15. Customer Journey > Product Funnel 🧭
Funnels are "icky." Here's why and how to use customer journeys to solve for the same business needs.
Hi friends 👋
I’ve been reading a lot about storytelling and brand building recently (which inspired today’s post). I’m currently midway through a biography of Walt Disney and enjoying Obsessed about brand specifically.
If you have any favorite resources on crafting a brand narrative (books, frameworks, examples, etc), please send them my way!
Until next week,
Thanks for being a part of this newsletter. Each week, I share ideas, frameworks, and links centered around improving the customer experience based on my time at Automattic, Zapier, and currently, Ness.
Say hi at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d appreciate the note!
Customer Journeys Meet Traditional Business Funnels
The best part about working in customer-facing roles is the stories. A few that are top of mind:
The Detroit-based small business owner that relaunched their business online and doubled their revenue using WordPress.
The woman that created an anonymous resource for other women to share stories about depression. (The testimonials were powerful to say the least.)
The startup founder that used Zapier to power his entire sales cycle - the whole thing - and generate over six figures of business.
All of these stories were bouncing around in my head as I read about non-coercive marketing. Here’s a brief overview pulled from the article:
Non-coercive marketing places full authority and trust in people. It creates the conditions under which they can make empowered decisions for themselves, and do so in their own time. It doesn't seek to persuade, manipulate, or pester people into a decision that's already been made for them…[Non-coercive marketing recognizes that] it will always be an individual journey.
That last piece - an individual journey - really resonated.
Working in the queue, I was hearing powerful first-hand accounts of how our products were driving real value for customers. And while there were undoubtedly similarities across customers, each was also unique. They had their own feelings, doubts, goals, and needs.
On the other side of the spectrum, I’m currently spending a lot of time thinking about funnels and journeys at Ness. Drilling down on the AARRR metrics - acquisition, activation, retention, revenue, and referral. Fundamentally, we’re in business. And businesses need to move all of those metrics to survive.
This feels like a healthy tension. How do we focus on building relationships, not just improving metrics, when the fundamental success of the business is based on the latter?
Traditional Funnel Meets Non-Coercive Marketing
Let’s look at a typical funnel and see how we can bring the principles of non-coercive marketing to the forefront. Highlighting those Pirate Metrics I mentioned above.
Through the lens of non-coercive marketing, four aspects are pushed to the forefront:
There’s only one clear path. Everyone goes from top down, in order.
Each step leads directly to the other with little room for improv.
Each step is business/product-driven (not customer-driven).
The whole thing feels transactional. (“Go this way. Move through this step. Good. Now refer your friends to me.”)
The problem with funnels…It puts every customer in the same sort of buckets. It assumes that all customers and all products are the same. It puts businesses, or they, I should say, puts businesses at the center of the business versus putting customers at the center...Also, it just kind of feels gross for people, this idea of pushing people through a funnel. And the vast, vast majority of these models don't take post-acquisition, retention, expansion, all of that into account. So yeah, in a nutshell, funnels are bad.
Enter the Customer Journey Map
So, the obvious question - if I care about all of those metrics, how can I plan for them while still allowing for the individual? We shift our perspective! Instead of building from a product lens, we build from a customer point of view.
This is the central idea behind customer journey mapping and why it’s such a helpful practice.
Compared to our traditional funnel, the journey map:
winds and curves, recognizing that each customer will take a slightly different path within your product.
is entirely customer-focused, drilling down specifically on their emotions, needs, problems, and outcomes.
builds a relationship with a foundation of trust and depth, the exact opposite of a transactional experience.
This last piece is so critical. Great brands prioritize long-term relationships over short-term transactions. Pulling a quote from Obsessed:
Throughout the customer journey, standout brands balance newness and surprise with a feeling of deep, intimate connection. It never seems like they’re trying to sell you something, or convince you of something; instead, it feels that you’re in a relationship based on a shared set of values.
Great, How Do I Build One?
Each team might take a slightly different approach to building a journey map. Here’s a high-level overview of what I think works. Again, the general goal is to base your thinking around the problem you’re solving for the customer, not the features you’re building in your product.
Step 1: Map our first persona
Identify the problem you’re trying to solve (aka the Job to Be Done). Then, go out and talk to 20 customers that you believe fit your ideal demographic. Focus on their problem, not your solution. Learn about the words they use and challenges they face. The goal is to find a Venn diagram of similarities across this group.
Step 2: Build the first journey
We build our first high-level journey focused around the persona we build in Step 1. Some key aspects to consider:
What are the key moments in the journey? (Usually when they discover your product, try it out for the first time, magic moments, moments of stickiness, etc).
What’s their emotional state at each moment? How are we building with that in mind?
You’ll notice these key moments look a lot like our funnel above except each step is reframed from our customer’s point of view - Activation = Magic Moment.
Step 3: Ship and measure
We get our product in front of live customers and see what happens. We track all kinds of metrics to see what’s working.
Step 4: Refine our persona and iterate
Now, we go back and talk to our best customers. The ones that are using our product the most or have the most “stickiness.” What makes them unique? How are they experiencing our product? How do they describe their Job to Be Done?
Using that information, we then go back and iterate on our customer journey specifically drilling down on these best customers. Mirror back the language they use to describe their problem. Focus on specifically what works for this target audience. Super-serve this demographic.
Step 5: Ship again
Now, we’re in a cycle of refining → shipping → refining…
The key point is that the cycle is entirely based around the customer. We ship something customer-focused, measure, learn more about our best customers, iterate, and ship again. Our metrics are all based around key moments of value for customers. The work we’re doing (aka projects) are based around those metrics.
Over to You
I’m doing a lot of thinking around this area right now. If you have favorite tools, resources, or processes for building customer journeys, I’d love to see them!
I have a lot of notes from Tom Blomfield’s post about Monzo growth. Specifically this idea:
We really cared about making it a delightful experience.
I came across ChartMogul’s extensive list of SaaS-focused cheat sheets - think in-depth refreshers on calculating churn, LTV, cohort analysis, etc. Definitely bookmarked for the future!
On the topic of metrics, I’ve been enjoying CJ Gustafson’s Substack - Mostly Metrics. For example, his latest around renewal rate vs. retention had some great pointers and reminders.