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5 customer journey phases for businesses to understand

The customer journey contains a number of stages -- from the presale stage of awareness to post-sale advocacy -- and understanding each phase is key to business success.

It's important to understand the customer journey phases and what stage someone might be in so businesses can produce content or offers to help move them through that journey -- from first touch all the way to post sale.

The "customer journey" -- the collective interactions that prospects and customers go through when interacting with a brand -- is a common term that marketing and sales leaders across organizations of all sizes use when developing strategies and roadmaps.

Marketing automation software in conjunction with a website and CRM platform can give organizations insight into the overall journey that customers have with their brand and can help optimize each step of the process.

Organizations often use different nomenclature when describing the steps in their customer journey map, but the various phases all are the same.

Here are the five customer journey phases:

Awareness phase

The first customer journey phase is typically awareness, where a user is aware of a problem or a need that they have, and they look for an answer. The content they seek is mostly educational in nature. They are looking for companies that can give them insight into how to solve their problems or address their needs, so this is very high-level content. Typically, the answer to the questions these prospects have should never be any brand's specific product, but rather information about how a type of product can solve those problems.

This is not a phase where businesses should aggressively push products on them, but instead discuss how their products can address their needs -- think benefits, not features here. Common marketing practices here can include online advertising to capture these leads, and educational offers such as white papers and e-books.

At the end of the day, addressing the issues that keep prospects awake at night will help move them further into the next phases.

Consideration phase

During this phase, customers compare one brand's service or offerings to that of its competition. This is a step where blog content, success stories, email nurturing campaigns and even webinar or event registrations enable businesses to continue engaging with these audience members.  During this engagement, companies are also reinforcing and diving deeper into the benefits and sometimes the features that their products and services provide so consumers develop a better understanding of how they can help solve their problems or needs.

At the end of the day, addressing the issues that keep prospects awake at night will help move them further into the next phases. Changing the content tone and messaging from high level and educational to a reinforcing and detailed approach is what businesses need to do in this phase.

Purchase/decision phase

Capturing and nurturing leads in the first two phases takes a lot of effort for the marketing team. If someone who is engaging with a brand makes it to the decision phase -- or purchase phase -- with a company, they are a marketing-qualified lead and are ready to engage with sales or sales support engineers. Sometimes people come right into this phase by raising their hand to request a demo, ask for a quote or just want to speak to a sales representative. These are individuals who fill out a business's contact form or other conversion points that are lower in the sales funnel. An additional example of this could be conversions on a paid campaign targeting the bottom end of the funnel.

It is very common for people in this stage to have a short list of companies they would make their purchasing decision with, so a good sales process along with some supporting case studies of customer success stories can help validate a brand over the competition. Good relationships and rapport can also set brands apart at this phase.

Retention and advocacy phases

These last two key phases of the customer journey happen post-sale. Oftentimes, organizations make the sale, onboard the customer and wait until renewal time or a cross-sell opportunity arises to engage with them. Successful organizations, however, continue their marketing and engagement opportunities with customers as it increases the likelihood of a higher customer lifetime value from repeat business.

Businesses might implement a loyalty program, knowledge base for FAQs and regular communication about advances to the company or product to stay at the forefront of customers' thoughts. Businesses might also consider asking customers who have had a good experience with their brand for a case study, send out a net promoter score survey and solicit referrals.

It is more cost-effective to retain existing customers than it is to acquire new ones. By decreasing turnover, providing a positive customer experience and continuing to deliver high-quality goods and services, customers will keep coming back and spreading that news through word-of-mouth.

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