How well are you optimizing your customer’s journey? Whether you sell pet supplies, construction equipment, car insurance, or something else — all of your clients’ experiences from the moment they first encounter your brand are a journey. That journey generally has six distinct stages, each of which can strengthen or weaken your bond with the customer. The value of focusing on your customers’ journey can’t be understated. Done right, it helps make your marketing feel more like matchmaking and builds a lasting relationship between your customers and your product.

Today’s consumers expect seamless and hyper-personalized user experiences when they interact with brands, including high-value communication across multiple channels and devices. Delivering that at every phase of the consumer lifecycle can strengthen a brand’s relationship with its audience, but it requires a lot of data and a deep understanding of the customer journey.

Salesforce surveyed senior marketing industry leaders and discovered that 67% percent of marketing leaders say creating a connected customer journey across all touchpoints and channels is critical to the success of their overall marketing strategy. But only 23% of marketers are “extremely satisfied” with their ability to leverage customer data to create more relevant experiences.

Here’s how a customer journey strategy can help you reimagine your relationship with your customers, create a better experience for them, and improve your marketing and remarketing outcomes.

A customer’s journey is all of the interactions a consumer has with your brand. (Note: A customer can be a patient, client, subscriber, fan, viewer, shopper, or employee. We use the term to describe any audience you serve.)

You might have different departments within your business that handle marketing, sales, distribution, customer service, finance, and so forth — but your customers experience it as a single relationship. Companies that put the customer first and personalize every point of interaction are well-positioned to maintain long-term relationships with their base.

There are six key phases in a typical customer journey.

  1. Awareness

    — This is where the consumer first encounters your brand. It marks the first point at which you are considered a possible solution for them. Perhaps they see an ad on social media or hear about your company from an existing customer.

     

  2. Acquisition

    — This is the point where a consumer turns into a lead through some sort of interaction with your product or services. They might follow a link to your website and create an account, or download your company’s app. They might opt in to a free trial or subscribe to an email newsletter.

     

  3. Onboarding

    — Customers who have just made their first purchase are at the height of their interest in your brand. This is a great time to show them you’re excited about building a relationship and getting to know them better. You might have them complete a profile, providing data that will help you personalize your outreach and recommend other features, services, or products. The key is to offer help, not hype. You want the messages you send to be relevant, not intrusive.

     

  4. Engagement

    — This is the longest phase of the customer journey and the most important one to get right. Keeping customers engaged is key to building a loyal following. Are your customers continuing to purchase old favorites? Are they staying up-to-date with new releases? Delivering new experiences and highly personalized content keeps the relationship fresh and interesting.  

     

  5. Retention

    — This is where you recognize that members of your audience are at risk of leaving, determine why they are losing interest, and either keep them from wandering off the trail or make it easy for them to come back in the future. Data can help you notice when engagement dips and tools like exit surveys can provide insights for future outreach.

     

  6. Advocacy

    — This is the way the customer speaks about their experience with your brand. There are few, if any, statements as powerful as word from a happy customer. Giving customers opportunities to provide feedback and reviews at the right time can give your brand a big boost.

     

Even if a customer is no longer actively engaging with your organization, as long as they are aware of your brand and have an opinion about it, the customer journey continues. Whatever impression customers have, they are apt to leave with others. Companies need to curate experiences and manage customer journeys as if they will never end.

The key to optimizing your customer’s journey is data. Long gone are the days of one-size-fits-all mass emails. Today's consumers expect personalized user experiences across many channels: email, mobile, social, advertising, and the web. But you have to collect and track the right information in order to deliver that.

To optimize your customer journey, it’s best to start with a map that reflects your specific business model. A customer journey map is a diagram showing each typical point of interaction during the six stages of customer engagement. To get maximum benefit, your map should be based on what actually happens, not what should happen.

Depending on your industry, you may need several customer journey maps to visualize the different scenarios and paths that customers take when engaging with your brand. That’s OK. Start with one, but then expand from there. The more different buyer personas you encompass, the better you will be able to curate experiences that engage and delight your customers.

Customer journey maps aren’t just pretty diagrams; they are communication and collaboration tools. Every internal department will have its own perspective on the six phases of the customer journey, based on their relationship to the brand’s products or services. They will also each have unique information and insights to add. Your map can help you unify fragmented efforts, identify points of friction, and highlight opportunities for improvement. Each team should list its priorities when contributing to the map(s).

  • Which customer-oriented data points are vital to monitor?

  • What is already being tracked?

  • What other information would be beneficial?

  • What are the critical indicators of success?

  • Which signals should be cause for concern?

  • What are our goals — both high-level and granular?

Mapping your customers’ journeys helps to focus stakeholders on the big picture and remind them how their efforts affect each other. It can also help teams deliver consistent experiences throughout the customer journey. For example, if different departments support customers using different interfaces, it can be jarring for consumers.

Be sure to give the map-making step proper attention. An incomplete customer journey map or one with insufficient data can steer you in the wrong direction. Not using a customer journey map at all can lead to data being stored in silos, missed opportunities, and disconnects between internal teams.

Maps ultimately allow you to build logic into consumer interactions and automatically move customers down different paths based on their profiles, buying histories, locations, expressed preferences, or other indicators. Paths or branches on the map can show different experiences that might be triggered based on customer behavior.

Customer journey maps should evolve over time. Journey analytics will show you what is and isn’t working so you can continually improve interactions and design a better user experience. The result will be satisfied customers who spend more money, are more willing to recommend the brand, and are less likely to drift away.

1. Identify your audience.

Before you can take your customers on a meaningful journey with your brand, you have to know who they are and what their pain points are.

Framing your customer journey maps around particular buyer personas allows you to put on their shoes and walk through their experiences.  Any established facts about your audience will help you understand their behaviors and cater to their needs, wants, expectations, and preferences.

To start your customer journey maps, identify your current customers. Who do you reach now? What other audiences would you like to reach? Some of the questions to consider include:

  • What are the demographic details that unite them?
  • What is a day in their life like?

  • What are their goals and challenges, both at work and at home?

  • What do they want?

  • What frustrates or disappoints them?

  • What channels do they use to engage with businesses?

  • How do they make their buying decisions?

  • What problems can you solve for them?

  • What information are they missing that you want them to know about?

You want to understand your buyer personas in their “natural habit.” Your marketing team has likely gathered much of this information. If you are not on the marketing team, inquiring about buyer personas and discussing this issue is a great way to connect and build some bridges internally.
 

2. Define the steps.

What is the typical progression through each phase of a journey with your specific brand? Get granular and identify all of the interactions a typical customer has from pre-purchase to usage and post-purchase phases.

A typical customer progression might look something like this:

  • Defining a need

  • Searching for information online

  • Visiting a brand website

  • Exploring features and benefits

  • Comparing brands and prices

  • Making a purchase

  • Setting up/unboxing

  • Initial usage

  • Continuing usage

  • Troubleshooting

  • Needing to upgrade

  • Researching options for upgrade

  • Comparing brands and prices

  • Making a decision to stay or leave

3. List your brand’s touchpoints.

What are the physical and digital places where customers experience your brand? Each one of them are opportunities to leave a positive or negative impression of your brand.

Your brand may not have all of these, but common touchpoints include:

  • Google search results

  • Digital ads

  • Traditional ads: billboards, print, mailers

  • Referring links

  • Your website

  • Mobile app

  • Social media

  • Sales people

  • Stores

  • Email

  • Customer support call center

  • Payment portal

  • Review sites/directories

4. Identify the data you want to track.

To optimize your customer journey, you need intuitive and actionable data about your clients and campaigns.

  • Start by listing the customer data types you already have.

    This could include demographics, communication preferences, purchase history, browsing history, click-through rates, and so forth.

  • Circle the data types you use most.

    What does this data tell you? How can you use it to improve the user’s experience?

  • What other types of data would you like to have?

    Dream big. Do you know how much time customers spend on different pages of your site? How they enrolled: was it through a pay-per-click ad, social post, lead-generating email, or elsewhere?

  • How do you collect your data now?

    What methods are you using to gather information? Where is it stored?

  • What other modes of collecting data could you use?

    This can range from simple to more complex: A/B testing, interviews/direct feedback, sales conversations, progressive profiling via lead forms, consumption analysis, social listening tools, data mining.

It’s important for teams and departments to share the insights they have. Client-provided data should be accessible across all touchpoints, so the customer does not have to provide the same information multiple times. As your business grows, you can invest in expanding your data.


5. Think about your content.

Great customer relationships are rarely built on a hard sell. Customers want information that is genuinely interesting, helpful, and relevant to their lives. Spend some time thinking about resources you can offer and ways you can provide value to your audience.

  • What kind of content do you currently offer or have you used in the past? (ex. blogs, quick tips, podcasts, webinars, social media posts, newsletters, ebooks, reports, videos)

  • What content do your customers want or consume most?

  • What drives interaction with your brand? How can you expand on it?

  • Do your customers see you as a valuable and authoritative resource?

  • What types of content can help your customers discover and understand your brand better?

  • What problems can you help your customer solve?

  • What kind of content can support and inform your customers’ buying decisions?

  • What content is best for each phase of the customer journey?

Today's consumers don’t want to be sold to, but they are open to communication that adds value to their daily lives. Think about what information you can offer, when it will be most helpful to your customer, and the best channel to deliver it.


6. Choose your channels.

Your chances of connecting with customers are greatest if you meet them where they are. Knowing which platforms they use every day can guide your strategy.

  • What channels are you currently using? (ex. email, mobile, social, web)

  • Which perform best?

  • Are there channels where you struggle with engagement?

  • What channels would you like to use, but need help getting started?

  • How can you create meaningful moments?

  • How can you make the biggest impact?

The best customer journeys include seamless, personalized experiences across a variety of channels.

The easiest way to personalize your customer journey is to use a digital marketing platform that integrates the data you already have with machine learning and artificial intelligence. Today's digital marketing platforms are designed to leverage data at each phase of the customer journey in a user-friendly and scalable way.

Here are some examples of how you can leverage data to optimize each step:
 

1. Generate awareness.

 Each customer journey starts with a question, generally revolving around where they can find the best product or service to meet a specific need. Being able to pinpoint when this question tends to arise and where customers are looking for answers can help guide your marketing efforts. The following data sources can give you a pretty good idea of how people typically discover your brand and where there are gaps in awareness:

  • Ad impressions and clicks

    — Awareness campaigns are often built around paid display advertising on platforms such as Facebook, Google, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube. All of them will tell you how many impressions were delivered and how often people clicked on your ads. By comparing how different ads perform, you can get a sense of which messages are most compelling.

  • Search volume

    — Analyzing keyword search patterns can help you gauge interest in your product or service over time. You can monitor searches for your brand’s name, variations of your name, your products, your blog, a catchphrase or slogan, and anything else that might indicate brand awareness. Google Analytics can tell you the keywords people used to find your site, how much time they spent on your site, how much traffic was organic vs. driven by pay-per-click campaigns, and the visitors’ geographic location.

  • Social listening

    — Today's digital marketing tools can monitor all of the major social networks and track the volume of mentions of your brand, the sentiment of the posts, and the reach of those mentions. You can see which products get discussed the most and find out what people think of them. It’s as important to be tuned in to grumbling as it is to monitor enthusiasm.

  • Share of voice

    — Many brand awareness campaigns focus on increasing share of voice (SOV). This is calculated by using social listening tools to monitor conversations about a product, service, or cause. You can measure what percentage of those conversations include mentions of your brand vs. your competitors.

  • Engagement on social platforms

    — An increase in followers, shares, likes, and comments is a sure sign that more people are becoming aware of your brand.

  • Domain authority (DA)

    — This is a score on a scale of 1-100 that indicates how trustworthy your site is considered by search engines. It is based on a variety of metrics including external links to your domain. Links from websites with a .edu or .gov domain typically convey more authority to your site than those with a .com or .net address. The higher your domain authority is, the higher your site is likely to appear in search results. This can have a big impact on awareness of your brand.

  • Quality scores

    — A quality score is Google’s rating of the quality and relevance of your keywords to your PPC ads. If you have a high quality landing page that is relevant to the keyword and the text of your ad, your cost per click will be lower. Lower CPC costs will enable you to reach more people.

  • Brand mentions

    — Overall mentions is a simple but helpful measure. Generally, the more mentions your brand gets across all platforms, the more awareness there is of your products or services. Sudden peaks and troughs are important to monitor. Seasonal trends, news events, and even memes can skew your data in the short term, but a sustained decrease in mentions might mean it’s time to amp up your outreach and get more creative about engaging your audience.  


2. Acquire customers.

You can use data to discover new audiences and nurture leads, sending personal messages with dynamic content to let them know about products or services that might be helpful. The following data sources may be valuable at this stage:

  • Overall website/mobile app traffic

    — Overall traffic gives you a bird’s eye view of how many people are considering your brand. The longer people stay on your site and the more pages they visit while they’re there, the better.

  • Channel-specific website traffic

    — People may arrive at your site by a variety of means. It’s important to know if they’re typing your address directly, coming from a social media platform, finding you by search, or being referred by a partner or media source.

  • New vs. Returning visitors

    — Ideally, you want your site to attract both new and returning visitors. New users who have just discovered your brand may be seeing your offerings for the first time. Returning visitors may be intrigued and thinking about whether you are a good solution for them.

  • List growth rate

    — Growing your email audience enables you to reach out directly. Your list growth rate is the number of new addresses on your list minus any “unsubscribes” or email/spam complaints.

  • Market share

    — Whether you are competing nationally or in a defined local area, it’s important to know who your competitors are and how your sales volume compares with theirs. As you expand your outreach, your competitive position should improve.

  • Email open rate

    — What percentage of the emails you send actually get opened? This tells you how many people are seeing the content you send.

  • Email sharing/forwarding rate

    — If your email recipients are sharing or forwarding your messages, that’s a great sign. You are not only connecting with the recipient, but that person is helping spread the word to other potential customers.

  • Click through rate (CTR)

    — This is the percent of email recipients who clicked on one or more links in a given email or ad. It’s an indicator of how interesting and appealing your message is.

  • Bounce rate

    — The bounce rate tells you how many people left your website after only visiting the page they entered on, without browsing any further. Depending on your website design, each page can have its own bounce rate. The bounce rate can tell you if your site content is relevant to a particular search term, and if it’s appealing and easy to navigate.

  • Conversion rate

    — At the end of the day, the task of any marketer is to convince and convert. The conversion rate is the percentage of people who actually become customers after being exposed to your content or advertising. Most often this means paying customers, but you can also define conversion as signing up for a free trial, creating account, or completing some other desired action.

  • Customer acquisition cost

    — Divide your marketing expenses by the number of customers you gain and you’ll have the customer acquisition cost. Not all outreach will be equally cost-effective. This statistic can help you focus on the most worthwhile channels.

  • Referral traffic

    — Monitoring referral traffic gives you insight into which sources are driving the most visitors to your site, which topics drove the click, and which websites you should target in the future. A spike in referral traffic can show you how well a particular campaign is working and whether a piece of content is resonating with your audience.

  • Usability scores

    — Usability scores can tell you if there are obstacles keeping people from becoming customers. How long does it take people to complete desired tasks? What is the rate of errors per task? If there are legs of your customer journey that are confusing or poorly designed, it’s important to find them. A low time-on-task rate and high task success rate will lead to a high ease-of-use rating.

  • Cart abandonment rates

    — Shopping cart abandonment is inevitable in e-commerce, but knowing what caused a potential customer to add items to their shopping cart and leave without completing the sale can help you recapture them later. Did they balk at delivery charges? Did they enter coupon codes that didn’t work? Is a competitor offering a lower price? A good digital marketing platform should help you retarget those consumers and potentially win them back.
     

3. Onboard customers.

First impressions matter. Everything that happens after people give you their information is part of the onboarding process. It should be easy for new customers to begin interacting with your brand once they cross the threshold. Whether they sign up for a free trial, purchase a product, or download your app, how effectively you introduce customers to your offerings and help them understand the benefits will often determine whether the relationship lasts or not.

  • Accounts created

    — The number of people who give you their contact details is a testament to how effective your marketing is and how appealing your product or service is. Getting new customers on board is a big step in the journey, but it is just as important to keep them.

  • Features accessed

    — Once a new customer joins the fold, you want them to look around and see what you have to offer. The more features they access, the better.

  • Interactions with content — Most brands want to communicate with their customers regularly — especially early in the relationship. The more you can get people to interact with your content and learn about your offerings, the better.

  • Subscription rate

    — Depending on your industry, you might have both free and paid customers. It can be important to track the percentage of people who try your service and like it enough to pay for it after their trial ends, or who opt in to regular newsletters or updates from you.

  • User Demographics

    - You want to make the checkout process quick and painless, but once you have a customer, the more you can find out about them, the more effectively you will be able to recommend features, services, or other products. Having them fill out a profile after the initial purchase or account creation can give you valuable data.

  • Customer service inquiries

    — How often do people contact your customer service team? What are they inquiring about? Do they have questions or complaints about how to use your product or service? Track those details to stay on top of any obstacles to sales.
     

4. Engage your customers.

Keeping customers engaged is the key to building a loyal following and being top of mind when new needs arise. Data can help you send customers highly-personalized information that adds value to how they are using your product or services. You can keep customers engaged by delivering updates, tips, or new experiences that are fresh and interesting. Some of the useful metrics at this stage include:

  • Time spent using product/service

    — Are your customers sustaining their use of your product or service? Are you able to track how they are using it and how much time they are spending? When available, that data can be used to trigger automatic messages with tips or suggestions.

  • Email open rate over time

    — Email is still one of the most powerful ways to communicate with customers. Segmentation and intelligence tools can help you send the right content to the right audiences at the right time. You can measure engagement by seeing whether your messages are getting opened and whether customers are clicking on any of the content.

  • Transactional data

    — This is information recorded during transactions, including a customer’s browsing and purchase history. The more you know about a customer’s interests and preferences, the better you can cater to their needs.
     

5. Retain your customers.

Data can help you to be proactive when customer behavior changes, helping you re-engage consumers who are starting to drift away. If your email open rates are starting to dip, or people are spending less time using your product or service, some of the following data can help you reduce churn:

  • Customer satisfaction

    — Sometimes, the best way to know why a customer is drifting away is to ask. Sending a brief questionnaire or survey might provide insight into why the customer’s engagement has dipped.

  • Customer lifetime value

    — The lifetime value of a customer is generally based on the amount of money they spend over the entire time they do business with your company. Some customers will have a higher CLV than others. Brands should take special care to keep high-value customers.

  • Renewals, reorders, cross-sells, and upsells

    — When a customer is nearly due to renew or reorder, it’s a good time to remind them of the value proposition your brand offers. You might want to send a special offer. This is a high-risk time for cancellations, so using your data to reinforce the relationship can boost customer retention.

  • Likelihood to repurchase

    — What are the signals that suggest a customer is likely to repurchase? Analyzing the behavior of current and past clients can help you predict whether others will stick with you in the future.

  • Unsubscribe rate

    — You can gain important insights by studying your “unsubscribe” requests, particularly if you ask people to tick a box telling you why they are opting out.

  • Returns/cancellations

    — No business likes to process refunds, but there is important data that can be generated from return and cancellation requests. Why did the customer have second thoughts? Is there a mismatch between what you’re promising and what you’re delivering? How can you manage expectations so you meet or exceed them?
     

6. Turn happy customers into advocates for your brand.

Your customers may be your most underutilized asset. Many people like to spread the news when they’ve found a product or service they find valuable. Word of mouth is arguably the most effective type of advertising. Rather than leaving it to chance, brands can use data and outreach to encourage customer advocacy. Here are some of the metrics that are useful for this:

  • Content sharing — By putting sharing buttons on your content, you make it easy for customers to share your blog posts, emails, tips, and other content with their friends. You also make it easy to track. Monitoring content sharing can help you nurture advocacy for your brand.

  • Net promoter score

    — One of the most widely-used advocacy metrics is also one of the simplest. Customers are asked one question, “On a scale of 0-10, how likely is it that you’ll recommend this product to a friend?” People who answer 9 or 10 are considered promoters; 7 or 8 is considered passive; those who answer 6 or less are rated as detractors. An overall score is created by taking the percentage of promoters minus the percentage of detractors.

  • Customer referrals

    — If you offer referral incentives, you can track the number and value of referrals received from customer advocates each month. Monitoring this over time can help you see which referral campaigns or tactics work best. Referral programs generally have a high return on investment.

  • Customer reviews

    — Actively encouraging customers to write online reviews can give your business a significant boost, especially if you use data to reach out to the people who are most likely to have favorable comments at the time when they are most likely to be satisfied.

  • Social proof

    - There is powerful psychology behind social proof. Whether it’s an expert, a celebrity, our friends, or regular relatable users who endorse a product, consumers tend to be reassured and influenced by the opinions of others. You can encourage this by highlighting subscriber counts, endorsements, average ratings, and other data in your outreach. You can also use testimonials strategically.

  • Influencer endorsements

    — Today's marketing tools can help you identify the influencers whose endorsements are most likely to sway your audience. This is particularly effective with niche audiences. Technology can take the guesswork out of finding just the right Instagrammer, blogger, or YouTuber to move the needle for your brand.

There is a staggering amount of data available, but it’s important to put it in context. The right data can help you segment your audience, choose the best marketing channels, pick the most compelling message, and provide the ideal number of exposures to make the sale. Once you have a customer, data can help you nurture the relationship, increase engagement, and keep your customers from drifting away. But you shouldn’t just measure things for the sake of measuring.

A digital marketing platform that integrates information and puts it in dashboards can make it much easier to pull actionable insights from your data and optimize your customer journey, ultimately improving your business outcomes.

Putting customers first pays off. Digital marketing platforms were originally designed to help businesses build and maintain relationships with their customers. In the past decade, they have evolved into robust tools that use machine learning and artificial intelligence to analyze data and help brands deliver hyper-personalized customer journeys.

A digital marketing platform is used to find leads, nurture prospects, mine data, and deliver curated content through every phase of the customer lifecycle. When choosing a platform, look for one that offers dynamic dashboards that can be customized for your specific business model. It should enable you to build context into your consumer interactions and automatically trigger different experiences for customers based on their profiles, buying histories, locations, expressed preferences, or other indicators. Journey analytics should show you what is or isn’t working, so you can continuously refine your processes.

Picking a digital marketing platform is one of the most important decisions brands make. For more information, see Salesforce’s Customer Journey Mapping Resources including free worksheets, e-books, reports, and an example map.

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