Understanding customer journeys is essential for marketing and sales. Mapping the customer journey is a way of visualizing the customer experience, gaining a better understanding to see how customers make decisions, and identifying new growth opportunities.
For SaaS companies, customer journey mapping is vital for growth and to secure customers who are going to continually use your services. To successfully create a map of your customer's journey that will drive growth for your SaaS business, you need to get to know your users and understand how they move through the different awareness stages.
Getting to Really Know Your Customers
Before you can map out a customer journey, you need to get to know your users. SaaS companies can have a fairly specific group of customers or they might have a broader range of users, who choose their software for a variety of reasons.
If you don't know your customers, you won't be able to market and sell to them in a meaningful way. You will also struggle to perfect your product and service. As a SaaS company, you are combining both product and service, and you need to get both right.
Qualitative methods focus on gathering opinions and insights from both current and target customers. This is often carried out through interviews, surveys or focus groups. One way to conduct qualitative research at scale is to use an online form builder to create a form or a survey, which you might later send out to your responders.
If done right, qualitative research might disclose the most valuable and deep insights about your target customers. When talking to your users, try asking them multiple “why” questions wherever possible and appropriate. Don’t just settle for the first answer — ask them about the reasons and the real motivations behind their choices, needs, and problems.
Another important thing with qualitative research is to have a healthy balance between in-person conversations and online surveys. Whether you like it or not, all the customers aren’t created equal. Try to figure out what specific individuals might provide you with the most interesting and unique information. When gauging the potential, try looking at the retention (what customers are the most sticky), the industries and companies where people are working, their product-usage (if possible at your SaaS) and historical data (feature requests, feedback). Once you’ve found your “hero customers” — invite them for personal interview sessions. For the rest, you might send out a survey and see whether the key takeaways between the two groups are going to have similarities.
Quantitative research methods involve gathering and examining market data and trends. This can include carrying out your own research, as well as using secondary sources.
If you want to gather meaningful quantitative data from your existing customers, you’d need to have quite a substantial paid user-base. Once you’ve gotten at least a couple of thousand customers that are willing to fill out a survey — you might go ahead and send them over the questions asking for things like willingness to pay $X amount for your product, spending $X for particular software products per month etc.
But what do you do with the information that you collect about your customers? The ideal result of collecting all of this data is that you can define your buyer personas.
Buyer personas describe fictional customers based on real data about your current or target customers. They can include various information, including demographics, interests, job titles and even what type of technology your customers use. Some companies might have just one buyer persona, but most of the SaaS businesses would most definitely have at least two or three.
To create useful buyer personas, you should be sure to research your customers' pain points, as well as their goals. You need to know how your brand can help them, and start to think about how they might begin their journey with you.
Validating Your Traction Channels
When you have researched your customers and created buyer personas, your next step is to validate your traction channels. You need to know which marketing channels you should be using, and understand how your customers discover your product through those channels.
The Bullseye Framework, created by Gabriel Weinberg, offers one of the best approaches to validate what works best for your SaaS business.
The Bullseye Framework is a three-step process to find your primary traction channel. The first step is to brainstorm all the traction channels possible, to work out if and how you might find success with each one. The book defines 19 traction channels, among them:
That channel is all about building and maintaining relationships with the industry-related blogs. Blogs might work really well for both B2B and B2B businesses.
Depending on your industry, there might be different creative ways to attract attention to your business. One good brainstorming approach is to think what might be the most daring yet effective way to make a splash in the industry — and then just do that.
Search Engine Marketing
Search engine advertising is quite straightforward and widely used by small and large SaaS companies. Be careful however not to fall into the paid acquisition trap — start thinking about the organic inbound channels early on.
Social and Display Ads
The same laws apply to the display ads and advertising on social networks. Before plunging into these channels, be sure to validate if they really move the needle for your business and if you’re getting the returns on every dollar spent.
Search Engine Optimization
SEO is a massive traction channel. One thing which makes it very powerful and attractive is that with search engine optimization you might get the attention of the right audience, the people who are really interested in your product.
“Content is king” — said Bill Gates in 1996. More than 20 years later, this still holds true for many SaaS businesses. If your SaaS has a low to medium ARPU (average revenue per user), there’s a high chance that content marketing might become a powerful traction channel for your business. When looking for inspiration, check out the blogs of Hubspot, GrooveHQ or CoSchedule — which all famously use content as the core business growth lever.
Emails have been around forever, but still remain a powerful way to engage your customers or even reach the new audiences.
Brainstorming which traction channels might have the most potential for your business will help you to expand your thinking, get rid of biases, and identify opportunities you might not have considered.
The second step is to run a few quick and scrappy traction tests. That means ideating and running small marketing campaigns aimed at identifying the cost to acquire customers through each channel. For blogs for example, that would mean reaching out to fifty or a hundred blogs, and seeing if they would be willing to cover your product. For content marketing — writing up and distributing a few content pieces.
Keep in mind that some traction channels might require more time and effort to validate than others. That doesn’t mean however that you should avoid them — just be mindful to plan and prioritize the traction experiments accordingly.
One of the channels that you test will hopefully show the most promising results, which will be the channel that ends up in the bullseye of your diagram. If you find this core channel, this is what you should focus on for your SaaS business.
By going through the bullseye process you will gather even more information to eventually create valuable journey maps.
Customer Journey Mapping Exercise
Once you have gathered data about your customers, created buyer personas and validated your marketing channels, you can start to map out your customer journeys. If you combine all these insights into one coherent model, it will allow you to visualize how every individual buyer persona is discovering and purchasing your SaaS product via each traction channel.
Creating your customer journey map means creating a visual guide that will be easy to reference. You don't want to make it too complicated, as it should be simple to understand for anyone inside of your organization.
Let’s suppose that you’ve identified through the bullseye process that most of the people discover your brand via Google search, landing on the keyword-optimized blog articles. After reading a post, or several posts on your blog, the visitors usually start a free trial of your product. Most of them, however, don’t subscribe until they have talked to a dedicated account manager, who helps them to set up the system.
In your customer journey map, you might visualize this through using a table, a timeline or a flowchart. Search engine optimization in that case would be at the very beginning of your customer journey — the awareness stage. Content marketing fits into the interest stage, and sales match the Purchase stage.
But what happens after the purchase has been made? To answer that question you have to continue talking to your customers (qualitative research) and collect the quantitative data from your internal databases.
The latter might show for example that your customers are often sharing the links to their projects with friends and colleagues. If you were to build-in the viral sharing features, like a call-to-action to sign-up that would display when viewing a shared project, you might acquire thousands of new customers with no effort. And so the viral marketing would be the traction channel responsible for the advocacy stage of your customer journey.
Executing on Your Customer Journey
When your customer journey maps are finished, you can put them into action and use them to make decisions about marketing, sales, and more. Ideally, you’d have the nicely-documented maps that cover all the possible intersections of your personas and marketing channels.
However, that isn't the end of the process when you create customer journey maps. You should keep refining your model to ensure that it stays up to date. As your SaaS business grows, it's sure to change. You can't keep relying on the customer journey maps that you created when your company was smaller.
Your customers can change as well while the company is growing, and you can often discover that you have a new type of customer that didn't exist before. This customer segment could grow if you identify it and take steps to target it. Your existing customers can also change, with new expectations, demands and pain points.
Creating extensive customer journeys, based on the customer and marketing insights, can be a powerful instrument to grow your SaaS business and will surely turn out to be a worthy investment of time. It will also help to increase the customer experience across all touchpoints: from customer success to product and marketing.