In today’s digital world, you can find reviews for anything online. You can take a picture of a product and look it up on your phone. You can comparison shop prices, features, shipping, or any number of important characteristics before you spend a penny on the actual product.
What this means is that customers need a little more convincing than they used to. For everything but the least expensive impulse buys, customers want to do their research before they spend any money. They’re not going to make a purchase decision based on one single point of contact — it’ll build over time.
Think about it like building a jigsaw puzzle. You can’t just put one piece on the table and call it a completed puzzle. But the more pieces you add, fitting them together in a careful order and arrangement, the more complete the picture will become.
In marketing, we call it the customer experience: a comprehensive strategy for how your company interacts with the customer. It starts before the customer is even aware of your company and extends long after a purchase is made — you’re not finished with a customer once their credit card clears. Here’s how the basics of the customer experience look.
Meet the Customer Where They Are
We talk about the “buyer’s journey” like it’s a simple, linear transition from one stage to the next — the customer becomes aware that they have a problem, starts looking for solutions, realizes that you have the best solution, and makes a purchase.
In reality, it’s not that simple. You don’t know whether a customer will find your website before or after they see your Facebook ads. You don’t know if your articles are popping up on LinkedIn before or after they download a whitepaper. Customers might see an ad for a product encouraging them to buy, but they don’t even know what you do yet.
The journey that each buyer takes does follow the classic stages — awareness, consideration, and decision — and you need to make content that’s tailored not just to your ideal customer but to whichever stage they’re in. But the kicker is that you can’t force them to interact with your content in the order that you intended it. The online experience is simply too fragmented and unique for that.
What you can do is to go out and find your customers where they live. Use your existing customer data and market research to find out which websites they use, which social media sites they frequent, what time of day they’re using it, whether they’re using mobile or desktop, and so on. Anything you can find out about how your ideal customer interacts with the internet is useful. The next step is keeping track of all that information, and that’s where a CRM and marketing platform comes in.
Uniting Your Customer Experience With a CRM
To give your customers the best possible experience, you’ll want to make sure everyone is on the same page. If your social media team runs a campaign to get people to sign up for a “Premium” version of your product, you shouldn’t be sending emails advertising the features of Premium to people who already have it. If someone has already downloaded a whitepaper, you don’t want to suggest that same whitepaper to them again.
You’d be surprised how often this happens. Different departments, especially in big companies, often don’t really talk to each other — and that’s a problem. Like we mentioned before, your customers are going to have anywhere between half a dozen and dozens of touchpoints with your company before they buy. If those touchpoints feel redundant, unhelpful, or annoying, they’ll undo all your hard work.
A CRM (customer relationship manager) is a software tool that will help you keep everyone on the same page. In a lot of cases, it can even automate processes. Let’s say, for example, that Jane Doe is following you on Facebook, but isn’t signed up for your email newsletter and has only spent a trivial amount of time on your website.
Your CRM is connected to all your accounts, so you can filter for people like Jane and set up specific Facebook ads that will tell her to sign up for the newsletter. They won’t bother the people who have already signed up, and your CRM will be able to tell that Jane came to the email list from the social campaign, so you can send her a specific email offer welcoming her.
From there, you can create email lists for people who are also social followers, corresponding to campaigns they’ve seen on Facebook. If Jane downloads a whitepaper, you’ll know her by her email address and can automate another email suggesting related topics or price lists. If she logs in and leaves an item in her cart, you can send her a discount code to get her to commit to a purchase. The CRM lets you keep an eye on exactly how your customers are interacting with your brand across your variegated marketing landscape.
The Journey Doesn’t End With Purchase
Perhaps the most important part of the customer experience comes after they become a customer. Traditionally, companies have put an enormous amount of effort into getting people to buy from them and very little effort into keeping them happy after the fact. Recently, all that has started to change.
The main driver for this change is something that we mentioned before — there’s an overwhelming amount of information out there. Let’s say you’re shopping new accounting software. There are dozens, if not hundreds, of B2B accounting solutions out there. Web-based solutions, enterprise software, SaaS options, and more.
All of these brands have fantastic, modern websites. All of them have detailed explanations of how their particular software will save you time and make your taxes easier. All of them have five-star reviews featured on their site from happy customers. They start to cancel each other out.
So what do you do? You ask your friends. You get on Facebook or talk in person. You know someone who uses Quickbooks and someone who uses Xero. You know what kind of business they’re in, how many employees they have, and how similar their businesses are to yours.
More importantly, you trust their friends. According to one report, 70 percent of consumers trust each other more than they trust brands. Consumers much more likely to take advice from their friends on what to buy — and what not to — than they are from marketers.
That’s why it’s so vital to keep your existing customers happy. Every step of the process, from your initial marketing outreach to your email correspondence, shipping, delivery, and customer service has to be optimized to keep your customers’ impressions of you positive. The happier they are, they more likely they are to recommend you, talk you up on social media, and come back for additional purchases in the future.
The Sales Flywheel
For decades, companies have been talking about the sales funnel — turning strangers into visitors, visitors into leads, and leads into customers. But there’s a problem with the funnel: what happens after they become customers?
That’s why we’re leaning into a new metaphor: the sales flywheel. With the sales flywheel, it’s all about maintaining momentum and turning happy customers into both repeat customers and advocates for future customers.
That’s why the comprehensive customer experience is so important — keeping customers delighted at every stage of the process is the best way to turn the flywheel. Your customers should feel noticed, heard, and delighted at every stage of their journey, both before their purchase and after.