If you’ve been keeping up with marketing trends, you may have noticed a shift in the way sales organizations measure their progress in finding and converting leads.
Marketing and sales executives are losing interest in the traditional notion of the sales funnel as the concept of one-to-one marketing takes hold. Instead of pouring leads en masse through the old-school funnel and hoping an acceptable percentage become buyers, companies are looking for ways to establish authentic, long-term relationships with customers.
The term customer journey has been gaining popularity over the last decade, as a way to reflect the reality that your customer’s relationship with your product is rarely love at first sight. The buyer travels a long and winding road to adoption that includes recognizing a problem, researching a solution, discovering that your product exists, sizing up its attributes, overcoming doubt, calming the naysayers who may have a stake in the decision, securing the funds, and ultimately getting to “yes.”
Your customer’s relationship with your product is rarely love at first sight.
Recognition of the customer journey has led, in turn, to customer journey mapping. This new practice, arising from the Customer Experience discipline, is intended to help your team understand and build customer relationships that generate recurring revenue—follow-on sales, maintenance fees, upgrades, and repeat purchases—beyond the original sale.
In flat organizations, customer journey mapping may draw in senior executives and could involve direct input from customers as well. But it should be fairly obvious that salespeople, right down to the individual reps, are crucially important players in capturing the customer’s journey for analysis, since Sales is the customer’s closest and most frequent touchpoint in your organization.
How “Personas” Drive Customer Journey Mapping
Sales’ first and most fundamental contribution to the customer journey mapping process is in helping define the buyers of your products as character stereotypes, called personas. It is useful to scope the exercise by limiting these personas to a small set, and classifying them by various demographic and psychographic characteristics.
Among customers who fit a given persona, people are reasonably consistent in how they approach the problem and solve it.
The premise behind personas is that there are a finite number of well-worn paths by which people arrive at the realization that they have a need and that your product is an effective solution for it. The premise assumes that among customers who fit a given persona, people are reasonably consistent in how they approach the problem and solve it.
In fact, there is enough consistency to allow you to draw a fairly reliable map of their process of deciding to buy your product or service—recognizing that along the way, most of them will have predictable moments of truth when they need a specific kind of information from you. Each of those moments of truth is an opportunity to deepen your relationship with that customer.
The customer will experience an array of emotions along the way; sales people typically talk about “pain points,” and discomfort certainly gives rise to need. You hope to create elation at the discovery of your solution, but commitment to it will be punctuated by moments of skepticism, conflict, and fear of making an expensive error, all of which must be anticipated and dealt with.
The customer journey map charts these emotional ups and downs, associating them with events in the sales cycle—some of which you can control and some you can’t.
Also clearly visible on the map are your organization’s touch points—the actors on your side who interact with the customer and influence his or her decision. Over a sales cycle that may be months or even years long, there may be many touch points: Your advertising, your trade show staff, industry analysts or current reference customers, your inbound marketing team, the people who manage your social media presence, account executives, and eventually (you hope) post-sales support staff.
Having the map allows your product management and sales organizations to analyze how their touchpoints handle each of these predictable moments. You can clearly see the points when and where the customer is going to lose her way and grasp for expert help. Your content marketing team will have provided materials that help prospects to recognize the problem your product solves, understand the range of possible solutions available, and frame your offering as the best possible position among competing alternatives.
The Role of Sales in Customer Journey Mapping
It should be obvious that salespeople should be guiding and enriching the organization’s understanding of the customer personas, as these personas inspire the actions that drive revenue. But what specifically is your role in this process?
Gather intelligence. Are attitudes and concerns shifting among your marquee customers? Are they influencing other buyers in a way that will affect future revenue? Are there shifts going on that affect entire market segments, or that call for changes in the way your company views an important customer persona? As a salesperson, you generally will be the first to discover such shifts.
Guide marketing content development. What really works is buyer-centric content, i.e., sales enablement resources that convey value, matched to the needs of specific customer personas. Buyers need you to help them understand how to solve a practical business problem or exploit an opportunity—not just explain features. If your content marketing team isn’t giving you these buyer-centric tools, you need to ask for it.
Meet with Marketing. Insist on wide open channels of communication. Invite your Marketing team to send a representative to your regular Sales meetings, to share campaigns and content that is under development or newly updated. Use those meetings to show Marketing how you are personalizing the content they provide—the content itself and how you are delivering it.
Many companies have undergone a customer experience or customer journey mapping process and, ideally, are continuously updating and revising their maps. It doesn’t automatically follow that your Sales team participated; you may not even know your company has such a map, but it’s worth your while to find out.
The first place to look is within your Product Marketing or Product Management teams. If those departments haven’t yet invested the time in creating a customer journey map, take the initiative and start organizing the customer journey mapping process for your company. From increased revenue to happier customers, your efforts will have a profound impact.