What is a Customer Pathway and Why Does Every Business Need To Get Strategic With Theirs?

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In your travels as a business owner, you may have heard the terms:

Sales funnel… marketing funnel… customer journey… customer pathway

These terms are often used interchangeably with each other even though they are not necessarily all the same thing. 

This causes confusion between marketers and small businesses alike about:
  • what these terms all mean
  • which one(s) are most important, and
  • if all businesses should indeed have them.

It's a shame there is so much confusion created, because your Customer Pathway is one of the most important functions in your business.

Your Customer Pathway is actually the very foundation that your business is built on, and creating a profitable one is vital to your long-haul success.

So hopefully I can help clear up any confusion today so that I can help you better optimise yours!

Let's start with...

What is a Customer Pathway?

What is a customer pathway_

Your Customer Pathway describes the journey a customer makes from the first time they become aware of your business right through until they are no longer a customer.

Your Customer Pathway is also sometimes referred to as your Customer Journey. It's ok if these terms are used interchangeably, because in this case, they are the exact same thing. 

What people don't necessarily realise, is that every business has a Customer Pathway by default.

That means, that if you have ever sold anything, you already have a Customer Pathway.

Think about what happens when someone buys from you...

  • First they might see you on social media, watch you for a while and get to know you. 
  • Then you might share something that entices them to click through to your website.
  • If they like what they see, they might go through and complete the cart.
  • They most likely get some kind of order confirmation.
  • Their order gets sent.

From there, a lot of different things could potentially happen on their journey...

  • maybe you have planned what nurturing them as a customer looks like, or maybe you haven't. 
  • maybe they buy from you again, or maybe they don't.

What happens in those steps dictates the length of their journey with you as a customer and how many times they return as a customer.

This example illustrates some of the main steps in an online product business's Customer Pathway. But if you're a service business, hopefully you can substitute to imagine how that pathway could look for you too.

Regardless of whether you have planned these specific experiences, they happen by default for all customers. But, if we stop and consider this pathway our customers take, there is so much potential for magic (and potential for more profit!)...

When a business is first established, it's normal for the steps in this pathway to be created in pieces, at different times, as they are needed.

For this reason, it's very rare for small business owners to consider the big picture in how all these different steps in their customer's journey function as a whole. And that is why the potential of their Customer Pathway often lies unfulfilled.

What are the benefits in planning out the steps of your Customer Pathway, if you already have one by default?

Consider for a moment that you want to go on a journey in your car, but you've never been to the place you need to get to before... If you don't have the luxury of a navigator, you usually have two choices:

  • You can use a GPS to navigate for you
  • Or you can "wing it"

Whether you use GPS to reach your destination or "wing it", you often still make it to your desired destination.

But, by using GPS, you will usually arrive at your destination more quickly, avoid roadblocks and traffic jams, and generally have a more pleasant trip.

The same goes for your customers... 

When using your business for the first time, they are about to embark on a journey to a destination they've never been to before. The destination is clear - they're now going to become a customer. But, the route they take is up for discussion.

If the journey isn't well sign-posted, or made easy for them, it might cause them anxiety, frustration, and even in the worst case - to abort their mission, turn around and go home.

If, however, they have a smooth, consistent, pleasant experience with your business, and it all felt easy, they are much more likely to become repeat customers and recommend you to their friends.

Here are 3 more benefits to planning your Customer Pathway:

  1. When we are strategic, our customers are ensured of a consistent experience and we are able to deliver the same service, in the same way, every time. 
  2. Having a plan reduces our stress and uncertainty, because we know precisely what we need to do next, when, and how to do it. As a result, our workload is reduced, because we can automate or outsource as many parts of the process as possible.
  3. Because we have created a measurable, repeatable system, we can scale our business using paid advertising and by growing a team to support the journey. When systems are already in place, it makes it easier to train and communicate expectations with our team, to produce consistent results.
That is why there's so much benefit in creating a strategic Customer Pathway, and how doing so can help your business improve it's profitability more effortlessly...

How Is A Customer Pathway Different From A Marketing Funnel Or A Sales Funnel?

A funnel is only the first part of a customer’s journey.

It’s designed to strategically move people from being aware of your business, to being familiar, to considering purchasing from you, to making that elusive purchase. 

That stage of the customer journey  is shaped like a funnel, and includes three core elements:

  • Familiarity - when a potential customer becomes familiar with who you are, what you do and how you can help them.
  • Desire - a potential customer or client loves the sound of what you offer and know that they need it in their lives!
  • Action - when a potential customer finally takes an action to transform from a ‘potential’ to a ‘paying’ customer.
What is a marketing funnel

When correctly set-up, a funnel performs exceptionally well at attracting and converting new customers. 

But, if you only plan for the journey to end there, there ends up being so much lost potential!

We all know that it's easier to resell to an existing customer than it is to find another one. 

So, how can we create remarkable experiences for our customers?

The Customer Pathway addresses that missing piece of the puzzle.

In contrast to the funnel, a Customer Pathway looks more like an hourglass and comprises five different elements.

What does a customer pathway look like?

What are the different stages of a Customer Pathway?

A customer's journey through our business is never a straight line. There might be different sub paths that they can take along the way, depending on the goal they want to achieve, and how many options we have for them to take.

But, when planning ours as a big picture, it can help us to think about it in stages.

There are 5 different stages of a Customer Pathway:

The Entry Point

This is the point where people first find out about your business and enter your carefully constructed Customer Pathway.

Usually people enter your business from finding out about your business via social media, a search engine like Google, or another person. It doesn't matter how they become aware of your business, this is the start of their journey with you.

Building a website and creating social media profiles are essential in creating your traffic and getting noticed, but are not sufficient on their own. It takes consistent, directed marketing action to build awareness and engagement around your brand. 

Because your marketing efforts are such a vital part of your Pathway, you should always have a marketing plan in place.

Your Trust Bridge

The goal of our marketing efforts is to go from another “face in the crowd” to being a recognised, trusted brand. A trust bridge can help you achieve that.

A trust bridge is educational content that inspires, attracts, and educates our dream customers, so they build familiarity and trust with our business. 

Statistics show that very few people will purchase from you the first moment they hear about your business. In fact, only 6% of people will buy the first time they hear about your business.

Usually, 80% of your transactions will occur after 7-12 touch points. That is because those touch points help our customers build familiarity and trust with our brand.

So, for this stage in our Customer Pathway, we must get strategic about releasing content designed to build trust.

Consider why your customer should and would put trust in your purchase over your competitors:
  • What problems can you solve for them, and how? 
  • What makes your company better or different to your competitors?
  • How can you communicate this effectively to your prospects?

Once you've answered those questions, you can consider what content will be helpful to create, to form your trust bridge.

Lead Magnet is a well-known way of building a trust bridge, and there are lots of different types of Lead Magnets you can use in your business.

I recommend all businesses should create a Lead Magnet to help increase the likelihood that their customers will move onto the next stage in their Customer Pathway.

The Conversion Method

Your conversion method is your chosen method of taking someone from an admirer to a customer.
The main goal of the conversion stage is to remove any objections or concerns your customer might have about buying, and make the process super easy for them to take action.

A conversion method can take many different forms, depending on what is most appropriate for your business. 

Here are a few different types:
  • A free chat (online or in person)
  • Another type of conversation, like via email or DM
  • A webinar, event, or in person store 
  • Automated email marketing
  • A sales page
  • A proposal

As you can see, there are lots of different ways to encourage a sale. But, they all have something in common - they're designed to provide your offer, overcome any objections the customer might have to working with you, and provide an easy way for them to take that action.

Here are 8 pieces of information that your conversion method can provide, to help the purchase go ahead:
  1.  An introduction to the offer - what are you offering?
  2. The benefits and features of the product / service / offer
  3. Who it's designed for
  4. The cost
  5. What that cost includes / doesn't include
  6. A simple way for them to take action
  7. Social proof or reviews, to improve their trust in your business
  8. Answers to frequently asked questions

Obviously, if you're having a sales conversation with someone, you don't have to go down this list in order, including all of the aspects. That would be a little unnatural. 

But, whenever you're designing things like emails, sales pages, and proposals, these are the sections you want to consider including, because this is typically the information people want to know.

And if a customer has any questions or concerns, they often won't reach out. Instead they'll often head to a competitor who does take the time to provide this information to them.

The First Transaction

The first transaction is a pretty big deal! It's when all the hard work you did on your marketing and trust building starts to pay off for the first time, and you now have a new customer.

A customer's first transaction can take place in a variety of ways, depending on your business, such as:

  • An online shopping cart
  • And invoice
  • An over-the-counter sale at a market or in your shop

Whichever system you use, it's important to make this process as easy as possible for your customers. Because their experience making their first transaction, really leaves an impression, and it strongly influences their likelihood of returning as a customer.

Once you've considered your sales systems and processes to create a streamlined customer experience though, there is some opportunity to maximise its potential.

"Maximising its potential" doesn't have to just be about your business and maximising your profits (although that's definitely a great benefit to you!) It can also be helpful to your customers too, if you consider them in these strategies, and how you can make their life easier.

Here are 4 ways you can maximise the potential of your first transaction:

What is an order bump_ (1)
With an order bump:

An order bump happens at the time of the first transaction, but before a customer pays for their item.

Consider the candy isle at a supermarket or petrol station. This is a classic in-person order bump situation. But they can happen in online purchases too, during the checkout process.

During the checkout sequence, there may be a pop up offering similar or complementary products to those in their virtual basket. Or, a check box with a one-time offer to tick/untick.

From a business perspective, order bumps can improve your average transaction value, and therefore increase your profits. So they are very useful to consider for your business.

The main thing to think about when considering whether an order bump is appropriate for your business, is the relevance and value of an order bump to your customers...

We don't just want to offer something for the sake of offering something. (This is where my candy isle example is a misleading example, but see my article on marketing with integrity here).

Instead, how can we add more value to our customers, and improve their experience through the process of it?

For example you can add value by offering a related item, or something else you have to solve their problem more easily, that they may not have seen you have.

Order bumps have both the potential to help you increase your profits AND your customer service. So they can be a win-win.

Definition of an upsell
With an upsell

When you offer customers to purchase an upgrade or a more premium version of your product, it is called upselling. This strategy allows us to sell a more high-end or value-added version of a product that the customer is already planning to buy.

For example, at checkout you might show them a bigger size of the moisturiser they're about to buy.

Many small business owners are scared to use upsells, in case they look sleazy. This is because, like all marketing functions, not all businesses have always used them with integrity. But that shouldn't mean you can't.

An upsell can simply be about communication. Often customers might not realise you have a bigger version of something available, and are grateful when you show them.

So I recommend thinking about which of your products and/or services it might be relevant to offer an upsell.

What is a cross sell_

With a Cross Sell

Cross selling involves promoting an additional related product or service to the initial purchase. Using a cross sell is another great way to boost your average transaction value.

Again, small business owners can be shy of using these. But, just like my example above - it's just about communicating with your customers about other products they might also find helpful.

Very few people get angry, or turned off, if you communicate to provide great customer service. In fact, most customers are grateful if you are being thoughtful about their other needs.

A great place to implement cross selling is on the product page. You have to be a bit careful, because you don't want to overwhelm your customers (an overwhelmed customer doesn't buy).

But, if you are a product based business, cross selling can as simple as putting "other products you might like" or "other items commonly purchased with this" at the bottom of the product description. Or, if you're selling in person, displaying products commonly bought together, as part of the same display.

What is a down sell_

With a down sell

A down sell is the reverse of an upsell. This is an effective strategy to use when a customer has declined a product or service (maybe they have clicked the close button on a web page, for example), to offer them an alternative version.

Customers choose not to buy for a lot of different reasons, but a common reason is because their budget doesn't match the cost of the item they are looking to buy.

In this case, communicating that you have an alternative option for them, either a lower priced item, or by offering them a payment plan, can be an effective way to retain the customer and allow the first transaction to go ahead. Rather than to lose the sale.

Like all the others, it's important to consider how you provide this communication, so that you do it with integrity and keep the customer at the front of mind.

But, don't let any fear of doing it wrong put you off! Because I'll say it again just for emphasis - it's all about communication and customer service.

The Nurture Phase

The nurture phase can be as short, or long, as you want it to be. But, if done well, it can be the most impactful stage of them all. 

If we remember back to my picture of a Customer Pathway:

What does a customer pathway look like?

The customer nurture phase is bottom of the hourglass in my picture, and the most obvious thing that sets a sales funnel and Customer Pathway apart.

In my experience, the nurture phase provides one of the biggest opportunities to improve your business's profits...

This is why I never teach sales funnels, and instead work with all my clients to help them create a profitable Customer Pathway!

The reason that the customer nurture phase holds the key to unlocking more profit, is that it's takes much less energy and resources to sell again to an existing customer, than it does to go out and find new customers.

It usually costs money to find new customers. Either in the cost of our time (in creating trust bridges and other marketing content), or in money (such as in advertising cost, or affiliate commission). This is called your customer acquisition cost.

But, once we already have a customer, it costs us very little to nurture them, and to make them future offers. It costs much less because we can usually we can automate most of this process using systems, such as automated email marketing.

Because our customers already have trust in our business, encouraging future transactions also usually takes a lot less time and effort.

There are two main goals of the customer nurture stage:
  1. To provide an exceptional experience to our customers, so that they form a wonderful impression of our business. This means they're much more likely to return again, and to refer their friends and family.
  2. To solve their same problem again, or consider other problems we can help them solve, so that they become a repeat customer.
What does a customer nurture phase look like?

With all the other stages of a Customer Pathway, there are usually core elements that all businesses require. But, the customer nurture phase is the part of a customer pathway that will look the most different for every business.

There are some core elements you should include - like how can you give your customers an incredible experience immediately after their first transaction. But after that, it can be as long or short as you like, and you can really let your creativity go to town.

A big part of the success of your customer nurture pathway is down to timing

Timing of your communications is crucial. So, when planning yours, I encourage you to think about when the most appropriate time to provide each piece of information is.

For example, if you have a consumable product, how long does that usually last? A good time to send a follow up offer for that customer, could be a few weeks before their product would typically run out.

In summary

A customer pathway is something that all businesses have by default. But, it's easy to build a customer pathway in pieces over time, and end up overcomplicating it for our customers or ourselves. 

It's also common for new businesses to provide inconsistent pathways, which can be more work for the business owner, and provide inconsistent experiences for our customers.

When we consider our Customer Pathway as a whole system, we can optimise it to be simple and effective for our customers, increasing our conversion and customer satisfaction rates.

Most important for us as a business, a well designed Customer Pathway leads to greater repeat customers, referrals, and improved profits.

There are a lot of moving parts to your customer pathway and it can quickly become overwhelming figuring out where to begin.

It's often best to work with an expert, to help you optimise yours for best results. At The Helpful Academy, we specialise in helping businesses improve their pathways, so that they can improve their business profits...

We have a variety of different ways we can help, at a variety of price points, including courses, templates, group coaching and one-to-one support.

Book a free chat, and I can guide you in the best option for your business.

About the author:

Kat Soper is the Founder and Head Trainer of The Helpful Academy Online Business School.

Kat is passionate about helping start-ups and small businesses succeed and achieve their business goals so that they can achieve the lifestyle they desire (and deserve).

If you’d like individualised help with growing your business, check out our services.


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