By Gary DeAsi

Over the course of the past ten years or so, marketers’ focus has slid further and further down the marketing funnel and across the customer life-cycle to encompass the entire customer journey. First it was driving traffic and generating net new leads/names to fill the marketing database. Next came MQL and SQL definitions which often required higher amounts of nurturing, education and increased attention towards the middle of the funnel. In recent years, the concentration became more about revenue for many marketers, though often aimed primarily at generating new/new business.

Today, a lot of marketers are starting to realize that the finish line needs to be extended further yet again – the end goal is still not reached at the point-of-sale with a new closed won customer, but rather long-term, brand advocacy.

Marketer's Journey towards Customer Success

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In an article on, Nadia Cameron argues that this customer-centric power could also potentially be up for grabs between CMOs and CCOs (Chief Customer Officers). An interesting point, but either way this plays out, this means CMOs will be finding their focus increasingly on the existing business side of the fence in the future.

If this post-purchase trend continues as it is shaping up, marketing will now span every stage of the customer life-cycle, from “brand awareness” all the way through to brand advocacy.

Your Customer is Your Best Marketer

Those with ambitions to become the marketing leaders of the future will likely need to develop knowledge and skills to effectively engage customers and drive business throughout every stage of the customer journey.

With so many options to choose from, and so many marketers all shouting “choose me,” at once, for customers, the options can all start looking and sounding the same, and it becomes tough to figure out whom can be trusted. So when it comes to making a purchasing decision, customers will increasingly a) turn to the advice of their peers, and b) gravitate towards the organizations who have done the best job of earning their trust based on their experiences interacting with the brand.

  • Who do those that I trust, trust?
  • Who do my colleagues and peers trust?
  • Who has endorsements from others like me whom I respect?
  • Who has 100,000 followers on Twitter vs. 600?
  • Who does Google trust?
  • Who do I have a positive opinion of?

Thus, the power of brand, word-of-mouth and reputation will be increasingly important, and a differentiator for savvy marketers to rise above the crowd. Focusing on building relationships and earning loyalty through delivering exceptional experiences throughout the customer journey is key for marketers to effectively grow tribes of customers to advocate on their behalf and help organically grow their business, and strengthen their brand. With a really strong tribe of advocates on your side, standing out from the crowd and earning customers’ attention isn’t as much of a problem. It’s a lot easier to be louder than the competition when it’s the voice of your customers making all the noise for you.

6 Pitfalls of the Traditional Marketing Funnel

For years, many organizations have often used various renditions of a purchasing funnel or “marketing funnel” to help define and understand the different stages buyers pass through over time during their journeys across the customer life cycle.

In a previous post, I shared 6 common problems with traditional marketing funnels and buyer’s journey models, the problems they can create in impacting the ways we think about the customer journey, and marketing’s role in influencing it. Here is a quick recap of the 6 frequent pitfalls of the traditional marketing funnel:

  • The misconception that customer journeys are linear
  • Not acknowledging the fact that customers can enter the journey at any stage
  • Lacking focus beyond the point-of-purchase
  • Lacking granularity
  • Lacking a complete view of the entire journey
  • Not accounting for external influences

In sum, through the lens of a traditional marketing funnel, our view of the customer journey can be narrow, incomplete, out-of-focus, and well, a little distorted.

The New Marketing Funnel: The Customer Journey

New Digital Marketing Funnel: Customer Journey Stages

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Perhaps one of the first things you will notice is the hourglass shape, which reflects the increased focus on growing customer relationships beyond the point-of-purchase. You will also see that the model is quite granular, with 6 pre-purchase stages (blue) and 4 post-purchase stages (green) – 10 stages in total from engagement to advocacy. These 10 stages are again intended to encompass a more complete spectrum of the customer life cycle, which spans from the very first time a customer encounters a company/brand, all the way through brand advocacy, and every step in between.

While some of the shortcomings of the marketing funnel listed above and outlined in my previous article are addressed more directly in this hourglass, such as lacking focus beyond purchase, lacking granularity, and lacking a complete view of the journey, some of the others are taken into consideration more in the way we think about the customer journey.

While these are not clear just from looking at the hourglass, below are some important assumptions to keep in mind for how customers enter and progress through different stages of this model, that differ from some of the ways we have thought about traditional funnels in the past.

When looking at the model, it’s important to remember these rules:

  • Customers can enter at any pre-purchase stage
  • Customers often do not flow through these stages in a linear fashion in this exact order (or any exact order)
  • Customers do not necessarily go through every stage
  • Customers’ journeys can vary significantly from customer-to-customer

Customer Journey Model Details: Stage-by-Stage Breakdown

Below I will walk through each stage at a high level, including the big picture questions we are looking to answer at each stage from the customer’s point-of-view, and also add in some color commentary on some important items from a marketing and content perspective.

Engagement Stage: Brand Awareness

“Hello, brand, do I like you? Are you relevant to me? Do I want to hear more from you in the future?”

The engagement stage is about casting a wide net and delivering value to our audience (though it’s important to note we want to make sure not to cast too wide of a net – we need to make sure we’re attracting a qualified audience.)

Education Stage: Problem Identification

“I have a problem?”

The objective is for customers to come to the realization that they have a problem for which they need to find a solution.

Research Stage: Investigate Solutions

“What solutions are available? What factors should I consider? What alternatives are there?”

The focus is still mostly on the solution more so than the product just yet. Key benefits, capabilities and differentiators are all things you’ll want to communicate here.

Evaluation Stage: Assess Satisfaction of Needs

“Does this product solve my problem(s) and meet my specific needs & requirements?”

From this stage forward, the focus is on the product/service. Here we’re talking value propositions, features/capabilities, technical specifications, use cases, how it works, etc.

Justification Stage: Justify & Quantify Value, Internal Buy-In

“Why do I really need this now? Why should I choose this over alternatives? How can I get my boss and team members on board?”

If a lot of your leads are not converting to opportunities, or opportunities are not progressing, you may have some work cut out for you at the justification stage. ROI, differentiators, social proof, flexing brand strength are all examples we want to cover here.

Purchase Stage: Transaction and Transition Factors

“How do I get it? How difficult will it be for me to implement and change my current process?”

As we near the point of purchase, some new questions, concerns, objections and blockers can start to materialize the closer the possibly of a purchase gets to reality.

Adoption Stage: On-boarding and Implementation

“How do I successfully implement, get training, and start realizing value asap?”

When a new customer comes on board, it’s crucial that they are able to get up and running as soon as possible and start realizing value –if you’ve promised a smooth transition in the purchase stage, now is the time to deliver on that promise.

Retention Stage: Satisfaction & Success

“Does SmartBear care about my success? Am I seeing value adds? Can I see a long-term relationship? Why do I love being a SmartBear customer?”

Above all else, we need to make sure customers are being successful and achieving their goals with our product/service, communicating that success properly internally, and “feeling the love” at all times.

Expansion Stage: Upsell, Cross-sell

“What additional value can I get from SmartBear? What other problems can you help me solve?”

If successful at each stage up to this point, you’ve earned a customer’s trust and at this stage they are now ready for an up-selling or cross-selling conversation, whether that be add-ons, upgrades, additional users, other products/services etc.

Advocacy Stage: Loyalty & Evangelism

“What can I do to help SmartBear?”

For us, Advocacy is the ultimate destination of the customer journey. A Brand Advocate can be defined as a customer who talks favorably about a brand or product, and passes on positive word-of-mouth messages about the brand on to other people.

So I have a customer journey model, now what?

Keep an eye out for value. By adopting a model such as this one, you may start to see some value and positive things happening at your organization just by the shift in mindset, even before getting to all the juicy customer journey mapping and digital marketing alignment parts. For example, we were able to immediately identify some gaps in our post-purchase coverage for some stages which we were able to jump on and prioritize, and also got a better sense around some challenges we faced with some of our KPIs at different stages of the customer journey for various products.

Customer Journey Mapping and Digital Marketing Alignment. Since implementing the model, we have also aligned our entire marketing organization, strategy and systems with it, which along with customer journey mapping, can be the next step should you choose to take it. Teams, metrics and goals, content strategy and distribution, web strategy, paid advertising, lead nurturing, lead scoring and operations, product marketing, sales enablement, brand – all of these are examples of digital marketing areas that can be mapped and aligned to the customer journey and stages model to drive results.

If you’re interested in learning more about how to go about doing this, be sure to check out Customer Journey Marketer, my blog about the art and science of aligning digital marketing with the modern customer journey.

Constant iteration. As I view almost everything we do in digital marketing (and software), this model is the latest iteration in an endless cycle of constant improvement. Feedback, comments, ideas, all welcomed.

Also, for a sneak peek at some of the ways we have gone about aligning our marketing team and strategy with Customer Journey at SmartBear, check out this slideshare below from a recent presentation I gave at Boston Agile Marketing Group.

Learn how you can create customer journey maps using UX360.

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