Meet Charlie. She’s married, in her mid- to late-thirties, with 2.2 school-aged kids, and she’s a somewhat-frequent user of social media who’s in charge of most of her family’s shopping. She enjoys yoga, watching competitive baking shows, and taking family road trips.

Wait — how can someone have 2.2 kids?

I should probably also mention that Charlie is fictional. In fact, she’s a persona: a hypothetical representation of one of your business’ main customer demographics. You and your team developed her persona through journey mapping, so that you can have a real(ish) person to talk about and empathize with as you envision the different stages of your sales process, from discovery to conversion.

What is Journey Mapping?

You probably know the typical “sales funnel” model. At the highest level, the customer has a broad need that your product or service can help fulfil; then, as they become more aware of what you offer, they proceed down that funnel until they make a purchase. But how do you drive awareness of, and engagement with, your company’s brand? What are the touchpoints your customer encounters that will move them purposefully down the funnel?

Customer journey maps identify opportunities and connection points that your organization can take advantage of during the sales funnel — ensuring the right message is delivered at the right time to resonate with the right demographic.

Small business owners may be familiar with the concept of customer journey mapping, but many haven’t tried it out for themselves. There’s often a misconception that only big businesses can do it well, devoting large budgets and lots of resources to data collection, strategy and marketing.

But that’s a myth. Let’s debunk it, and look at why small businesses can benefit from journey mapping, and how you can create your own.

Why Build a Customer Journey Map

Keeping it short and sweet, here are my top three reasons why you need a journey map:

  1. They’re an actionable way to connect with customers. Journey maps help you look beyond your day-to-day operations and the numbers on your balance sheet — those things that often dominate your to-do list. Rather, you can focus on the needs of real people and apply those learnings into every facet of your business. This is something that successful companies do well.
  2. You can identify what customers truly value. Embracing an empathetic approach means you can focus your efforts on what your customers care about. This frees your business to deliver meaningful experiences at every customer touch point. People want to invest in and connect with companies that are relatable and authentic, and creating positive customer experiences is critical to the success of your business.
  3. You’ll identify new opportunities. One of the biggest benefits of journey maps is that throughout the process of building them, you’ll discover sales strategies you didn’t know were there.

Where Do You Start?

Remember Charlie? The journey mapping process often starts with persona development: you create fictional representations of your ideal customer that focus on their psychology — a process also known as “psychographics.”

Next, you research your customers and use competitive analysis to understand how each of your personas moves from one stage of their journey to the next — and how you can help them along. It’s crucial to review the competitive landscape around your organization: the businesses, publications and influencers working in a similar space. This allows you to not only track the messages and channels that are being used, but to understand the competitive white space where your brand can stand out.

By laying this all out and looking at the big picture — literally — you can identify opportunities for effectively and efficiently connecting with your customers.

Chart the Course for Your Customers

Once you’ve developed your target personas, you can begin to map their journeys. But what does that look like? Most commonly, a journey map is a chart that shows your customer’s mindset and actions. It tracks their behavior on a line graph as they find your business, learn more about it, make a purchase and continue to engage and promote the brand. It also focuses on the different media, channels and settings in which these interactions take place.

When you hear words like “media” and “channels,” you probably associate them implicitly with digital business — but they don’t have to be. Any form of communication that drives your business is an important part of your customer journey. Building real relationships through face-to-face communication is one area where small businesses can outshine their larger competitors.

Let’s return to the example of Charlie. She would need her own journey map, because each persona has a unique path to purchase. Different marketing teams might use different names for the stages of the journey, but they typically include:

  • Awareness or Discovery: This is how Charlie first finds out about your company, often in a context where she needs it. For instance, she’s looking for a product you provide at a competitive price, and notices your add in a flyer or a well-placed, well-timed tweet.
  • Research or Education: This is when Charlie engages with your media and marketing materials, or reaches out to your customer service reps, to learn more.
  • Conversion or Purchase: At this point, Charlie actually becomes your customer by buying what you’re selling. But from a marketing perspective, conversions can happen on a smaller scale: subscribing to your newsletter or following you on social media are mini conversions because they still make Charlie part of the broader customer community that you reach on a regular basis.
  • Referral or Advocacy: If Charlie is happy with her experience, she’ll champion your company to her network. A satisfied customer essentially becomes a member of your marketing team.

By visualizing the entire customer experience from start to finish, you can see where you’re missing opportunities at critical stages, and you might realize that you have existing assets that can be tweaked to fit a different stage of the journey, or fulfill the needs of a different persona.

For example, you might already have a marketing email that could easily become a blog post and promoted on social channels. Suddenly, you have a solution that can help you reach younger demographics, as well as those who aren’t already on your company’s contact list. This is just one instance of how social media and virtual strategies can complement and add value to the real-life relationships you build with your customers.

Make Journey Mapping Part of Your Strategy

Bear in mind that everybody is different and customer journey maps are based on broad categorizations instead of specific details. But they’re an excellent tool for small businesses looking to figure out where they can own the conversation, compete in the big leagues and win.

For a breakdown of next steps on how to try customer journey mapping, we recommend this free template for creating detailed buyer personas.