How to Master All 5 Stages of the Customer Journey

Premium brands know it's what happens before the sale that makes the sale. In this article, you'll discover a 5-step framework that will transform the way you communicate with your target audience.

The Customer Journey

I just wasn’t sure which one to buy. Both seemed to be exactly what I wanted and for the same price. A friend recommended one brand, but I came across a competitor worth considering.

One night, I jumped on my laptop to read reviews and found that users gave both brands four and a half stars out of five. I wanted to do more research, but I had an appointment with the doctor the next day and had to get some sleep. I’d continue my investigation later.

The next morning, I was sitting in the waiting room at the doctor’s office. Knowing I had at least an hour’s wait ahead of me, I got on my smartphone to look at each brand’s website. I scrolled through them, reading a blog post on one and watching a video on the other.

At this point, I felt I couldn’t go wrong either way. Now, it would come down to one other important consideration—the warranty.

Both brands appeared to offer the same guarantee and terms. But it just so happened that one company provided much more detail on their warranty. It was here that I noticed a significant difference between the two.

One warranty was general in nature, the other was much more explicit. It laid out exactly what conditions would constitute a refund and what wouldn’t. It made sense that similar terms might apply to the other brand’s warranty, they just hadn’t disclosed it.

But I couldn’t take any chances. I had to go with the one that had been clearer about their terms.

Finally, I had reached a decision. It took a little more than a week, but I was ready to buy. I felt confident in my choice given the amount of time and effort I put into making it.

This story of how I made my decision to buy illustrates the stages of the customer journey in action.

What Is the Customer Journey?

The customer journey is the decision-making process someone goes through to buy something. The starting point for this process is unique to each consumer. But the destination is the same—a purchase.

As you read my story above, you could see how my decision to buy evolved. I did my research when time allowed and used several resources to do it. I compared features and even discussed it with a friend.

I’m sure you’ve had a similar experience when shopping for a product or service. And your customers are using this same process to determine whether they should buy from you.

In this article, you’ll discover how the customer journey works and how to leverage it to make more sales.

How Buyers Progress Through the Customer Journey

The customer journey may take place over the course of a few minutes or many years. The timeframe is usually much longer for higher-priced or complex products and services.

Each buyer enters the journey at a specific point based on many unique factors.

As one example, some consumers may know a lot about your product or service. But people who don’t will have to spend some time learning about it. This factor alone changes the customer journey dynamic.

It’s impossible to think of every potential scenario like this.

The customer journey makes it easier to communicate with different buyer types. It enables you to provide each prospect with exactly what they need to make a decision. This strategy also positions you as the customer’s guide throughout the process.

Stages of the Customer Journey

The customer journey can be broken down into stages. Each stage represents where someone is in the decision-making process. I’ll go into more detail about each stage in the sections that follow.

How many stages of the customer journey there are varies with the source of reference. I have broken the process down into five stages, as shown in the image below.

Stages of the Customer Journey

We need a plan for each stage of the customer journey. This helps us meet prospects where they are in the buying decision. This plan will also help you capitalize on every opportunity to get customers.

I’ll give you an example. If you create an ad to sell a $500 product, you’ll attract prospects in the Consideration stage. These people are currently looking for the right solution to their problem.

But not everyone who sees the ad will be in the Consideration stage. Those who have never heard of you are not likely to buy your product the first time they see one of your ads. In this instance, the ad simply introduces them to your brand.

Instead, these non-buyers are in the Connection phase. After all, they just “met” you through your ad. They may have an interest in your offer later, after they get to know you better.

But what do you with these folks in the meantime?

If you have a plan for people in the Connection stage, you can continue to engage with them. If there isn’t one, each of these potential buyers becomes a missed opportunity.

Planning for every stage of the customer journey helps you send the right message to the right people at the right time.

Now, let’s explore each stage of the customer journey in-depth.

READ MORE: Want to know more about creating a brand message? Read this article.

Customer Journey Stage 1: Connection

This is the first stage of the customer journey, also known as the “awareness” stage. Prospects in this group find your business through a variety of sources. Social media, ads, or word-of-mouth are a few examples.

These prospective buyers don’t know anything about you. It’s your responsibility to educate them on what you do and how you do it. The goal is to build more interest in your brand and show prospects how you can help them.

When deciding which audiences to target, look for people who are the best fit for your product or service. This will help you focus only on those who have a higher degree of buyer intent.

What Is Buyer Intent?

Buyer intent gauges how serious someone is about purchasing your product or service. The more interested they are the better, but not everyone who shows interest will buy. That’s why it’s best to qualify prospects during this first stage.

Some people may be interested enough in what you do to “check it out”. But that doesn’t mean they’re a true potential customer.

To qualify your audience, separate them by degrees of intent—low, moderate, and high. Start with the highest and figure out what you could do that might entice them to buy. Some things these people may want to know are:

  • Is a free trial available?
  • What versions are available and what sets them apart?
  • Where are reviews?

People with moderate interest need more evidence to confirm their decision to buy. Examples of questions they have are:

  • How are you unique?
  • Do you have case studies, white papers, and testimonials?
  • Does the value of features and benefits outweigh the price?

People with low buyer intent may not be a good fit at all. But there’s also a chance they might be a customer once they understand how you can help them. Creating a link between their problem and your solution will help you overcome this barrier.

To learn more about how to gauge buyer intent, click here and read this article.

Here’s How to Be Successful in the Connection Stage

Of all five stages, the connection stage is the most critical. Why? Because it’s here that you make your first impression.

What do you want people to think of you? How do you want them to see your business? Do you want them to stay engaged with you?

If you said yes to any of these, then you need to focus on building a strong brand.

You’ve got to make your best first impression right away or you won’t get another chance. A strong brand makes your business look more professional. It also increases the perceived value of your products and services.

READ MORE: To learn more about building a small business brand, click here.

Customer Journey Stage 2: Cultivation

So, what happens when you connect with a prospect but they aren’t ready to buy?

Move on to the Cultivation stage.

Cultivation is exactly that. From the moment you connect with a prospect until the day they buy (or decide they never will), you’ll keep in touch.

For that to happen, you need an experience that keeps them engaged. This may be the most challenging stage of the customer journey. Keeping people interested—especially in an era of two-second attention spans—is far from easy.

Many businesses struggle with Cultivation because they go about it the wrong way.

Too many of them are using tactics that don’t align with their strengths. As a result, they end up spending a lot of time and money on marketing tactics that don’t work.

So, what’s the solution?

To find out, answer these questions:

  • What type of business promotion do you enjoy most?
  • What are you good at doing that you can leverage to promote your business?
  • How often are you willing to do it? Daily? Once a week?

Be honest as you answer these.

Rather than force yourself to do things you don’t like or aren’t good at doing, find what works for you. Then, stay with it. Consistency is key.

Customer Journey Stage 3: Consideration

People who are evaluating their options are in the Consideration stage.

The importance of this stage is often understated. Prospects in this phase are serious about buying your product or service.

But they’re just as likely to get it from a competitor or not buy it at all.

Why?

Because they aren’t sure if your product or service is the solution they’re looking for. That’s why you must provide proof beyond a reasonable doubt that what you offer is exactly what they need. You must show them that it’s better than the alternatives.

People in this stage of the customer journey are looking for the right brand signals. These signals tell them which business is most qualified to give them what they want.

If people want to buy but don’t, it’s probably because you aren’t sending the right brand signals. The company that does will get the sale.

This is where the essence of a powerful brand pays off. A brand strategy will help you learn which signals prospects are looking for and how to communicate them.

READ MORE: A Differentiation Strategy for Small Businesses That Can’t Go Wrong

Customer Journey Stage 4: Conversion

This is where the fun begins. In this stage of the customer journey, the prospect finally becomes a customer. Now, you’ve got to deliver on the promises you’ve been making in the previous stages.

What your new customers really want to know is, “Are you as good as you say you are?”

Inconsistent service and quality will destroy any credibility you’ve built in previous stages of the customer journey. To avoid making this mistake, be sure your marketing, advertising, sales, and service processes align.

Staying “on brand” in all stages of the customer journey is the key to getting five-star reviews. And many of those happy customers will become advocates for your brand by telling everyone they know about you. This is the best version of free advertising you could possibly hope for.

Customer Journey Stage 5: Continuation

In this final stage, your customers are buying from you again and again. They think you’re great and want to stay with you forever. Many of them have become brand advocates.

But delivering at a high level once isn’t difficult. Doing it consistently for a long period of time is another story.

Reselling to a current customer is easier than finding a new one. Keep in touch with your customers—without being obnoxious, of course. Be sure to stay relevant so you can continue to meet their needs.

Surveys and feedback are an invaluable resource that will help you stay current. The information you receive will help you understand how your customers’ lives are changing. It will also reveal new opportunities to solve new problems they’re having.

To learn more about creating a fantastic customer service process, read this article.

Conclusion

The customer journey helps you send the right message to the right people at the right time. A strong brand enhances your value in all stages of the customer journey.

If you have any questions or want to create a customer journey for your business, email me at chris@goldenvineyardbranding.com or go here.

Until next time,

Chris

Chris Fulmer

Director, The Golden Vineyard Branding Company
The Golden Vineyard Branding Co

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