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 will you find in this article?

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?
Conclusion

Sounds good? Let’s get started.

What Is the Customer Journey?

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.

The customer journey is generally split into three stages: awareness, consideration, and decision
The customer journey is generally split into three stages: awareness, consideration, and decision. (Source)

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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:

  • Awareness: This is when a potential customer first acts on a need. They may actively search for a solution (inbound marketing), such as by using a search engine, or passively come across an ad (outbound marketing), such as on a social media platform or via word-of-mouth. In either case, awareness signifies the first interaction a potential customer has with your brand. They may conduct initial research, like reading about options available on a comparison website, before encountering your store.
  • Consideration: At this stage, potential customers have clarified their need or problem, visited your site, and are becoming aware of the specific products that you offer. When a customer consumes content, such as on a product page, they are in the consideration phase. They may combine activity on your site with further research and comparisons on competitor sites.
  • Decision: At the decision stage, a consumer feels that they have enough of an understanding of the options available and the extent to which they can solve the need that triggered the customer journey. If they feel that your solution is preferable, they will add a product to their cart and check out.

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.

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.

What is the Buyer Lifecycle?

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.

 A typical buyer lifecycle is made up of distinct stages through which every customer will pass.
A typical buyer lifecycle is made up of distinct stages through which every customer will pass. (Source)

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Fundamentally, the buyer lifecycle comprises the ways you label customers for business purposes.

Here’s a typical, simplified version of buyer lifecycle:

  • Impressions/Reach: The earliest stage of the buyer lifecycle is defined as the first time a customer encounters your brand. It corresponds with the awareness stage of the customer journey. This stage is usually measured in terms of impressions. How many eyeballs are you getting on your ads? How many times are existing customers referring offers and promotions to their friends? What is your organic search reach? How many new users do your social media posts connect with organically?
  • Acquisition: Acquisition is the next stage of the buyer lifecycle. During this phase, potential customers have transitioned from awareness to interaction. Generally speaking, potential customers that visit your site or storefront after interacting with a brand touchpoint have entered the acquisition stage.
  • Conversion: Conversion occurs when a prospect becomes a customer. Every ecommerce store tracks its conversion rate. Improving this key metric is fundamentally about optimizing your site and improving the on-site customer journey by focusing on site design, product pages, and checkout.
  • Loyalty: In ecommerce, loyalty is usually measured by retention period, which measures the length of time a customer remains active. Average lifetime value (ALV) is an important metric that accounts for loyalty.
  • Advocacy/Evangelism: This stage coincides with “loyalty”. Existing customers that have developed a strong and vocal relationship with your brand can be described as advocates or evangelists.

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.

What Are Customer Journey Mapping and Buyer Lifecycle Mapping?

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
 Because customer journey maps need to account for a multitude of touchpoints, and many possible iterations, they can be quite complex.
Because customer journey maps need to account for a multitude of touchpoints, and many possible iterations, they can be quite complex.
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.

Stages of the buyer lifecycle correspond with different marketing and sales strategies.
Stages of the buyer lifecycle correspond with different marketing and sales strategies. (Source)
Now that you have a thorough understanding of both the customer journey and buyer lifecycle, let’s take a look at the practical aspects of managing these processes.

What Are Customer Journey Management and Buyer Lifecycle Management?

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.
In a survey conducted by Pointillist, the vast majority of respondents said that a "journey-based approach" positively affected key metrics.
In a survey conducted by Pointillist, the vast majority of respondents said that a “journey-based approach” positively affected key metrics. (Source)
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:

  • Lets you see how customers are finding your brand and determine the best ways of increasing reach.
  • Enables you to pinpoint the most pressing customer needs and desires and evaluate current touchpoints and user experiences in this context.
  • Shows your areas of weakness and gaps in the customer journey and allows you to amend it accordingly.

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.

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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.
Buyer lifecycle management is essentially about providing users with the right content at the right time.
Buyer lifecycle management is essentially about providing users with the right content at the right time.
Here’s a quick rundown of the main reasons that customer lifecycle management is important in ecommerce:

  • Enables you to turn an understanding of the needs and pain-points of your customers into actionable marketing and sales processes.
  • Enables you to tailor and target marketing content to customers.
  • Allows you to evaluate the effectiveness of your long-term marketing and business plan and highlight any areas in need of development. It may be, for example, that you are sacrificing long-term customers to acquire new ones and you need to devote more resources to retention.
  • Gives you a clear overview of where your key metrics – conversion rate, average order value, retention rate, average lifetime value, etc. – fit into the broader business picture. Most metrics are usually tied to a stage or multiple stages of the buyer lifecycle.

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.

Conclusion

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.

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