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5 tips for creating customer journey maps from buyer personas

Comprehensive customer personas are important tools in coping with the increasing complexity of customer journey mapping. Here are some tips on how to do it best.

Customer journey mapping is taking its place at the top of enterprise marketing's agenda. This practice of diagramming the stages of customer interaction with a company throughout the lifecycle of the relationship is, according to Forrester Research, an essential step for 88% of customer experience professionals.

An essential tool in customer journey mapping is the creation of a customer persona. This is a representation of customer expectations, needs, motivations and frustrations -- a behavioral customer portrait, in other words.

And while it's common to include some demographic data in a persona, it's important to understand that the persona itself is not simply a demographic representation; persona does not equal market segment. The latter is about how groups of customers live; the persona is a tool for understanding what makes an individual customer tick.

There are usually several personas collectively representing the entire customer base -- and businesses should build customer journey maps around those personas, crafted to deliver results that specifically address their specific components. A great customer journey map, then, depends heavily on getting the customer personas right.

Here are five steps to creating customer journey maps using data from buyer personas.

Customer journey chart

1. Tie personas to data

While it's true that sales and marketing personnel will have a strong sense of customer persona ingredients, anecdotal representations are both too subjective and incomplete to be effective. A persona is built out of actual data that can't simply be demographic; it must be behavioral.

A persona is built out of actual data that can't simply be demographic; it must be behavioral.

There are several key sources of that data -- CRM, surveys, analytics -- and it's in combination that they suggest meaningful predictive profiles that inform the journey map. Pulling together the most complete information possible in the first place is essential, but just as essential is tying the resulting persona back to the data from which it was created. Failing to take this extra step can result in a persona that fails to generate all the insights that businesses meant for it to produce, and it is hard to defend when the journey map itself is under scrutiny.

2. Accommodate multiple views

Different features of a persona will have different uses and meanings to various teams in the enterprise. Marketing sees a persona one way; sales sees the same persona somewhat differently. Put another way, a persona ideally includes a number of typical behaviors, and different teams care about different behaviors.

It's important for businesses to accommodate these different views and share updates across teams, with the extra step of pointing out changes that affect one another dynamically.

3. Use centralized management

Maintaining multiple views of individual personas means managing those personas from a common management model -- a centralized governance frame that accepts inputs from any team using the persona that applies shared standards to data sources, methods of mining insights and notification of changes across the organization. 

This approach provides alignment, which enhances the utility of personas overall, but also opens the door to serendipitous discovery when one team's new data source deepens the metrics on behaviors of interest to another.

4. Sync personas and journeys

If a change in underlying data changes the persona (and, in turn, all of its dynamic views), then the customer journey map based on the persona will likewise change.

Personas, in combination with journey maps, become a living diorama of the customer experience. There is no separating the two in principle, and it's a mistake to allow separation to happen through bad practice. Personas and journey maps should exist within the same environment -- two critical facets of one integrated system, updated and maintained together.

5. Fine tune data, as personas change over time

A final aspect of the relationship between the persona and customer journey map is that while a persona initially drives the creation of the map, each drives the evolution of the other thereafter. Changes to the data underlying the persona can move changes forward from persona to map, but it's also true that when it comes time to compare the anticipated customer behaviors detailed in the map to actual performance metrics from the real world, the map may drive change in the other direction.

This isn't to say that a mismatch in model performance means the data is wrong; it more likely means that the insights gleaned from a persona are off-base and in need of some fine-tuning. It's wise to frequently perform reality checks on how those insights are performing in any case, whether performance shortfalls are apparent or not.

Put simply, customer personas and the journey maps they enable should be viewed like any other enterprise digital asset -- worthy of continuous review and update, rigorous maintenance and diligent governance.

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