlessly follow the links websites push to you? If you’re like me, you don’t — instead, you follow the links that are most useful to you at the moment. That’s because customers create their own journeys. You may offer calls to action or links to other content, but customers will choose their next steps without your prodding.

Anticipating this requires you to use your buyer personas and think like they do to create not the next stepping stone on the journey, but a set of possible stepping stones. For instance, a buyer in a financial vertical market may read about your technology and have questions about regulatory issues. At the same time, a buyer in IT may wonder about integration and implementation, and a line-of-business buyer may want more information about the potential business impact of your technology. The next step can’t be something that appeals to all of them — it’s got to be a set of steps.

Those are good bets for next steps, but don’t be surprised when a buyer throws you a curveball. A sales executive with a particularly persnickety IT department may jump to that IT-focused offer because he knows he’ll have to face down the IT director. Conversely, an IT director looking to improve his strategic position may want reassurance of the positive impact of a technology before bringing recommendations to the VP of sales.

The point here is that customers create their own journeys, and those journeys are likely to take many forms and paths and sequences, often of a nature that you can’t predict. It’s up to you to be wise about the offers that may comprise those journeys, and to be clever about how you link them. Every offer should have multiple next steps attached to it representing the “best bets” for what your buyers may want next — and there should be a way for customers to find next steps you may not be able to anticipate.

2. Customers Can End Their Journeys at Any Point

Those of us in marketing often envision the customer journey like a playground slide, with the only inevitable outcome being the customer hurtling to the bottom and being won or lost. In reality, customers’ trajectories are not controlled by gravity — they can walk away at any point, especially if you aren’t giving them acceptable next steps.

How do you deal with this? Analysis. Retail e-commerce companies have for years studied the “abandoned shopping cart,” that metaphor describing customers who select merchandise but never complete their purchases. Sure, many shoppers simply lose interest and walk away (just as many buyers on customer journeys might).

The analysis is not looking for them — it’s looking for those pages and forms along the way that see a lot of abandoned carts, where complicated forms or confusing processes cause would-be buyers to quit their journeys.

A similar exercise can prove extremely useful. If there’s an offer that’s chasing off customers, identify it, examine it, and determine whether customers are bailing out because the content is poor, or because the pathways you’re providing are inappropriate.

3. Customer Journeys May Circle Back to You Later

The best outcome of a customer journey, for the seller, is a closed deal and an ongoing relationship, but it shouldn’t be viewed as a binary, win-loss thing. If you’re doing a good job of providing journeys, you will set yourself up for future success.

The people making buying decisions may have gone elsewhere for a host of reasons — price, complexity in relation to their organization, personal contacts at competitors, etc. However, the decisions they make on any given day are probably not the last buying decisions they’ll make.

The journeys you provide for these buyers now will play a role in their next decisions. By establishing yourself as a credible source of information and offering content of value that helps them in the buying process today, you’re establishing yourself as a viable option in the future — especially if today’s purchase is ultimately unsatisfactory.

4. Customer Journeys Should Not Belong Exclusively to Marketing

Marketing generates a lot of the material that comprises a customer journey for much of its early phase, but at some point, a buyer is going to want to talk to someone, and that’s generally someone in sales. If your sales team doesn’t provide a set of experiences that are aligned well with what marketing has been providing, or what product marketing has provided, you’re creating a potential break in the customer’s journey.

The first step in fighting this is simply to explain the concept of the journey, and to reinforce it regularly. It’s easy for sales reps to become fixated on their commissions and forget the customer experience. That’s one reason some companies are starting to build customer feedback results into compensation plans. Getting the deal today is important, but it’s also important to avoid doing things that can erode the customer’s enthusiasm for the next deal and the one after that.

The customer journey also includes the customer’s interactions with support, professional services and even accounting. It’s critical that senior leadership in the seller’s organization understands this and makes sure that everyone who can interact with customers understands this. All the effective facilitation of a customer journey can come to a screeching halt if a buyer has a bad support or billing experience. This is especially dangerous because…

5. Customer Journeys Do Not End With Purchases

In the era of the subscription economy, real profit comes with repeat business and renewals. That means that your customers are continuing their journeys. Smart companies continue to build pathways for these more mature journeys, creating content to build engagement and help their customers get the most from their purchases.

They don’t forget their customers, nor do they assume customers will go back through the same pathways en route to their next purchases.

This may be the most difficult part of the process of facilitating customer journeys because, culturally, marketing and sales are still largely focused on customer acquisition. Once a deal is done, there’s a sigh of relief and it’s on to the next one. Those customers are still on a journey, though, and it’s even more tightly connected to the seller than before. If the seller appears to lose interest in the customer’s journey, then why should the customer want to go on?

Christopher J. Bucholtz

CRM Buyer columnist Chris Bucholtz is content marketing manager for CallidusCloud and a speaker, writer and consultant on topics surrounding buyer-seller relationships. He has been a technology journalist for 17 years, focusing on CRM since 2006. When he's not wearing his business and technology geek hat, he's wearing his airplane geek hat; he's written three books on World War II aviation.

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