Recently, I argued that firms need to concentrate more effort (and money) on top of the funnel marketing and metrics need to reflect the new priorities of measuring the success of actions aimed at the top of the marketing funnel. Today, I’d like to expand on that by discussing the customer journey and how to develop a customer journey map that optimizes performance across the entire conversion process from beginning to end.

How customer journey differs from the marketing funnel

Marketing funnel

When HBR (Harvard Business Review) asked top marketing firms to assess the relevance of the marketing funnel in today’s digital landscape, they found the problems summarized below:

According to these marketers, the primary problem with the funnel is that the buying process is no longer linear. Prospects don’t just enter at the top of the funnel; instead, they come in at any stage. Furthermore, they often jump stages, stay in a stage indefinitely, or move back and forth between them.

Instead of looking like this:

marketing funnel

HBR, McKinsey, and other top marketing think tanks argue the customer journey is convoluted, with numerous tangents, stalls, backtracks, and exits from the funnel.

customer journey map

Customer journey map

The cyclic process that more accurately reflects the customer journey is a better fit for reality than the linear journey down the marketing funnel, but the customer journey depicted by McKinsey is still too rational and doesn’t fully show the tangents, stalls, and exits from the marketing funnel common among consumers today (and maybe always).

Consider this version of the e-commerce customer journey (for Rail Europe) provided by Adaptive Path (I recognize you can’t read this well. Simply click the image to see a larger version).

customer journey mapping
In the first panel, you see an expanded version of the marketing cycle including both exits from the process as well as outside influencers such as other websites and friends. Moving to the second panel, you see the various touchpoints encountered along the way from exploration to conversion and the all-important post-purchase activities ignored by many marketers (but that’s a post for another day!).

Notice even the touchpoints aren’t linear, with backtracking through changing plans and re-evaluations of the alternative before finally consummating the sale. For complex purchase experiences like vacations, post-purchase involves not only decisions to share about the customer experience, but purchasing additional products and returning for more research related to the trip as departure draws near.

While I don’t want to divert into a discussion of the remainder of the customer experience journey, take a few moments to appreciate the lower panels discussing the actions and emotions related to each stage in the customer journey. I’ll leave this for a future post.

A marketing take on the customer journey

Marketers share a more nuanced view of the consumer journey — one impacted not only by economic needs, but psychological variables, social influences (that’s why social media is so effective), and situational factors. Regarding situational variables, here’s what Michelle Malkin has to say:

Situational unawareness in the marketplace or the battlefield will cost you your livelihood or your life.

Among the situational variables that impact the consumer journey, the most salient are:

  1. Time
    1. How fast do I need this product?
    2. Is search optimized to help me find a product quickly?
    3. The length of time it takes to make the purchase?
  2. Surroundings
    1. Music – we spend more time shopping when the music is slow
    2. Lighting – products look different in different types of lighting
    3. Noise – we tend to leave noisy situations quickly, except for clubs
    4. Colors – different color schemes affect our mood, so colors that evoke appropriate moods work best
    5. Crowding – in general, we hate crowded environments, but sometimes crowds act as a signal that something is worth having. For instance, Black Friday lines tend to stimulate more buying.
  3. Purchase occasion
    1. The customer journey is different when buying for yourself versus buying for a friend/ family member
    2. Holiday versus everyday purchases — we tend to splurge and buy different products appropriate for holidays. Hence, the fate of the poor turkey who’s relegated to consumption on holidays, never everyday.
    3. Emergency – any time a situation is deemed an emergency, a different customer journey is selected.

What does the customer journey map look like?

Good question. We already discussed the convoluted customer journey maps earlier, but now I’d like to get into some specifics.

Google offers an interactive mapping tool based on categorizing customer journeys across various verticals. For example, a map for large cosmetics and fitness firms looks like the one below.

customer journey map

Interesting, but we’re limited to understanding how consumers move through different websites and we’re limited to understanding the journey from 1 device — once a user changes devices, Google classifies it as a new journey. About 1/3 of consumers use multiple devices as part of their journey; a statistic that doubles when the price of the planned purchase goes over £100, according to a study by eBay and Deloitte published in Econsultancy.

Constructing a customer journey map

Constructing a customer journey map requires significant data from various sources, which, for many organizations, is challenging.

The folks over at Conversion XL provide some good ideas for constructing your customer experience (journey) map using some expert advice.

Here are just some of the resources you’ll likely need:

  • Social media analytics
  • Google Analytics with funnel mapping
  • Sales data
  • Feedback from your sales force, if applicable
  • Primary data from customers
  • Call center data

Next, you need people who can add context to this data from marketing, sales, operations, and possibly other areas within the firm.

Be creative. Think outside the box.

Don’t limit your mapping to a linear diagram. Think of loops and roadblocks in the process. Consider the impact of emotions consumers experience along the journey — anger, frustration, elation, satisfaction, dissatisfaction. Think about the role of others along the journey — market mavens, family, and friends, social media mentions, market influencers like celebrities. Consider the role of society on purchase decisions — norms, expectations, values.

Hacking the customer journey

Unfortunately, a customer journey map might look more like this (see below) if you don’t optimize the journey. And, you lose the customer to someone who does a better job optimizing the customer journey map and matching their strategy to this process.

dysfunctional customer journey

Well, it’s these problems that suggest ways to hack the customer journey to optimize performance.

1. No money

Often, consumers just don’t have the money to buy your product now — and, if you don’t get them now, they buy another product when they do have the right money. Hence, remarketing and using tools like email marketing help ensure you’re in front of customers when they do have the money to make a purchase.

Traditionally, retailers dealt with this by offering credit — often at very high interest rates. For many, credit just isn’t appealing and isn’t really what they need. Instead, they need a convenient way to pay for purchases.

Making it easy to buy without cash speeds consumers along their journey. Accepting new forms of currency and payments such as Bitcoin, Apple Pay, Google Wallet, and Paypal helps your consumers buy now while also offering some protection from security issues that concern some customers.

2. Confusion

Consumers are overwhelmed when you offer too many choices.

Think about it. If you’ve ever shopped for wallpaper or paint, you felt the information overload that comes with too many choices that end in action paralysis. In many cases, consumers simply decide NOT to decide when they have too many choices.

Make buying easy by providing appropriate filters to do the heavy lifting for your consumers. A good filter should leave the consumer with only a handful of options that suit their needs. Experts recommend limiting choice to 7 plus or minus 2.

But, filters have to be meaningful.

For instance, I was helping my daughter find the perfect wedding dress by searching online before we went to the store where it’s so overwhelming and you have pushy salespeople trying to increase their commission by showing you the most expensive gowns. But, we found the filtering on most bridal sites didn’t help us. They didn’t filter based on length (cocktail versus train), style (mermaid versus ball gown), or venue (she’s having a beach wedding). Instead, they offered a search on price (which wasn’t our most important criterion), designer (we could care less), and color (which was also less important). Hence, we had to work through hundreds of options and simply gave up.

We call this information processing overload. The solution is to make a decision easier.

For instance, in choosing shoes on Zappos, I’m not usually concerned with brand. I want to select based on heel size, dress occasion, or other variables. And, Zappos has me covered. BTW, I really like the shoes on the bottom right.


Avoiding information processing overload requires setting up your backend databases based on factors customers actually use in making decisions, rather than blindly uploading information from vendor’s websites. But, the reward is increased sales.

Does your content match the customer journey map?

In my experience as a consumer, I find website owners don’t pay enough attention to serving up content aimed at each step in the customer journey. Often, they focus enormous attention on customers seeking information to guide their purchase decision and not enough content aimed at other stages in the customer journey, such as post-purchase evaluations, which greatly benefit the brand when these positive evaluations are shared.

Today, most website visitors are pretty far along the customer journey — they’re aware of your products and services from friends or other websites (like review sites, social networks, or online communities) and probably already formed opinions (attitudes) about your brand based on earlier activities. Customers come to your website or physical store with your product in their consideration set and the business is yours to lose if you don’t match content to where they are in the decision-making process.

Borrowing from the sales literature, once you convinced the consumer (or business consumer) to buy, shut up — don’t go through the rest of your presentation. They want to buy, so close them.

The same goes for your website. Don’t take potential customers through pages of sales copy if they just came for the last piece of the puzzle before buying — your price, terms of sale, and delivery options. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve clicked to buy something from an email only to find myself on this lengthy landing page. Too often, I simply give up because the only piece of information I want is the price. The marketer now wasted the entire cost of her campaign because she didn’t understand what I wanted from her website.

Matching content marketing with the customer journey map

So, the customer (or prospective customer) comes to your website armed with an intention to buy your product.

Let’s go through an example to show how your content should match the customer journey, now that the prospect arrived at your website. For this example, I’m gonna use SproutSocial, which helps me manage my content marketing tasks. Here’s what their homepage looks like above the fold:

match content to the customer journey

As a potential customer, maybe I’ve heard recommendations for SproutSocial from colleagues or reviews or found their product on a list of useful social media tools. I have a few questions that prompt my visit to the website and the website better make it easy for me to find this information:

  • Price — this is the biggest question a prospect has when they reach your website. Notice the prominence of the free trial button and the menu option for pricing information.
  • How easy is it to use SproutSocial? Also above the fold, I see a screenshot of the dashboard and social engagement tools to help me evaluate this key criterion.
  • Social proof — I may want recommendations from businesses or colleagues I trust. So, below the fold, you’ll find a list of businesses most folks view as household names to lend their support for SproutSocial.

Once I’ve started my free trial, I might want some support as I begin setting it up. SproutSocial provides a blog that not only helps me get the most from my SproutSocial account but provides social media insights to help me manage my social media campaigns better.

But, here’s where SproutSocial could do better at matching content to stages along the customer journey because there’s little content, except the blog, aimed at keeping me as a customer or encouraging me to become an advocate for their product. If I were managing their page, here’s a list of things I would add:

  • A chat option — now, I realize this is buried in behind the settings button, but I would bring it out maybe as a popup or just a button in the sidebar. My preference would be to add it under the “STUFF TO DO” options in the upper right corner. The same is true for the help button, which provides a link to helpful resources. Keeping customers is 5X more profitable than replacing them, so highlight content aimed at making customers happy.
  • A forum — sometimes the best way (and most responsive means) for help is by connecting users who likely encountered the same problems. Solutions and workarounds not only provide help for users but offer insights that should guide product enhancements.
  • Integrate advocacy — there’s really no tool integrated into the website allowing me to share my experiences with my friends. Sure, I can share articles from the blog, but there’s no way to share the product. Adding this provides access to my community along with my endorsement, which is incredibly valuable.

I recognize the website isn’t SproutSocial’s only means of communication with customers, but your website should still contain content aimed at each stage in the customer journey, with other marketing efforts supporting your website efforts.

Here’s something else to think about when adding content matching the customer journey:

Post-purchase options — let’s say I already purchased a product from you. Now I want to order accessories, track my purchase delivery, or return the product. Making such queries easy goes a long way toward creating customer satisfaction and offers an opportunity to upsell products. For instance, ordering memory from Apple can be a nightmare because it’s unclear which memory cards fit which devices. Instead, you should be able to easily enter your information and get a filtered list of optional add-ons.

Final thoughts?

Do you have any hacks for the customer journey you’d like to share? Just pop them in the comments below.