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5 customer journey phases for businesses to understand

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

Understanding customer journey phases can help organizations produce content to help move customers through that journey -- from first touch to post-sale.

The customer journey -- the collective interactions that consumers experience as they interact with a brand -- is a common term that marketing and sales leaders use as they develop strategies and roadmaps. Marketing automation software, a website and a CRM platform altogether can give organizations insight into their customers' journeys and help optimize each step of the process.

Organizations often use different nomenclature for the steps in their customer journey maps, but the various phases all are the same. Also, customers and prospects may enter different phases at different times. Someone who researches a product or service may enter at the awareness phase, while someone who already knows what to purchase based on peer recommendations may enter in the consideration or decision phases.

Explore the five main customer journey phases and what consumers need to know in each one.

1. Awareness phase

Most prospective customers start at the awareness phase, where a user has a problem or need and looks for an answer. At this point, customers mostly seek educational content about services that could solve their problems.

These customers prefer educational thought leadership over promotional or product-oriented insights, so organizations shouldn't aggressively push products on customers. Instead, marketing teams can show how their offerings can address customer needs, like listing benefits. Common marketing practices for this phase include online ads and educational offers, like white papers and e-books.

2. Consideration phase

During the consideration phase, customers compare one organization's offerings to its competitors. Blog content, success stories, email nurturing campaigns and webinar or event registrations can help organizations continue engaging with audience members.

Ultimately, if marketing teams can address major issues that prospects have, they can help move those consumers into the next customer journey phase.

As CX teams engage with customers, they can reinforce the features their products and services offer, so consumers can better understand their benefits. Prospects in this phase may actively engage with brands they already consider.

Ultimately, if marketing teams can address major issues that prospects have, they can help move those consumers into the next customer journey phase. Marketing teams must change content tone and messaging in this phase from high-level and educational to a more detailed approach.

3. Purchase/decision phase

The first two phases weigh heavy on marketing teams, as they continuously capture and nurture leads. If someone who engages with a brand makes it to the decision -- or purchase -- phase, they become a marketing-qualified lead ready to engage with sales or support engineers.

Sometimes, people enter the customer journey in this phase if they initially request demos, ask for quotes or want to speak to a sales representative. These individuals may fill out a business's contact form or other conversion points lower in the sales funnel, including a paid campaign that targets the bottom end of the funnel.

People at this stage commonly have a short list of companies they would buy from, so a good sales process and successful case studies give an organization an edge over its competition. An introduction to an existing customer as a reference also enables discussions between peers outside of the sales process. And, within the sales process, good relationships and rapport can set brands apart.

A chart that lays out each customer journey phase
Explore each stage of the customer journey from presale to post-sale.

4. Retention phase

The last two phases of the customer journey happen post-sale. Often, sales representatives make the sales, onboard the customers and wait until renewal time or a cross-sell opportunity arises to engage with them again. However, successful organizations continue to market to and engage with customers, which increases the likelihood of a higher customer lifecycle value from repeat business.

In the retention phase, organizations can implement a loyalty program or knowledge base FAQ and regularly communicate company or product advancements to customers. Organizations could also hold regular training sessions for their products or offer additional promotions throughout the customer lifecycle. Regular communication can lead to increased customer engagement, furthering education and value for customers.

Customer retention is more cost-effective than customer acquisition. If organizations can decrease turnover, enable positive CX and offer high-quality goods and services, customers are more likely to return and spread that news through word-of-mouth.

5. Advocacy phase

Customer advocacy comes after great CX. Customers who have meaningful experiences with an organization's products or services can become vocal supporters for the brand.

When onboarding new customers, organizations should understand their expectations for a product or service. If customers can recognize their goals and measure their success, they are more likely to advocate for that organization. Satisfied customers increase the number of other prospects who hear about those experiences and may consider that organization for their own needs.

Customer advocacy can lead to word-of-mouth marketing, which can attract new customers to a brand. Many individuals make purchase decisions based on case studies and success stories from their peers. When one person tells two friends and so on, organizations can trace that effect to revenue growth, if tracked correctly.

Another way to measure customer advocacy is to ask them to volunteer for a case study or send out a Net Promoter Score survey to see how they feel about the brand. These surveys and conversations can help an organization learn more about what works and what doesn't, giving a voice to the customers and potentially improving overall CX or the offering.

Key takeaways

If marketing teams understand where each person is in their customer journey, they can identify the appropriate content, conversation or tone for customer engagement in each step and potentially develop new assets.

Sales and marketing teams that understand how customers respond at various stages can ensure positive CX. Organizations that understand the customer journey from the customer's point of view can see gaps in current strategies, identify what works and modify certain phases or future campaigns.

The customer journey evolves as the organization, product or service evolves. Over time, customer needs and demands change, and understanding the customer journey can help businesses react and adjust as needed. If a team works with prospects and customers to get their feedback, that information can inform future decisions and strategies to improve CX.

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