Every customer experiences a journey from their first knowledge of your business or product through to their appreciation of the services you have provided.
The individual stages of that journey determine how smoothly potential customers move through your processes.
Typically the processes that drive that journey are described as a funnel - moving from customer awareness through to the sale. But a funnel is a pretty limiting analogy that ignores the full extent of the factors which influence the journey.
A customer journey does not just include marketing and sales - it incorporates every aspect of your business where there is a customer touchpoint. Everything from your branding, style of communication, physical and visual presentation and - potentially most importantly - your customer service. A funnel is a linear process that is not integrated into all these aspects.
Instead of a funnel, think of an hour glass.
The end goal is not the sale - think much further along the line. The end goal is to take a potential customer through a journey that results in them becoming an advocate for your brand, product or service.
Whether or not the process is done online or in person, the principles are the same. The driving force is what the customer wants or needs from the relationship and to make that relationship work - customer service is an integral part of the journey.
Expectations of customer service have changed dramatically in recent years and the ways in which any business can showcase their customer service have increased substantially. It is not just a one to one post sale experience anymore, it is part of the whole experience from the very first touchpoint.
Here are my top tips for getting the best return on your marketing activities and converting potential customers into advocates for your business.
Tip #1 Recognise the difference between marketing and sales and when to make the transition
Marketing and sales are not the same thing - although when one person is doing both it can be hard to make the distinction and indeed it can cause considerable consternation for many small businesses.
Marketing is about generating awareness - it is a one to many activity that drives interest and consideration by highlighting the benefits and value of a product or service.
Sales is a one to one activity that converts that consideration into action. It is focused on the individual and using their own specific needs to create the commitment to purchase.
Knowing when someone is transitioning between interest and intent is the key to knowing when to shift from a marketing activity to a sales activity. Pitch for a sale too early and you will drive away business, too late and you have missed the chance.
This is where small businesses can have the upper hand. Large organisations have to find ways to integrate their departments and get them working together to support that transition. Small businesses don’t have this problem as long as they are clear about the purpose of each activity.
Tip # 2 Improve your Return on Investment with total focus on your customers
Casting your marketing net too wide is counterproductive for a small business. Niche marketing will get you a better return on investment and help to build solid relationships with your customers faster.
A niche market has done their basic research and is more informed - they are looking for more specific solutions to their needs. Focus on this stage and highlight how you meet their specific needs. Niche marketing will support a smooth transition to the sales process because the specific needs and issues can be addressed. To achieve this know your customers in detail - research what they want and need, what they are looking for and how they will find out about you.
Tip # 3 Identify customer touchpoints that are critical to a successful transition to the next stage
Customer touchpoints are the key contact your potential and existing customers have with your business - both through direct contact and indirect contact. How your business presents itself, how it operates and how it responds to customers at each of those touchpoints can be the make or break of a relationship. For every business, the critical touchpoints will be unique.
Map your individual customer touchpoints including physical contact eg website, newsletters, adverts as well as indirect contact such as social media, word of mouth recommendations, independent review sites etc. Review your performance at each touchpoint - are customers doing what you expect? If not, you may have a problem that needs investigating.
Tip # 4 Integrate Customer Service - at every touchpoint
As a small business, you have a big advantage over big businesses. Customer service is everyone’s responsibility if you don’t have a dedicated call centre! That means you can integrate excellence in customer service across every activity.
Customer service is no longer a post sales activity. Our online existence and social media have changed customer expectations. Customer service is expected before the sale, during the sale and after it. The lines between marketing, sales and customer service have blurred. For small businesses, this is a distinct advantage over businesses that have separate departments for each stage.
Demonstrate a proactive approach to meeting your customer needs, show that you care about the end result for the customer at every step and you will be well on the way to converting your customers into advocates.