We’ve all heard the phrase, “It’s not about the destination; it’s about the journey.” And it’s true — sometimes the trip really does transcend the achievement itself.

For marketing leaders and teams in today’s digital world, making a positive connection with customers on the path to purchase matters more than closing a sale — or, at least, it should. Showing genuine empathy with a customer’s needs, goals, and preferences will increase loyalty and trust, which is more than any flashy product could achieve alone.

Customers Drive the Sales Interaction Process

Customers don’t want to be told what they need; they want to be asked. Personalization and convenience matter deeply. Companies that educate and break down barriers to entry — without expecting an immediate response from the customer — have the best chance of success when it comes time for a sale.

The health insurance industry is a perfect example of how these entry barriers can be dissolved. My team built a blueprint of the customer journey and found that customers need to know everything from types of available coverage and eligibility requirements to basic consequences of going without coverage. By simplifying the details behind these items, companies could transform apathetic customers into excited purchasers.

This personalized connection can bleed into all aspects of branding. Consider Proctor & Gamble, which created the “Like a Girl” advertising campaign in 2014 and turned a negative attack into a powerful message of determination for its female audience. Consumers identified with the ideals expressed in the campaign, thereby increasing their brand loyalty to P&G.

Give the Customer Some Love

Empathetic engagement with customers requires more than data. How can that engagement materialize? Here are some tips that can help:

1. Establish an emotional connection.

The key word here is “emotional.” People tend to buy brands they love. Look at clothing retailer REI, which closed its stores on Black Friday to give its 12,000 employees the day off with pay. Consumers identified with the premise of spending a hyped shopping day with family instead of rushing to a crowded store, and it made them more likely to look at the brand in a positive light once they were ready to shop.

2. Map the customer journey.

Many interaction stops are along the path to purchase, each with its own set of needs. What is the customer looking for at any point? How will an appropriate response drive loyalty and love for the brand? It’s a quantitative process that requires delivering the right message to the right customer at the right time.

My team encountered this in our work with the retail banking industry. We identified that customers tended to get complacent in the passive awareness stage, in which people rarely changed institutions simply because they didn’t know what else was even out there. By noting this lack of financial literacy in the early stages of the customer journey, banks could target potential customers with an informative message that they desperately need.

3. Mix in context with the personalization effort.

What motivates the customer? How do customers make their buying decisions? What makes the customer tick? Create multiple opportunities for customer interaction to collect as much information as possible.

Under Armour, for example, uses its mobile app to provide product suggestions on the basis of the customer’s lifestyle: location, workout history, and past purchases. As a result, it demonstrates care and concern for the customer.

4. Connect the dots.

Real-time customer tracking is possible in today’s digital environment. Having access to volumes of data, however, isn’t the same as using it intelligently. It’s important to interpret the data to determine new opportunities to influence customers.

To get a true view of the customer, look at data from all sources: customer satisfaction surveys, email engagement, sales and service, and so on. This allows us to establish a clear customer view and figure out what steps to take next to further engage the customer.

Throw out the traditional model of customer relationship management and embrace the more empathetic path customer-managed relations. What are some ways you’ve let customer needs drive your sales approach, and how has that affected loyalty to your company?


Courtney De La Pena is senior vice president of U.S. consumer & market intelligence solutions at RAPP. She is a seasoned CRM expert with an extensive track record of architecting brand experiences designed to engender lasting customer relationships through sustained engagement. Courtney has held several posts in senior strategic leadership, including Toyota Business Solutions Lead, Head of Experience Planning, and most recently Head of Consumer & Market Intelligence Solutions, where she is focused on proprietary research and intelligence products designed to inform opportunities for differentiated customer experience design.