Customer Journey Mapping – Are We There Yet?

by Matt, on 6 Apr 2021

One of the core project modules that we work through with our clients focuses on customer understanding. At the heart of this work we follow an approach called Customer Journey Mapping (CJM).

The goal is to think through and document as much insight as we can about our clients’ customers so that marketing, sales, onboarding, and success/support/service teams can create strong customer experiences that drive revenue.

To do this, we need to identify members of the buying committee at our client’s ideal customer companies, categorize them into archetypal personas, and then build a comprehensive understanding of what each persona needs, wants, believes, and feels.

This in-depth profiling informs subsequent decisions on messaging, channels, marketing technology, and tactical selection.

More on what this process entails in a moment but let’s just say it’s involved and time-consuming.

As we develop CJMs for each of the key personas (usually 2-3 at first, with others added later), many clients sound like kids on a long road trip, asking: “Are we nearly there yet?”

Like the parent driver, who knows the destination, how much further there is to travel, and roughly how long the journey will take, we are familiar with the remaining scope of work and the effort required to complete it.

Our client, however, is not. They feel fidgety because they’ve been on the CJM road for what seems like a long time, but they can’t yet see the destination.

In this post, I’m going to discuss why it’s worth the effort and share some ideas on keeping the antsy client engaged and motivated.

map in the car

Why all the fuss about Customer Journey Maps?

The origin of the term “customer journey map” is unclear but may have its roots in the 1989 book Moments of Truth (Bookshop | Amazon) written by the former CEO of Scandinavian Airlines, Jan Carlzon.

This acclaimed work describes strategies for adapting to “the new customer-driven economy.” In it, Carlzon proposes taking an ecological view of the customer experience, although he doesn’t explicitly describe it as a journey or use the term map.

That distinction is attributed to Colin Shaw, a customer experience guru, who introduced the concept of “moment mapping” in his 2002 book Building Great Customer Experiences (Beyond Philosophy) (Bookshop | Amazon) and used an arrow to connect phases of the buyer’s journey.

Many variations have emerged over the ensuing 20 years, but they generally divide the journey into 4-7 phases, covering:

  • Awareness – where the buyer gains understanding about the challenge they face and the implications of finding a solution (or not).
  • Evaluation/Consideration – where the buyer identifies and evaluates possible solutions to the challenge.
  • Selection/Purchase – where the buyer makes a buying decision and takes steps to purchase their preferred solution.
  • Construction/Testing/Onboarding - where the solution is progressively delivered to the buyer and they are educated on features, benefits, and how to use the product or service.
  • Appreciation/Retention/Loyalty – where the buyer uses and benefits from the solution, assesses the actual cost and benefit relative to what they had expected, and considers becoming a repeat customer.
  • Advocacy – where satisfied buyers begin providing referrals for the company and its products or services.

In a 2016 paper, the Aberdeen Group evaluated the role and benefits of CJM, concluding that “journey management ultimately leads to happy customers.”

Their analysis found that companies that employ customer journey mapping enjoyed superior marketing, sales, and service effectiveness.

Relative to their peers, best-in-class companies (the top 20%) enjoyed:

  • 25% greater incremental revenue associated with marketing campaigns
  • 17% shorter sales cycles
  • 28% greater improvement in response time to customer requests
  • 21% lower service costs
  • 45% greater customer retention rate
  • 38% year-on-year improvement in customer satisfaction
  • 15% year-on-year increase in customer profit margin

In sum, their findings validate that journey mapping helps companies grow revenue and reduce costs.

How is it possible that “simply” mapping your customer’s buying experience can correlate to such spectacular business results?

Top performers – i.e., those that have a formal program to map and manage customer journeys – are better at segmenting their customer base and using analytics to understand the journeys of different customer types.

They track and analyze customer preferences and run targeted up-sell and cross-sell campaigns based on the visibility they gain into customer needs and expectations.

By understanding when, how, and what to communicate to prospects and customers, they eliminate wasted effort, increase conversion rates, and shorten sales cycles. And, they should be rewarded. They provide more value in less time to customers.

They nurture long-term customer relationships that lead to higher retention rates, more referrals, and larger deal sizes.

Customer journey mapping and the creation of customer experiences based on that analysis becomes a philosophy: one that emphasizes a focus on your customer rather than internal processes or metrics.

In conclusion, the Aberdeen Group wrote, “A CX [customer experience] strategy is only as successful as its ability to cater to customer needs.”

If you haven’t joined the ranks of companies using CJM to evaluate and address the needs of your customers, perhaps the statistics described above will persuade you to take the plunge.

driving on the road

How Strategic Piece employs Customer Journey Mapping

I first heard about CJMs six years ago, while running an enterprise software business. We wanted to promote our products more effectively to a wider range of users. This prompted the thorny question of how to attract and engage new users from outside our established audience.

We brought in a marketing specialist to help and she recommended a persona and CJM exercise like the one I now facilitate for SP clients.

I remember feeling confused and doubtful during the first journey mapping workshop. We struggled to answer many of the questions our facilitator asked, and the output seemed to be of limited value.

Then, we reached an “a-ha” moment.

Instead of focusing on aspects of the journey map we understood well, we saw how the gaps in our understanding were impairing our ability to guide prospects through their journey.

We also realized that our understanding and customer-directed efforts were concentrated in one or two phases of the journey.

As a thirty-year-old company with a conventional approach to marketing and sales, we had placed a lot more emphasis on the Selection phase (closing the deal) than on Awareness or Evaluation (being helpful to prospects).

Our epiphany came when we invited a handful of trusted customers to join the group in reviewing our draft journey maps. They asked insightful questions, validated some of our thinking while challenging some of our assumptions, and shed light on areas of the map that we had struggled to complete.

Ultimately, we realized that the end was actually the beginning. Creating our first-pass maps marked the start of a new quest to improve our customer understanding and to use that new-found knowledge to enhance our marketing, sales, and support performance.

At Strategic Piece, we view CJMs as a core component in our work on customer understanding.

Starting from the company purpose and solution to a customer need that the company has developed (and hopefully validated), we begin by defining an Ideal Customer Profile (ICP). That is, a set of characteristics that describe the companies (since we work exclusively with B2B clients) that are most likely to become significant buyers and users of the company’s solutions.

With the ICP in mind, we identify which roles typically make up the buying committee – the individuals that will influence, naysay, make, or approve the decision to purchase. Although individuals and titles vary somewhat from company to company, it’s usually a consistent cast of characters that gets involved.

For each role on the typical buying committee, we create an archetypal Buyer Persona. For example, Finance Frank represents the executive with fiscal responsibility, or Operations Oscar, who will evaluate and recommend solutions from a manufacturing point of view.

In addition to putting ourselves in the shoes of each persona – “getting inside their head”, as I like to put it – we also ask our client what “Job to Be Done” each persona has in mind when considering the company’s product or service.

This is based on the “Jobs-to-be-Done” theory popularized by Harvard Business School professor, Clayton Christensen, in his best seller The Innovator’s Solution (Bookshop | Amazon).

Among other important insights, the theory asserts that people buy products and services to get a “job” done and that a deep understanding of the customer’s “job” makes marketing more effective and product innovation more predictable.

As fellow HBS professor and marketing iconoclast Theodore Levitt put it: “people do not want a quarter-inch drill, they want a quarter-inch hole.”

Then we get to the meat-and-potatoes of this exercise. We ask the client to rank their Buyer Personas in order of impact on the decision-making process and to pick the top 2-3 for initial journey mapping.

We recommend that they build a CJM for each of their personas over time, but we feel it’s valuable to complete the process for the most critical 2-3 first so that participants understand where the exercise takes them and how it yields value. This motivates them to add and improve maps, instead of getting bogged down trying to create too many at once.

Our version of a CJM captures the following insights as the persona moves through the Awareness, Evaluation, Selection, Onboarding (optional), and Loyalty phases of their buying journey:

  • What do they NEED to move to the next phase?
  • What do they WANT that makes moving forward easier?
  • What are their BELIEFS about the challenge and potential solutions?
  • What EMOTIONS are they experiencing?
  • What CHANNELS do they employ when seeking relevant information?
  • What TECHNOLOGY and TACTICS might we employ to engage them?

It can be a slog, but once the team recovers and their scribblings and Post-It notes have been transcribed, a coherent marketing strategy can be assembled to deliver relevant and helpful content to each persona on the channels that they frequent.

This is the key to being supportive and helpful to prospects throughout their customer experience.

Stopping to admire the view

I’ve mentioned a couple of times already that building customer journey maps takes time and effort.

Depending how chatty and involved the team gets, producing the first few maps typically involves 5-6 workshop-style sessions, each a couple of hours long, spread over 2-3 weeks.

We break the creation of each map into multiple sessions to let the team sleep on their work and recharge their batteries, ensuring a consistently high level of effort from start to finish.

Stopping to inspect what has been produced – and to reflect on the process by which it has been generated – is valuable in of itself.

This is like taking a break at a rest area during the road trip I mentioned in my introduction. Even if it isn’t an idyllic spot with a spectacular view, hopefully it looks different enough from where you started that everyone is reminded how far they’ve come. woman taking a view from the top

It also gives us chance to remind the team where we’re headed and reiterate the benefits of getting there. The rolling countryside tells everyone we’re no longer in the city, but it’s the promise of sand and surf that makes them excited to get back on the road and complete the journey.

Another analogy that I find helpful when a team is part-way through creating multiple CJMs is climbing a long flight of stairs. You may have lost sight of the bottom and can’t yet see the top, producing the uncomfortable sensation of having no idea how much more climbing lies ahead.

As the facilitator, much like the driver on the road trip, we know where we are because we’ve climbed the same stairs many times before. So, it falls on us to reassure the group that they are not lost, show them how far they’ve come, and emphasize the value of completing the work.

Remembering why you came and appreciating the experience

With the first few maps completed, the team has developed the ingredients they need to deliver a more effective customer experience.

However, they are just the ingredients. More work is needed to turn them into superior marketing, sales, and service outcomes.

This is where we see many people questioning whether the collective effort put into building CJMs has been worthwhile.

Much like the rest stops along the way, it’s important to remember why we undertook this trip in the first place.

Seeing their CJM work in context helps the team understand the value they can now go on to create. For example, every team uncovers at least one gap where they have not been providing something their prospects need or want to progress along their journey. Armed with that knowledge, the team can set about producing and delivering that information or assistance in a way that’s aligned with the customer’s needs, wants, and preferences.

It’s also important to appreciate the map-building experience itself. Extending the analogy, this is like acknowledging all the interesting things that we saw during the road trip – even though seeing them wasn’t the reason we set out.

I regularly hear comments like “I didn’t realize that was important…” or “I hadn’t thought about why buyers want to know that…” and “we never stopped to ask what this person needs…”

It’s even more enlightening when teams say: “we’ve never sat together to think this through before” or “now I understand why we’re struggling to convert marketing qualified leads into opportunities.”

Which brings us to what happens next.

So now you have a map…

Hopefully, I’ve convinced you that there’s already sufficient value in building customer journey maps to make the exercise worthwhile.

Earlier I mentioned that top performers have a formal program to map and manage customer journeys.

Managing the customer journey means two things:

  • Taking steps to close gaps that the CJM exercise has uncovered – both in the company’s understanding of the buyer and in providing relevant and helpful information and support at each phase of the journey.
  • Revisiting and improving CJMs on a regular basis to incorporate new learnings about each persona and to update them for changes in buyer behavior and expectations.

Companies that get the most value out of CJMs embed them into their marketing, sales, and support strategies and workflows. They refer to them regularly and use them for decision making, content planning, and more.

We recommend keeping CJMs somewhere visible. This could mean printing them in large format and having them on the wall of your “war room” or maintaining them on a shared drive so that everyone has access to the latest version.

Either way, getting into the habit of referring to the CJM whenever there’s a relevant CX decision to be made ensures they become part of your way of working.

And don’t forget to include them in your onboarding process for new customer-facing team members. Since they weren’t involved in producing the maps – and might never have experienced a CJM process – take time to explain how the maps were created, the initiatives they support, and how they are maintained and used.

Things to take away

  • Customer journey mapping is a proven, powerful tool for achieving superior marketing, sales, and service effectiveness.
  • Maximum value is derived by companies that have a formal program to map and manage customer journeys. They become better at segmenting their customer base and using analytics to understand the journeys of different customer types.
  • The process of building, improving, and using CJMs can be time-consuming and bewildering, especially for those going through the process for the first time. Take breaks along the way to appreciate what has been produced, reflect on the process, remind the team where they’re headed, and reiterate the benefits of getting there.
  • Seeing their CJM work in context helps the team understand the value it is unlocking. It’s also important to appreciate the map-building experience itself, including the conversations and realizations that it sparks.
  • Companies that get the most value out of CJMs embed them into their marketing, sales, and support strategies and workflows. Make the latest versions visible and accessible to the whole team, either in physical or electronic format (or both) and make sure an introduction to CJMs is included in the onboarding process for new team members.

Photo Credits

Photo by Tabea Damm on Unsplash
Photo by Anna Vi on Unsplash
Photo by Noah Buscher on Unsplash


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Topics:Customer Understanding