The Guarantee
June 17

How COVID-19 Changed the Customer Journey

While COVID-19 caseloads continue to decline across the country, CEOs are breathing a collective sigh of relief. But as eager as we all are to go back to “normal” in the business world, there’s one problem — the pandemic has changed important parts of the buying cycle, and there’s no going back.

So throw away your old customer-journey maps because the customer journey is one more way that sales have changed in the wake of COVID-19. As we enter into a post-pandemic reality, mapping out the new customer journey will be vital to determine the unforeseen pain points that may be getting in the way of your sales.

I’ll walk you through exactly how the pandemic has impacted each phase of the customer journey and how you can stay ahead of the competition every step of the way.

Phase 1: Awareness

It’s no secret that people started spending more time online because of the pandemic. While consumers stayed at home en masse to avoid potential transmission, digital-content engagement shot through the roof.

PathFactory found that after the virus struck, there were 40 percent more unique asset views on digital content, and visitors spent at least 15 percent more time reading and viewing content. And among B2B prospects who were already “binging” marketing content pre-pandemic, engagement skyrocketed.

For the awareness phase of the customer journey, digital content is more important than ever. Use this opportunity to educate your customers about your products and services through a multi-level digital approach. Start by leveraging webinars and other live-streamed content to showcase the face of your brand. For example, when the popular garden center Molbak’s Garden + Home had to eliminate some of their in-person shopping experiences, they started offering live gardening tutorials on Facebook. Their livestreams have racked up thousands of views during the pandemic, and their Facebook presence is still strong now.

Don’t yet have a face for your business to feature on a livestream? Now is the time to find someone to fill that role.

Phase 2: Consideration

Impulse shopping previously led consumers to skip over the consideration phase, but during the pandemic, people have become more cautious with their spending.

In December, experts predicted a loss of up to $7 billion in holiday sales because of the decline in impulse shopping, and McKinsey found that up to 40 percent of consumers decreased their spending on discretionary items because of the pandemic’s effect on their finances. Meanwhile, 33 percent of B2B buyers began to spend more time researching products during the pandemic, and a quarter of buyers spent less time talking with vendor representatives, according to TrustRadius.

To keep your customers moving steadily toward purchase, add value in this phase that makes you stand out from your competitors.

Since ecommerce has made it possible for consumers to purchase a product without ever interacting with a real person, add engagement opportunities on your website by taking advantage of virtual-reality technology. For example, Target allows viewers to see some items in 3D. If you’re considering purchasing a piece of furniture or artwork, Target’s site will virtually show you how that item might look in your home.

Livestreams aren’t just for awareness, they are the perfect way to explain complex products or services that consumers cannot easily understand from your other marketing collateral. Demonstrate your products to an audience in real-time so you can answer questions and address concerns as they arise.

Similarly, B2B companies should find ways to offer value to clients before they close a deal. To get a foot in the door, offer prospects free downloads of a case study or other gated content of value. If you have completed your first sales call and can tell your buyer is still hesitant, consider gifting them a low-risk trial, such as initial pro-bono project work.

Phase 3: Purchase

You may have already noticed that your deal cycles are taking longer than in pre-pandemic times. A survey by TrustRadius confirms that you’re not the only one struggling to close a deal — 57 percent of vendors are experiencing longer deal cycles than before the pandemic. B2B buyers are now less likely to purchase directly from sales representatives, and consumers are more likely to abandon their online shopping carts. Among both audiences, people are spending more time cycling between the first two phases of the customer journey.

In this phase, persistence is critical, so continue to stay in front your customers. Show your B2B prospects that your company is an expert in your industry by including decisionmakers in a drip email campaign or inviting them to webinars. In doing so, you’re able to re-engage the key players without needing to establish another more overt sales engagement.

If you are finding that your customers are spending more time window-shopping than following through, set up an automated system to send out targeted emails when someone abandons their cart, reminding them which items they were considering. Include an additional discount or coupon code to sweeten the deal and entice them to return.

Additionally, both B2B and B2C brands can leverage retargeting ads. This well-loved online advertising tool can target previous visitors to your site, reminding them about the products and services they viewed and keeping your brand on their mind. But, you should be planning ahead for the end of third-party tracking cookies at the end of 2021 and focus on collecting first-party data for remarketing.

Phase 4: Retention

During our fight with the virus, long-standing customer loyalties suddenly became fair game. McKinsey found that three out of four U.S. consumers tried a new brand, place to shop, or method of shopping. Product availability, convenience and value were the main reasons companies lost loyal customers.

Here, the strategy is simple. To retain customers, you need to delight them.

B2C brands can inspire retention by designing customer loyalty programs. Though hotel and frequent-flyer programs are the most popular, brands like REI have also found success with membership programs, featuring perks like store-wide discounts, insider information and product trade-ins.

B2B players can take a page from the customer-loyalty playbook by creating a documented client-service strategy. We’re not just talking about the occasional check-in call. Engage your clients through surprise gifts or rewards, informal lunch meetings, networking events, in-person status reports and more. Remain as accessible as possible through more traditional forms of direct outreach as well, including your phone, chat, email, social media and online content.

Phase 5: Advocacy

Word-of-mouth is one of the most valuable tools of marketing, but the pandemic reduced people’s contact with individuals outside their household or immediate network. To keep encouraging customers to advocate about your business, you need to get creative.

Both B2B and B2C leaders can lean on the digital word-of-mouth process by developing review strategies. Find organic advocates for your company through a social-listening process, and while you do so, take the opportunity to address any negative reviews. Not only do most consumers trust online reviews just as much as personal recommendations, but reviews also factor into your SEO ranking on Google.

Make it as easy as possible for happy customers to review your company, and offer advocates access to exclusive content that they can share with their networks on your behalf. Incentivize them to rope in their networks by offering advocates special discounts or prizes through a referral program.

COVID-19 may have changed a lot in the corporate world, but one fact will always remain — we are stronger together. The RedRover pack is here to help you crash through your post-pandemic growth goals. Let’s make this era your strongest yet.

Lori Turner-Wilson is founder and CEO of RedRover Sales & Marketing Strategy. A fast-growing agency of seasoned professionals, RedRover is the only Memphis agency to integrate sales training with marketing strategic planning and execution. RedRover has a uniquely intense focus on achieving measurable results for its clientele, as the only Memphis area agency to offer its clients a results guarantee. The agency’s diverse client roster represents nearly every industry vertical in greater Memphis.

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