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Customer journeyThe familiar sales funnel is a bit like driving down a straight road. There’s only one start and one finish. Leads enter the top of the funnel, trickle down and come out the other end as customers.  And for a while this metaphor worked, and you can see why it was appealing. The funnel implies that customers simply drop down to the bottom-line sales, as if brought to the sales person by gravity. Of course, we all know this isn’t true. Prospects can get stuck at any stage and even exit before they’ve begun ‘falling’.

It’s now more complicated though, as many customers don’t stick to the traditional funnel at all. Instead of a clear, linear path, the new customer journey is more dynamic. The funnel metaphor becomes more like a circle, where customer can enter at any stage and drop out at any stage too. Like a never-ending merry-go-round of sales and marketing.

And technology is behind this shift. It began by affecting consumer sales and is now affecting business decision makers too. As the journey gets more complicated, having easy access to the right information becomes ever more important.

So, do you really understand your customer journey?

Here, we explore what’s changed, why and how you can understand your customer journey better; we’ll take you from the sales ‘funnel’ to a more dynamic journey.

The journey from a lead to a prospect and eventually a customer is no longer a straight line. Broadly speaking, the stages are the same but a prospect doesn’t necessarily go through each stage in order.

Instead, the customer decision journey is more like a circle that potential customers dip in and out of.  Driving this buying journey are a growing number of channels for prospects to interact with your company, as well as an increasing number of influencers and online content shaping a decision-maker’s opinion.

The overall effect of this cyclical and adaptable customer journey is that the focus becomes more on experience. After all, customers don’t see their decision as at the center of the journey, but they look at their overall experience, before and after a purchase.

Disruptive technology

So, why does the sales funnel no longer describe most sales? The answer lies in technological trends, such as social media, which have disrupted the linear journey.

For instance, if a potential customer discovers something recommended on social media, they can jump straight from awareness to consideration in seconds.

The rise of social media and online content has also broken up the sales journey. It’s now possible to be an advocate and not a customer. Joel Lunenfeld, VP of Global Brand Marketing at Twitter has said on the topic, “You no longer have to be a customer to be an advocate. The new social currency is sharing what’s cool in the moment.”

For instance, consider all the members of the Nike+ running community who don’t own Nike products, or all the employees who bring their own devices to work, downloading software before the IT department purchases the enterprise version.

These are people who are advocating your products or services without being who you would consider a ‘customer’.

All of this reflects the push towards experience in sales. This is what Antonio Lucio, Chief Brand Officer at Visa believes is a move towards a relationship instead of a transaction, with the ‘Customer Engagement Journey’ best describing the new sales process.

This kind of disruption began with B2C sales but has recently started to affect to B2B sales as well.

Negative social media chatter and product reviews, previously only hitting B2C sales, are now changing the B2B dynamic too – there are now more people that influence every buying decision (and this includes people outside the company)

Business buyers have been shaped by their own consumer shopping experiences. Plus, according to McKinsey research, B2B buyers use the same multi-channel approach as the standard consumer. B2B customers use six interaction channels on average throughout the decision journey, but almost 65% are frustrated by inconsistent experiences.

Using your CRM to understand your customers’ journey

So, how do you understand your own customers’ journey? Well, your CRM is your key to understanding this, but many organizations do not use it to its full potential.

It’s very easy to sort prospects in a fairly general way, regarding where they are in the sales funnel. So, for instance, all prospects that have engaged in a marketing campaign might be lumped together mid-funnel, while all prospects that are beginning to be actively engaged with sales will be towards the bottom.

Salesforce describes this as funnel-vision as it’s a process that doesn’t help you a great deal.

Quite often, at each stage a prospect is assigned a probability of closing and generating revenue. This is a gut feeling, relating to how the sales person feels about the prospect – a good call will often mean the probability rises but a bad call and it will drop again.

Salesforce recommends swapping guesswork for ‘opportunity stages’. Consider every observable stage of the sales process for your company and make sure you can track every stage.

Whichever stage a prospect enters your funnel and wherever they leave (if they leave) is useful information and essential for tailoring your sales approach to each prospect.

This kind of personalization includes tailoring the interaction to where they are in the sales funnel, but also the nature of the business and their role at the company. For instance, what problem of theirs does your product solve? What are they influenced by? And, who makes the ultimate decision?

Plus, with 65% of B2B buyers frustrated by an inconsistent experience, you need to be able to offer a multi-channel sales experience, with interactions tailored to the right channel.

Unless you use your CRM to its full potential, you’ll never have a good understanding of your customer journey – especially as the journey itself has become increasingly complicated.

ContactWorld for Sales can help you with this, giving your sales team everything they need to know to personalize interactions across multiple channels, and ultimately make sales.

How well do you understand your customer journey? Share your thoughts below.

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About Olivier Gachot

Olivier Gachot is EVP of North America Sales at NewVoiceMedia, responsible for accelerating growth through new customer acquisition and maintaining successful and trusted partnerships with existing customers. He is a proven leader in building and transforming SaaS companies at scale on a global basis. His 20+ years of experience include leading several companies from early years to successful IPO and acquisitions.

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