Aligning your marketing and sales activities to the needs, expectations and behaviours of customers is the key to success in any sales environment. Consumers’ growing reliance on the web to inform their purchase decisions coupled with the ubiquity of social media necessitates a remapping of the customer journey.

Here is an alternative way of thinking about your ‘social’ customers’ journey:

The Social Customer Journey

Consider –  Customers commence their purchase journey with a list of  brands and products that are in their consideration set. Generating awarness amongst potential customers traditionally focused on establishing brand recognition through advertising and PR activities. These are still valid activities but increasingly the power of word of mouth is being tapped into with brands using social media tools to enable both employees and existing customers talk about and promote their offerings.

Research – Next, customers proactively research product and brand options in the marketplace, using the range of search and consultative tools now available to them online. To support the research step, marketing managers need to focus on search engine placement, visibility on comparison websites, specialist product review sites and blogs, affiliate marketing and increasingly the questions customers are asking within and through their social networks. Brands are added and subtracted from the consideration set at this stage.

Decide – This is the moment where customers actually decide where to purchase. Their decision will be 30% rational and 70% emotional. While price or value may be the trigger for arriving at a particular website or store, there are a wide range of other factors that convince, including; brand perceptions, demonstration of expertise, trustworthiness, service reassurance,  a compelling proposition and of course the views of other consumers. A merchant’s challenge is to present all of the information and reassurances that a customer needs in once place; incorporating rating and reviews and seamless integration with the key social networks.

Act – Having decided where to purchase the customer now proceeds to complete their purchase transaction, in the manner and at a time that suits them. The purchase decision can quickly unravel if the customer is not facilitated with an easy, fast and convenient transaction process. Channel managers must use all of the analytics and customer feedback mechanisms at their disposal to continually optimise conversions.

Enjoy – Having purchased a product or service, customers receive, use and hopefully enjoy their experience. Early interactions are key in confirming satisfaction with the purchase and will drive future brand engagements. What was the delivery experience like for the customer? How was the product packaged? Did the product function as expected? If there were problems was the support adequate? Were there staff experts available to assist or was there a peer support forum made available where other customers could offer their tips and advice? Were customers’ expectations actually met and did you manage to surprise them and make them smile?

Refer – Consumers have always talked about their experiences, both good and bad. Thanks to social media, each individual customer’s voice is greatly amplified. Clever marketing managers are both listening to and engaging with customers’ conversations about their brands. They are effectively  managing customer service issues seeing negative feedback as opportunities to demonstrate their responsiveness and committment to customers. But they are also encouraging, faciliating and even incentivising positive social referral; rewarding both the referring customers and their referred friends.

Repeat – Astute sales managers understand that sustainability is created through repeat purchase, renewal and recurring income. Think about it. You already know a heck of a lot more about your existing customers than prospective ones so you should be in the amazing position of being able to talk to them in a relevant and timely way about new product offerings. Furthermore, with existing customers you can bypass those expensive Consideration and Research steps by bringing them directly into your purchase funnel. Develop an integrated CRM strategy which rewards loyalty and offers a deeply personalised customer service experience.

Put the customer journey at the heart of your marketing and sales activities. Start by developing  a deep understanding of the journey your customers take.