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The Business Bridge: Supporting the Customer Journey

The last several posts have been on the Customer Journey, which is about how the customer sees and interacts with your business on their way from total stranger to loyal customer who tells all their friends about you. Each post had several ways to help move the customer along to the next stage.

The reason I talked SO much about the customer perspective is that it’s something many business owners ignore. They focus too much on what they want to sell and how they want to sell it, and they forget that it’s what the customer wants that matters.

Now it’s time to dig into the strategies and tactics that let you keep new customers coming in and delighting them with your products and service as they move along their journey.

I call the structure the “business bridge.”

Think of the customer journey as the road surface of a bridge, like the asphalt that cars actually drive on. There are huge piers that hold up the bridge. The larger and more robust those piers are, the more traffic that can drive over the bridge. There are three “piers” that businesses build to help customers in their journey.

  1. Product to Market Fit
  2. Market Communications
  3. Business Operations

Long-time readers have seen me mention these before, but not in relation to the customer journey. I’ll be describing each of the “piers” and how they fit into each stage of the customer journey.

Product-to-Market Fit

It all starts here.

I write those words every time I talk about Product-to-Market fit (you’ll see me abbreviate it PMF sometimes). No matter what you sell, clothing, soap, signs, plumbing services… it all starts with how well your offering fits with the market and its needs.

It sounds so simple, but it’s really hard to achieve.

You need to consider all the things the customers in the market want, what things they want and cannot find, what factors they consider when buying, how much they will pay, what things will turn them away from a company or product, what other competitors are already offering, how the customers’ tastes are changing over time, what experiences they’ve had with businesses before…. and the list just goes on and on.

It’s why successful businesses must understand their customers and what’s going on in their lives, becoming an expert in a market. There’s an incredible amount of information to consider before deciding how to make your business stand out to that market.

Just to throw a wrench into everything, you’ll find that customers have both stated and unstated needs. Stated needs are everywhere… people write reviews on them and tell their friends about them and will tell you about them in a customer interview. Unstated needs are tougher. Like the thing your spouse wants but never tells you about until the middle of a fight, you sometimes need to be highly empathetic to find them or wait until it goes wrong and then try to recover. Only the business owners with the best understanding of a market uncover those needs and build products based on them.

Taking a look at how Product-to-market fit relates to each of the customer journey stages:

  • Awareness – determines who you are trying to make aware of your business; also affects what is most likely to catch their attention
  • Consideration – which attributes of your product/service will make the customer choose yours over other options.
  • Conversion – PMF usually relies on high level results in Consideration to get the sale.
  • Loyalty – Products that are designed for people to buy on a regular basis or products that have accessories can bring back repeat customers.
  • Advocacy – Just like with loyalty, the more the customer loves the product and service after they get it (as a result of it fitting their needs), the more likely they are to tell others about your business.

Market Communications

This area includes every word or link you send to customers. It includes the name of your business, your logo, your packaging, your product instructions, the product descriptions on your website, the “about us” section, the text in your ads, the images in your ads, the product photos you use in your catalog, the content in your email newsletter, your social media posts, the automated email that customers receive when they make a purchase, what you say to customers in your store or at a show, what you say to other professionals and business owners you meet… literally everything you say or show about your business. Even the design of your website is part of your marketing communications.

It’s important to note that Market Communications come AFTER Product-to-Market fit. If you don’t know who you’re talking to, what they want/need, and how your products/services will fit that need, then it’s too soon to worry about what you will say. The things you say will be too generic to appeal to the customers you are trying to get or, even worse, chase them away.

Market communications fits into every aspect of the Customer Journey:

  • Awareness – Your introductions, such as your elevator pitch and tagline, help a customer immediately know who you are and what you do when they discover you.
  • Consideration – Your product descriptions, social media content, email newsletters, and product photos all help convince someone that your product is the best fit for them.
  • Conversion – a strong call to action and a well-designed checkout page help turn people who like your product into people who buy your product. Also, what you say when you respond to customer questions can have a big effect.
  • Loyalty – Just like consideration, a strong email and social media campaign can help keep customers coming back.
  • Advocacy – As usual, the more you excel in the previous four stages, the more likely customers are to refer you. If every word and image you post resonates with your target customer, they won’t be able to sleep without telling others about your business because of how well you “get them.”

Business Operations

Operations is the part of business that owners most often neglect until it’s too late. It’s not exciting or sexy and is almost a list of things that tend to be put off until later. It includes accounting, finance, production, quality control, inventory tracking, shipping, and all the other “behind the scenes” aspects of your business.

  • Awareness – Operations has an indirect effect on awareness. If you’re not disciplined about focusing on product-to-market fit, creating/posting content, going to events, posting ads, and so on, you won’t do well with awareness because you never did the work required to get found.
  • Consideration – Reviews are the most obvious result of good operations. Customers will comment on the speed of delivery, inaccuracies in descriptions, quality of the product, and customer service. Future potential customers see these reviews and base decisions on them. Poor reviews are usually a sign of poor operations.
  • Conversion – You choice of payment processors and the reliability of the software can break a sale at the last second. Nothing is more frustrating than trying to make a purchase when the website won’t complete the transaction.
  • Loyalty – Following up on customer service issues quickly, resolving them in favor of the customer, and learning from the issue can make or break your company. A positive customer result could mean a repeat or even advocating customer. A negative customer result  could mean one star reviews on every channel they can find.
  • Advocacy – at the risk of repeating myself, similar to what I said about Consideration and Loyalty, when everything flows smoothly, customers are more likely to refer you to others.

There’s an additional aspect of operations that isn’t part of the customer journey: profit. If you’re not able to make a profit in your business, it is often an operations issue.

Closing

This is just an introduction to the three supporting piers. I’ll be digging into them in more detail in the next several posts.

If you want to keep the discussion going and get several tips on running your business every week, join my Facebook Group! (and be sure to answer the questions… I only accept new members who answer them)

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