Most companies have a vague idea of how their customers transition through the sales funnel — or at least how they want their customers to go through the funnel — but few have a concrete map that actually walks employees, vendors and contractors through the buying process.

While customers take multiple paths from awareness through the decision process, there are typically predictable patterns in the time required and information needed to move on.

This is where the customer journey comes in. If you haven’t mapped out your customer journey in a way that can be used to train employees and make better marketing decisions, it’s time to create one.

Here is the how and why of customer mapping.


How Detailed Should Your Customer Map Be?

Every company will have a different conversion map, and some companies might have multiple maps, based on the customers and the products. However, the level of detail typically correlates with the difficulty of the buying decision.

“For easy-to-convince buyers, content marketers succeed by generating moments of inspiration, then reminding buyers of those moments to trigger purchases,” says Crystal Clear Communications founder George Stenitzer, writing for the Content Marketing Institute.

“For example, Red Bull creates inspiring content on extreme sports so when users see extreme sports, they thirst for Red Bull. In more complex purchases, triggers lead buyers to add a brand to a small set of sellers they’d be willing to buy from — their considered set.”

We’ve touched on this before with attribution models. If customers spent the same amount of time researching chewing gum brands before buying as they do washing machines or insurance providers, many would never leave the grocery store.

However, many businesses are also limited by their own resources, and may only have the ability to use Google Analytics or Facebook metrics to profile their customers.

“The detail of the research will be constrained by your time and budget,” says Paul Boag, writing for Smashing Magazine. “If your organization has many different user groups, then creating detailed customer journeys for each might be hard. Therefore, focus the research on primary audiences. You can make educated guesses about the customer journeys for secondary audiences.”

As long as your map is accurate, the sources aren’t as important as the content.

“Mapping tools had to evolve because people failed to see the value in mapping; in addition, the maps weren’t proving to be that catalyst for change that they are designed to be,” says Annette Franz, CCXP for Touchpoint Dashboard. “In order to be that catalyst, maps have to be actionable. And the only way they can be actionable is if you have some data to support or to drive that action.”

Whatever you use and however you create your customer journey map, make sure you build something your company is going to use and make actionable decisions off of.


B2B Companies Have a Bigger Mapping Challenge

B2B customer journey plans have to think beyond the customer and focus on the industry itself. Many companies offer niche products that span across multiple industries, like a software platform that targets non-profits and education systems.

“Let’s say you currently market and sell a product to test emission safety for communication devices, which you sell to technicians, engineers and decision makers in the communications industry,” explains Laura Patterson, president of VisionEdge Marketing, writing for Aberdeen Essentials.

“If you didn’t map the customer-buying journey, you might … assume that the profile of the technical buyer in the automotive industry would be the same as the technical buyer at the smartphone or tablet company. Only by mapping the buying process would you learn that these are two very different personas and two different buying processes with different marketing content implications.”

There’s also the challenge of intangible customer touches. How can brands track the path from a customer chatting with a sales rep at a conference and then visiting their blog a few months later?

“We recommend starting your journey map by building a hypothesis customer journey map based on employee knowledge of their customers and leveraging existing customer data — both qualitative and quantitative,” write Kathleen Hoski and Phil Goddard at TandemSeven.

“Depending on the scope and potential impact of the journey or experience you are mapping, and the richness of the data you have available to you, the hypothesis journey map might be all you need. [However,] you run the risk that your hypothesis journey map is simply a model of internal ideas about the customer experience. This model could very likely have biases and misunderstandings embedded in it.”

There may be gaps in the tracking system, but your internal team should do its best to understand the general flow of customers through the funnel and then detail it as much as possible.


Incorporating Buyer Personas Into Your Buyer Map

B2B companies sell higher-ticket items, which means they have more objects to address, and they have to contend with multiple decision-makers. This is where buyer personas come in.

“If we take the business management system as an example again, there’s going to be a huge difference between addressing a busy CEO, or a team member who may have been tasked with pulling together research,” writes the team at Lead Forensics. “So in order to correctly map out your content, you need to create a matrix for every person you may want to talk to at each of the stages.”

This is why buyer journeys are often structured as flowcharts or actual maps that explain each level of the company and how they interact with your brand.

“[Once] you have defined your personas and buying stages, you need to connect the two in a way that details the evolving roles within this group as they move along the journey,” writes Jeff Freund, CEO of Akoonu.

“You can determine the level of participation of each persona — Driver, Participant, Gate Keeper, or Not Involved — at each stage of the buying journey. This will better inform your content marketing at each stage and make you more efficient. You don’t have to create content that is all things for all people in all stages. You can be specific and target impactful content to the people at the time it matters the most.”

Not only will the buyer journey make your content become more tailored, but it will also help with ideation when you’re creating multiple ideas for each person at each part of the journey.

By the time their guides are ready to publish, some companies end up with a buyer map that looks like the opening credits of Game of Thrones.


Customer Mapping is Changing with Technology

Even companies that have been in business for decades are starting to reevaluate their customer journeys. They have to. Digital marketing has disrupted the entire purchase processes for many — if not all — industries.

“Buyers have radically changed their buying behavior,” says Infusionsoft’s Justin Topliff, writing for Pragmatic Marketing. “Information balances have shifted; vendors no longer own information, word-of-mouth travels like fire and buyers are highly educated. More than half of the buying process is now conducted without the help of a sales rep. In fact, many buyers consider sales reps unnecessary.”

While traditional marketing was always about getting the customer in front of a sales rep, today’s marketers want to get customers in front of white papers, ultimate guides and tutorials to provide the right educational materials before they decide to buy.

“In a recent survey, 74% of business buyers told us they conduct more than half of their research online before making an offline purchase,” says Lori Wizdo, analyst at Forrester Research. “B2B marketers must take responsibility for engaging with the customer through more of the buying journey.

“To do this, you need to engineer a cross-channel marketing strategy to successfully engage with buyers who proactively seek the information they need — through digital and social channels, from peers, on YouTube, at events, and through your sales reps — to advance their decision process.”

These additional paths mean companies are changing how they think of buyer journeys as well. Some are even getting creative with the actual maps they design.

“How you do this is up to you,” Interaction Design Foundation writes. “You can build a nice timeline map that brings together the journey over the course of time. You could also turn the idea into a video or an audio clip or use a completely different style of diagram. The idea is simply to show the motion of a customer through touchpoints and channels across your time period and how they feel about each interaction on that journey.”


How to Use Your Buyer Journey Map

Once you have your customer journey created, your team needs to be trained on how to use it. Like any map, it’s completely useless if it’s not used to guide people through an easier process. This starts with content creation.

“Visitors interact with your brand six to eight times on average before they become customers,” entrepreneur Siddharth Bharath writes for Content Marketing Institute. “Keeping that in mind, does it make sense to treat visitors on their first interaction the same as those on their sixth? Trying to get a visitor at the start of the journey to purchase immediately is a waste of time and energy. It might even drive them away.”

Once you have the journey-specific content, you can create calls to action and opportunities to move customers deeper and closer to a sale.

“After we map the content and create it, we create conversion pathways to nurture awareness-stage visitors down our sales funnel to become customers,” says Lindsey Graff, writing for Denamico. “Typically, we do this by requesting their contact information in the awareness or consideration stage (usually via a web form) and sending them email sequences that give them tips/insight and ask them to take the next step.”

Finally, your team can identify which key analytics signify content success, which dictates what content you create in the future.

“A key metric comes from observing the conversion funnel,” says Angela Hausman, the Market Maven. “Where are your biggest drop offs? What happened in between those stages to cause the drops?

“Many metrics require multiple observations because you’re most interested in trends rather than point measures. Things like # users, # adventures, # customer service requests. Once a trend emerges, you need to investigate the cause.”

Everything comes back to the map. If you content strategy leaves gaps in the map, your audience will struggle to reach their goal and complete the one journey to rule them all.


Use a Mixture of Hard and Soft Data to Map the Buyer Journey

Despite gaps in customer tracking tools and offline conversions, technology has made it easier to understand the buyer journey. Primarily, it helps marketers understand what problems are intentional and where brands are accidentally isolating customers.

This is why it’s important to mix your concrete data with customer interviews and soft information like user videos and experience surveys.

“If you’ve never watched someone (who’s not on your team or a friend of yours) use your product, then you likely have user experience blind spots,” says Alex Turnbull, CEO and founder of Groove. “While not the most scientifically sound experiment design, I’ve gotten a lot out of simply asking customers to take a few minutes to walk me through how they use Groove via screen share. It’s helped us identify points of friction and improve both the onboarding flow and the general UX.”

A popular choice for understanding customer problems are heat maps, which show when your site is making the journey needlessly complicated.

“[Heat maps] provide physical evidence of your users’ interaction with site elements like buttons, mouse movement across a page, as well as the percentage of your users that are scrolling down to a certain point on the page,” says Thomas DiScipio, chief strategy officer at iMPACT Branding and Design.

“I find the scroll map is the most useful tool in building and adjusting the buyer’s journey on your site as it can give you actionable insight on how and where to reposition calls-to-action, forms, etc.”

Remember, sites with a high bounce rate might not be struggling because of the content. Your customers might just be confused and bouncing to find a better page.

As these methods improve our understanding of the customer journey, buyer maps are becoming an important tool for various departments.

“Customer journey mapping is a technique that is growing in popularity, not only with customer experience (CX) professionals, but also within marketing, customer service, user experience (UX), product management and IT,” says MarketBuildr CEO Steve Offsey, writing for Customer Think.

“Journey maps transform complex data and insights about your customers into a compact, one-page visual representation. This compact visualization of key information makes journey maps easy to share and understand.”

Now, when new hires receive their employee handbooks, organization charts and training guides, they also receive buyer journey maps. Any employee who works with customers or affects customers is able to learn what they think and what they need.

The creation of the buyer map isn’t a one-time experience. As you launch new products, sell to new audiences and explore new marketing channels, the map needs to be updated to match their journey. This is what will make it a useful tool for all parts of the company, not just the marketing team.


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Amanda Dodge