Marketing phrases get confusing pretty quickly.
It’s not just the abundance of three and four-letter acronyms – SMBs, CRO, FOMO – that muddies the waters. It’s also a large number of apparently similar terms. In common usage, these phrases and buzzwords are interchangeable. Technically, however, most of them have distinct and nuanced meanings.
And “customer journey” and “buyer lifecycle” are two prime examples.
As a retailer, you must be clear about these two concepts. A full understanding will enable you to implement effective marketing and user optimization strategies, turning more potential customers into repeat buyers and loyal advocates.
A partial or incomplete misunderstanding, on the other hand, has the potential to dramatically affect conversions at all stages of your sales funnel. And not in a good way.
In this post, we’re going to define the two terms clearly. We’ll also provide you with an overview of how to implement them in your business with the use of practical examples.
What Is the Customer Journey?
What is the Buyer Lifecycle?
What Are Customer Journey Mapping and Buyer Lifecycle Mapping?
What Are Customer Journey Management and Buyer Lifecycle Management?
Sounds good? Let’s get started.
The phrase “customer journey” is widespread and often misused. Much of the time, marketers will use it to describe any form of customer-business interaction.
But it does have a specific technical meaning that it’s crucial to understand.
In a nutshell, the customer journey is the set of experiences that a customer goes through from the moment they start interacting with your brand.
There are numerous ways of grouping and categorizing these experiences. One of the more popular frameworks outlines three general stages: awareness, consideration, decision.
Here’s a quick rundown of each:
A customer journey can’t be micromanaged. It’s impossible to control every aspect of the customer journey, and there are many differences between individual customer journeys – but you can always improve your customer journey.
Instead, retailers should seek to improve the quality and effectiveness of all of their brand’s touchpoints. The effectiveness of this optimization process can be gauged using metrics associated with the buyer lifecycle.
Which leads nicely onto the next section.
The” buyer lifecycle” or “customer lifecycle” (“lifecycle” is the key word) is a series of sequential and general categorizations that you, as a retailer, apply to your customers for marketing and sales purposes.
Your buyer lifecycle is much more akin to your sales funnel that the customer journey.
The customer journey is the sum total of all experiences a typical user has during their encounters with your brand. Conversely, the buyer lifecycle is your framework for understanding the typical progression of an existing customer.
Think of it like this. A visitor that first encounters your brand via a Google ad is in the awareness stage of the customer journey and in the acquisition stage of the buyer lifecycle. The customer journey is viewed from the perspective of the customer, while the buyer lifecycle is understood from the perspective of the retailer.
Here’s a typical, simplified version of buyer lifecycle:
It’s essential to keep in mind that the buyer life-cycle corresponds with different stages of the customer journey.
Most businesses will seek to optimize their average buyer lifecycle by improving the quality and relevancy of the customer journey.
Metrics associated with each stage of the buyer lifecycle – conversion rate, retention rate, average lifetime value, and so on – provide a way of measuring the effectiveness of customer journey optimization.
You’ve probably heard the phrases “customer journey” and “buyer lifecycle” in association with the term “mapping”.
Mapping is an essential part of ecommerce marketing and sales optimization.
So what exactly is it?
In this context, a map is a visual representation of the customer journey or buyer lifecycle. It enables you to pinpoint areas for improvement, manage existing touchpoints, and also create new stages and experiences for customers.
A customer journey map is a detailed outline of possible experiences that customers might have with your brand over the course of their lifetime. Because there can be significant variation between different customer experiences, customer journey maps include numerous touchpoints and work at both a general and specific level.
A customer journey map is a detailed outline of possible experiences that customers might have with your brand over the course of their lifetime. Click To Tweet
A buyer lifecycle map is an outline of the sequential stages that customers go through. It is comparable to a sales funnel but is usually more detailed. It will also have overlap with and reference parts of the customer journey.
The lifecycle map is general and refers to the customer’s status, whereas the customer journey map is specific and refers to the customer’s experiences.
Customer journey and lifecycle maps are active documents. They enable you to boost key metrics by developing and implementing effective marketing, sales, and retention strategies.
Customer journey and lifecycle management are the processes by which you maintain and optimize your overall customer experience.
Let’s take a look at each.
Customer journey management is about understanding your customers and providing the kinds of experiences and touchpoints that best fit their needs.
At a core level, it’s also about influencing and shaping those areas of experience that are under your remit. It’s impossible to control word-of-mouth marketing, for example. But you can create on-site experiences that cater to specific informational and emotional pain-points and desires.
Customer experience optimization should encompass all channels and touchpoints and prompt users towards an “ideal” and seamless customer journey wherever possible. For example, by leading prospects to checkout after they add an item to their cart rather than to social media pages.
Here’s a quick rundown of the main reasons that customer journey management is important in ecommerce:
So what about buyer lifecycle management?
Buyer lifecycle management is about effectively categorizing customers so that you can create content and experiences that move them through your lifecycle “funnel” with as little friction as possible.Customer Journey vs. Buyer Lifecycle: What’s the Difference? Click To Tweet
Here’s the key point: buyer lifecycle management is about moving customers through the various stages of your funnel, from acquisition to loyal evangelist. This is achieved by maximizing value, encouraging specific actions, and reducing friction.
Here’s a quick rundown of the main reasons that customer lifecycle management is important in ecommerce:
Retailers often use a suite of tools to manage and streamline the buyer lifecycle. Detailed customer profiling, personalization, retargeting (like cart abandonment emails), A/B split-testing software, and so on, are all examples of processes which maintain and optimize the buyer lifecycle.
In ecommerce, the customer journey and buyer lifecycle are two separate but overlapping concepts.
As a retailer, it’s essential to remember that they work together in conjunction.
Understanding the buyer lifecycle provides you with a high-level understanding of the status of customers and their relationship with your brand. Getting to grips with the customer journey enables you to empathize with customers’ experience of your brand, letting you step into their shoes and see the world through their eyes.
But it’s only by building a customer journey that corresponds with the stages of your buyer lifecycle that you’ll meet and exceed your business and sales goals, whether they’re measured in terms of conversion rate, average lifetime value, total sales, and so on.
Equally, a thorough understanding of the customer journey provides you with the information you need to target customers with content and experiences that will move them seamlessly from one stage of the buyer lifecycle to the next.
Do you want to improve your on-site customer experience across all your pages, from your homepage to your checkout page? We’ve put together a comprehensive and completely free ecommerce optimization checklist. Download it now for free.