Customer Journeys Trump the Traditional Sales Cycle

In reality marketing and sales have intertwined roles for engendering positive outcomes from customer journeys, whether they realize it or not.

All too often the efforts of these roles are disjointed. Both groups should work together to serve customers in every sense. Sales and marketing teams already have highly complementary activities when it comes to customers -- the effectiveness of these activities are amplified when these two teams deliberately work together.

To connect authentically to what customers need and want, customer journeys trump the traditional sales cycle. The sales cycle has been an inside-out process, tied primarily to sales goals and operations. The customer lifecycle with a company comprises an ongoing journey before, during and after individual sales events. Sales and marketing teams need to be part of continuous customer engagement for the entire journey. Persistent nurturing of customer experiences also plays an important role in customer retention and advocacy, and sales has a responsibility here.

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Source: Gary Magnone

The Customer Journey: Sketching Potential Experiences

There are organizations that still think that they can “design” customer experiences or regulate customer behavior. That’s not ever going to happen, and it’s a waste of time. The journey -- the experiences -- always belong to the customer, based on customer decisions. Many customer journeys are complex and erratic.

Customer behavior can be unpredictable -- journeys take twists and turns due to external influences and events beyond the organization. For one company and its products, there can be multiple customer / buyer journeys -- just as there can be multiple customer categories and segments. It all depends on the products, how they are sold, the targets and how well a company wants to interact with customers.

Customer journey square pegs cannot be hammered into company-desired round holes to fit inward-focused business processes. This is especially true for sales cycles or processes that only care about how a sales team wants to function -- without any connection to how customers want to buy products and services. But organizations can design and orchestrate inspired and comprehensive support for customers across all internal functions and interaction channels anywhere. They can make sure that customers encounter consistent experiences anytime and that customers get what they need at any point in the journey.

Deep and broad customer understanding is necessary to: map customer journeys from customer perspectives, segment customers realistically and comprehend customer needs and wants. Continuous customer intelligence is invaluable for nurturing better customer interactions that will make it easy for customers to buy from a company -- and want to come back for more. Many current marketing processes provide what the sales team and others can put to good work: collections of customer action / transaction data, and the results of various analytics such as behavioral, social media and marketing automation.

Organizations also need to do a much better job of constructing integrated customer strategies at all levels, and should designate customer insight as a strategic core capability for the entire organization. Many companies still fall short on customer strategies, including specific customer experience strategic practices, as a recent Forrester study shows:

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Source: Forrester Research

Aligning Sales Functions with the Customer Journey

Far too often organizations fail to:

  1. Understand customer journeys at all
  2. Connect sales process to customer journeys and to what marketing is doing to improve and nurture customer experiences
  3. Build content marketing approaches that support how the customer wants to buy and interact – and then interrelate sales process to these approaches

Too many organizations still only think in terms of the traditional sales cycle when considering sales interactions with customers -- frequently with revenue as the main goal. There is little acknowledgement of what the customer needs or how the customer wants to do business.

Of course revenue matters. But when the main focus of sales efforts shifts to the customer’s journey, and the goal is positive customer experiences that can lead to purchases, revenue follows. When revenue is the main focus, the customer seems to disappear along with potential sales.

The customer journey at its core is about people learning about products, finding out how to buy, deciding if they want to buy, then buying or not. The right content plays a key role for many steps in the journey. The customer journey can also include: coming back multiple times, getting post-sales support, recommending products to friends and colleagues, “keeping in touch,” and growing a relationship. So sales must be very much a part of all of this, especially in a world where many buyers may be halfway through (or more) their buying journeys before considering talking to sales.

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Source: Forrester Research

Content Approaches that Serve Customers, Marketing and Sales

First and foremost content marketing must provide high quality content that potential customers want and need at different points of the customer journey. And that same content can align well with the needs of sales teams. But this will happen only if key elements of sales processes are mapped appropriately to the customer journey. The continuous exploration of customers and what they value throughout the customer journey points the way to the content that will deliver authentic value to customers and help to build trust in the vendor organization, particularly sales.

Sales teams want to take advantage of the same customer intelligence that greatly improves content, especially for targeted, highly personalized messages and information sharing. Intelligence delivered by behavioral analytics, marketing automation, and other customer-focused processes have parallel purposes to help both marketing and sales better engage and serve customers. And for content marketing to deliver timely and relevant information from the customer perspective, continuously updated customer intelligence is critical.

Content that answers customer questions about the business problems they face, or addresses their interests in certain types of products and services, is not only the right content for effective content marketing but also the right content for sales teams. Both sales and marketing will better engage customers with content that demonstrates a deep understanding of the customer’s business, particularly when that content explores how to solve problems, improve operations or expand business reach. Content that pushes the current customer mindset while teaching new ideas for the business is highly effective.

Many customer journeys begin well in advance of an active search for solutions. Potential customers are often more receptive to exploring new thinking long before they have defined a problem or need. Content marketing opens the door to planting ideas in the back of customer minds, regarding potential business issues and opportunities, and new ways to handle them. Content that addresses topics of interest to specific customer segments has the strong potential to deliver unique value and increase meaningful engagement.

In many companies, sales teams don’t put much time into current customers – until they want to sell them something new. Content marketing is a means to keep sales teams in touch with customers continuously after the sale, without having an overt ax to grind. Sales teams can make use of quality content to interact with customers and find out real information about their ever-changing needs and desires. The right content can be a great conversation starter – as long as sales teams sit back and listen to what customers have to say.

The Engaged Customer is the Glue of Marketing and Sales Success

It could be said that everyone in a company is in sales and marketing. But the better notion is that everyone is in the business of improving customer experiences to make it easier for customers to purchase and make use of products and services. Personalizing the journey before, during and after the sale needs the involvement of all levels of the organization, driven by a hierarchy of customer-focused strategies.

As with responsive marketing approaches, sales teams must abandon one-size-fits-all “sales cycles” and personalize interactions with prospects using continuously updated customer insight and sophisticated content marketing approaches. By truly interacting with customers throughout the customer lifecycle, sales teams should have a better understanding of when a customer is ready to purchase and what it will take to help them make the buying decision.

Title image by Exploratorium (Flickr) via a CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 license