Today’s customer expects a seamless, personalized experience beginning at the time he or she is first interested in a solution and ending with the purchase and beyond. It’s a shift from the expectations of the past and an amazing opportunity for marketers to become truly buyer oriented, which has incredibly positive implications for a business’ bottom line. The key to unlocking this opportunity is re-thinking how marketing can support the entire customer journey.
Traditionally, marketing has been focused on the tactical needs of a purchase path. The purchase path has always been simply a series of channels – such as email, website, social networks, etc. – that a buyer navigates on his or her way to purchase. But to match today’s landscape, marketing has to become more strategic and fully embrace the customer journey, or the experience the customer has throughout their entire process of purchasing a solution or product.
Marketing plays a critical role in understanding and supporting the customer journey but before diving into each stage of the journey, there are three foundational elements that must be part of marketing’s strategy. These elements then integrate with early, middle, late, and post-purchase stages to create a singular customer journey.
1. Know your buyer
Marketing should be continuously gathering buyer insights to ensure they have the most up to date understanding of their current audience. The better the understanding, the better targeting can be done throughout the customer journey. It’s important to note, you likely have multiple personas to target, and their customer journey may not always be the same. But once you’ve completed mapping your buyer you have the foundation for a buyer centric marketing strategy.
Similarly, marketing should put multi-step form fills, also known as progressive profiling, in place to get to know the buyer in increments throughout their customer journey and to have more qualifying information to pass along to sales. While there may be hesitation around gating content behind forms, progressive profiling converts 86% higher than traditional forms and only 40% of marketers are using them – those that do use progressive profiling report 17% higher satisfaction with their lead generation efforts on top of that high conversion rate
2. Measurements for success
Marketing can also support the customer journey through the use of a scoring model across channels and content. A scoring model that scores on demographic and firmographic information on the buyer as well as their engagement will best qualify prospects on whether or not they are sales ready. Filling out a form, engaging with content, attending an event, etc. Each of these interactions should be scored against the model so as a buyer’s score increases, their eligibility to talk to sales increases as well.
Additionally, measurements need to be put in place so reporting and optimization are possible down the line. As you put the pieces together to build the optimal customer journey, you need to build the reporting components as well. Tracking programs across your channels and content need to be in place to contribute to multi-channel attribution and to tie your marketing efforts to ROI.
3. Multi-channel content
On top of those methods, the content that marketing is creating should be built around a multi-channel approach. Once your buyer is defined, you should know where and how they prefer to engage, and your content should be optimized for those channels. If marketing skips this step, the customer journey will feel the pain.
With these foundational tactics in place, marketing can focus on how it supports the entire customer journey.
Marketing’s Role in the Early Stage of the Journey
Some marketers may believe the early stages of the customer journey begin with the buyer’s need for a solution or product, and that is where many are missing the mark. A buyer searching for a solution or product for a problem that they have faced is simply when the prospect becomes an active buyer, but there is a critical part of the process before that.
The passive buyer is one who is actively searching, keeping up with trends, best practices, and thought leadership in their industry, and THAT is where the customer journey starts. By engaging buyers at a passive stage, you are gaining trust, positioning yourself as a thought leader, and staying top of mind for when your buyer is ready to start looking for a solution or product. Your marketing team needs to be prepared to meet the buyer at this critical stage.
Publishing thought leadership content on your industry’s latest trends and best practices may seem like a lower priority on your list of marketing to-dos, but this stage is just as critical, if not more so, than the additional stages down the funnel. Stay top of mind for your buyer by creating content that they are interested in outside of searching for a solution. Ask and answer the questions: what trends are your buyers interested in, what is happening in the industry at a macro level, and what are influencers talking about? Get the buyer thinking about why they may need your product or solution in the first place.
Marketing’s Role in the Middle Stage of the Journey
There is a great deal of focus on top of funnel and bottom of funnel, but the gray area in between, the middle of funnel, is where there seems to be a less focused strategy. What is happening here? What does the buyer need? At this point, the buyer has become active in their buying process and is actively searching out a solution, likely comparing it against competitors, and qualifying it to how it fits their needs. Because of that, the middle of the funnel is highly informative and much more product and data driven than the early stages.
Marketing teams should make their focus at the middle stage on creating qualifying content that helps support the sales team and the customer journey overall. Content about your product/solution, data sheets, case studies, customer reviews – these should be the focus of your mid funnel content strategy. Think of the questions your buyer would have at this stage and create content that addresses those questions and concerns.
Marketing’s Role in the Late Stage of the Journey
The late stage of the customer journey typically includes your opportunity stages. Sales has reached out, the buyer knows what they want, and everyone is working to make it happen. So marketing can just let sales take over here, right? Wrong. Marketing needs to be supporting the sales team through content and sales enablement drips.
While sales enablement is typically separate from your early and mid-funnel nurture, content from those stages can still provide valuable information for sales. In addition, marketing can create multiple resources to benefit the sales team through their process. What pain points does your buyer experience towards the end of their journey? Do they have to get other stakeholders on board? What do they need to know about budgeting? What details do they need to know about the product? Is there an onboarding process? These subjects should be the focus of your sales enablement strategy.
Marketing’s Role in Post-Purchase and Beyond
The customer journey doesn’t stop once a prospect becomes a customer. Even if your product or service doesn’t offer renewal, the customer experience is just as important post-sale as it is pre-sale.
Marketing can support the customer journey beyond the purchase by creating content for customers. Newsletters, support centers, content around renewal processes, blogs, community pages – all of these can benefit the buyer post-sale. For those whose products or services do offer renewal, that needs to be communicated. What are the benefits of renewal? When should the buyer start thinking about it? All of that is part of the customer journey and needs to be addressed.
Additionally, marketing needs to be measuring the success of the content throughout the customer journey and optimizing to change what’s not working to focus more on what is. Reviewing content performance is a critical part of the “beyond” that will affect and hopefully improve, your customer journey.
Mastering The Entire Customer Journey
Marketing plays the most critical role in establishing and owning the customer journey. Without a holistic, defined strategy that addresses specific persona needs at all stages, you’ve cut yourself out of the competition before the game even begins. Expanding your mindset beyond the idea of a purchase path not only creates a great experience for your buyer – it also creates higher quality leads that convert to bigger, higher quality sales. When that happens, you begin making the shift from tactical demand generation to strategic demand marketing.
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