Updated: Mar 16, 2021
Last month I looked into whether it makes sense to follow marketing trends every year. Long story short, while I think there’s certainly merit to keeping up with the trends, I don’t think they should dictate what you do as a marketer.
Instead of following the herd and trying to copy what works for others, you should try to identify and execute activities that make sense for your business and your customers. Sometimes your next steps can be crystal clear, and if they are, great. Other times you can feel stuck in a rut, not entirely sure of what to do next.
At the end of 2020, I felt a similar uncertainty when preparing Nicereply for next year. I’ve been in the role of CMO for 4 years, and I felt I’ve already tested 90% of my ideas. I decided to take a step back and try to evaluate our entire customer journey, looking at it through the lens of a new customer.
A potential customer can interact with your brand in many different ways, most of them so well-known to you that you disregard them. I tried to look at every single one of these touchpoints to really see how well we do our job, and what could be improved. If you’re not sure what marketing activities to do next, give it a try. I’ll walk you through it.
Step 1: Review your buyer persona
What is a buyer persona?
In order for this process to work, you’ll need to look at every point of the journey through the eyes of your customers. A buyer persona is a tool to help you keep your customers (or a specific segment of your customer base) in mind when making business decisions. It’s fancy marketing lingo for “who do I want to buy my stuff”.
Here’s a very simple example of a buyer persona we used in Nicereply.
It can be simpler (but not by much I guess), or much more detailed. When in doubt, however, I tend to tread on the side of simplicity. Oftentimes I see meaningless stock photos or cute nicknames (this one would probably be called “American Andy” or something similar) in buyer personas.
While these can be fun to write and prepare, at the end of the day I consider meaningless details to be busywork for people with nothing better to do. Stick to the information you need. If you find you need additional details, research them and add them as needed.
How to create a buyer persona?
The most surefire way to create a buyer persona is to look at your existing customer base. You can either arrange research interviews with them, or do your research on LinkedIn, or another platform relevant to your business.
By doing research I mean making a list of your customers and looking for similarities between different buyers. This should give you some pointers in terms of demographics and occupation at least.
Conducting the interviews will give you more details and the result will be more accurate, but it takes significantly more time. On the other hand, doing your research on LinkedIn is much faster, but you will have to fill in some blanks.
The lean methodology has been hammered into my head, so I tend to go with the fast way and then do a more detailed round of interviews if necessary in the future.
Start by compiling a list of questions you need answered to create a clearer picture of your customer. Some examples of questions to ask when creating a buyer persona are:
Who are they in terms of demographics? Age, gender, education, location…
What is their job? Job title, industry, company size, seniority…
What are their interests?
What are their goals?
What challenges do they face? You’re looking for things you can help them solve, not every single problem in their lives.
What are their habits? Again focus on stuff related to your business. If you’re in e-commerce, focus on shopping habits. If you run a SaaS company, perhaps consider how they consume content…
Answering these questions should give you a good head start. Don’t try to cram everything you can think of into one persona. If you arrive at a wide array of different answers, consider creating several personas to represent specific segments.
Lastly, if you don’t have any customers yet, you can still do all this, it’ll just take some educated guessing on your part.
Step 2: Create a customer journey map
At this point, you should have a rough idea of who your customers are. You should also have some understanding of what problems they are trying to solve. Our next step will be to map out different steps customers take before and after buying your product. This is called customer journey mapping.
Your customer journey map is going to consist of several different stages. Not every customer journey is the same, and these stages can differ based on your business. The usual stages are:
Awareness - A potential customer is aware of a problem and looks for a solution.
Consideration - A potential customer considers different ways of solving their problem.
Purchase - A potential customer chooses a vendor or a provider to solve their problem.
Retention - A potential customer is now your customer and it’s your job to keep him around.
Advocacy - In an ideal world, the customer is so satisfied with the solution that he spreads the word around.
You can look around for a slightly customized journey template, with stages fitting your business model, or just use this basic one. When I went through this process, I used a specialized SaaS flow that allowed me to be more granular in my research. I could achieve the same results with just the 5 most common stages, but it would've taken more effort.
Customer journey mapping tools
You don’t really NEED specialized tools to create a customer journey map per se. You’ll be totally fine with the tools you probably already have, like Google Sheets, or Microsoft Excel (if you really hate yourself, you can join the 7 other people around the world who try to use Apple’s Numbers :) ). There are, however, several upsides to using a dedicated tool.
The first one is that it looks more professional. If you’re going to present your research to someone, it’s always a good idea to spend a little extra time on polishing. Whether you like it or not, you are always being judged on the quality of your outputs. A good presentation can make valuable information shine. A bad one can bury even the most interesting insights. Just take a look at this CJM we did at Nicereply. Seriously, look how pretty it is! Do you know how long that took?
That’s the second benefit of a dedicated customer journey mapping tool. It’s much faster to use. Creating a spreadsheet that’s going to look this good is not impossible, but it’s going to take a lot of overhead. Why spend that time on reinventing a wheel someone else already perfected?
Lastly, dedicated CJM tools often have a bunch of templates for you to choose from. Instead of wasting time trying to figure out the different stages, you can just choose a template that suits you. I chose a SaaS template that has almost twice the amount of stages as the default method, which helped me get much more granular in my mapping process.
Some great customer journey mapping tools are:
Define user goals
Now it’s time to put on your customer’s hat. Think of how your customers move through these different stages when looking for a solution to their pain. What goals are they trying to accomplish in each stage?
Let me show you an example. Nicereply is a tool to create customer satisfaction surveys aimed at customer support teams. Customers usually want to improve the quality of the support they provide or increase the performance of their support team. In the Aware stage, they are aware of the problem, but they are not yet sure what to do about it. So their goal could be figuring out what to do to improve the quality of their support or the performance of their team. This leads them to a solution of measuring the quality of their support via metrics like Customer Satisfaction.
The next step would be looking for tools that would enable this. Customers would probably look through several different tools with the goal of finding a tool to measure customer satisfaction. Afterwards, they would try the tool out to see if it meets their requirements.
Among the next goals would be setting up the tool, understanding how it works, selecting a plan, signing a contract, ensuring smooth operation, requesting new features, and perhaps negotiating better terms in the future.
Write down what goals do YOUR customers want to accomplish in each stage of their buying journey.
Step 3: Write down all customer touch points
Keep that customer hat on, champ. Now that you have a list of goals, think of all the different ways customers can get in touch with you when trying to solve them.
For example, a customer in the Consideration stage looking to find a CSAT tool might come into contact with Nicereply in several different ways:
SERP - they might search for CSAT tools and get Nicereply’s website or one of our landing pages as a result. We need to consider not only the website, but also the SERP information like Title and Description tags.
Marketplaces - when browsing through integrations available in their help desk’s marketplace, such as Zendesk Marketplace.
Nicereply blog - perhaps in product-focused blog posts.
Other blogs - as a part of round-up posts listing survey solutions for different platforms and use-cases.
Nicereply website - when following results from search.
Write down all the touchpoints you can think of for every single stage of your customer journey map. You can have one touchpoint in several different stages.
Step 4: Review every single touch point
Everything up to this point was just preparation. Now comes the real bulk of the work. The next step is to review every single customer touchpoint you’ve written and evaluate how well it helps your customers to reach the goals you have defined earlier.
Go through each touchpoint and write down points for improvement. We’re just mapping what needs to be fixed at this point. If you think of a solution, great, write it down, but don’t waste time on it too much. We’ll be trying to brainstorm solutions later down the road. Now we’re just evaluating the current state.
For example, one of the touchpoints in the Purchase stage I reviewed was Nicereply’s onboarding series of emails for new accounts. One of the goals during this stage is for customers to choose the correct pricing plan. However, upon reviewing the onboarding sequence of emails I discovered that we’re providing no help in this whatsoever. I noted this down so we could later remedy it by updating our onboarding flow and including an email that gives you more information about our pricing plans.
Step 5: Brainstorm solutions
Good news, everyone! (I hope you read that in Professor Farnsworth’s voice) The hardest part is behind you. Taking a look at everything that’s wrong with the experience you provide might be overwhelming, but think of it as a necessary stepping stone to making things better. Now that we have a list of all the things that need to change, it’s time to come up with some solutions.
My approach was to go point by point trying to come up with several solutions for each. A blank piece of paper was my tool of choice for this part, although I ended up finalizing my thoughts in a Google Doc.
When it comes to brainstorming ideas, my philosophy is simple. I go volume first, quality second. In the beginning, I like to work as if there are no bad ideas. This gives me a solid bulk from which I can then cut the worst ones.
Once you have a list of mostly sensible ideas, it’s time to prioritize them.
Step 6: Prioritize changes
Grab on to your towel and don’t panic! You’re almost done. You’ve made a list of every way your customer can get in touch with you. You’ve identified all the problems that need to be fixed, and you’ve come with a list of solutions to do so. Now it’s time to do your managerial duty and prioritize.
A tool I like to use for prioritizing tasks is called the Action priority matrix (also known as the impact / effort matrix). You evaluate how impactful each task is going to be, and how much effort will it take to complete it. It’s really simple:
Make a list of all the activities you brainstormed
Assign each activity a score from 1 to 10 based on how much impact would it bring with 10 being the highest impact possible, 1 the lowest.
Assign each activity a score from 1 to 10 based on how difficult it will be to complete it with 10 being the most difficult and 1 being the easiest.
Draw a simple 2x2 matrix where the X axis is the difficulty score and Y axis is the impact score. You can do this on a whiteboard, a piece of paper or using a software like LucidChart.
Place all your ideas into the matrix based on their impact and difficulty scores.
Based on this you will divide your ideas into 4 different types of ideas:
Quick wins (High impact, Low difficulty): Ah the proverbial low hanging fruit. These are the sweetest of tasks, which you can fulfill with barely any effort, instantly bringing significant value to your business. These should be done ASAP. Enjoy them while you can, you won’t have them forever.
Major projects (High impact, High difficulty): These should consist the bulk of your long term strategic plans. Meaningful plans that take effort to accomplish.
Fill-ins (Low impact, Low effort): These will be your busy work that you can do if you have nothing better to do. Don’t focus on them, unless you’ve already picked all your low hanging fruit, and all your Major projects are either done or waiting for something you can’t influence (like a response from an external partner).
Thankless tasks (Low impact, High effort): As soon as you read low impact, high effort, you should know what to do. For those of you who are not sure: DON’T! Just don’t. Ever…
There you have it! You did it all from the start to the finish and as a result, you should have a prioritized list of activities to try out in your marketing.
If you’re using a waterfall model of planning your work, it’s time to plan out when to do what exactly. If you’re using an agile methodology like SCRUM or Kanban, it’s time to fill your backlog with a whole lot of tickets...
If you have any questions, or if you’d like to help run a similar process in your business, reach out to me at jakub.slamka [at] gmail.com. If you’d like to read more stuff by me in the future, I’d be happy if you joined my mailing list below.