When it comes to tracking customer behavior, some businesses only focus on that critical moment: immediately before, during, and after the sale. And of course, knowing who’s purchasing your products or services and understanding how much revenue you’re generating is important information! But if you’re only paying attention to what customers are up to right as they make a purchase, you’re missing out on piles of other valuable data.
To fully understand your customers—their wants and needs, what drives them to do business with you—you must take a look at the bigger picture. Tracking customer behavior across the sales and marketing funnel allows you to serve them more effectively and to find other similar prospects.
You need to ask questions about their interaction with your brand across the funnel. How did they discover you in the first place? What did you do to catch their eye and inspire further research? How did you win their trust, and what ultimately led to the sale?
In this article, we’ll explore how you can begin to collect and assemble this valuable customer data. Plus, we’ll investigate how you can put it to work to generate results for your business.
Invest in a CDP
You can only begin to understand your customer data if you have a way to collect it and a place to house it. That’s where customer data platforms (CDPs) come in.
Many modern businesses use customer relationship management (CRM) tools to track customer interaction. CRMs are powerful—and a must—but there is one downside. CRMs are only capable of tracking known customers, people you have an email address or name for.
CDPs, on the other hand, can track anonymous visitors and assign a unique identifier until you learn who they are. Even if they never hand over their email or eventually make a purchase with you, their behaviors on your website and online interactions with your business will have been tracked and logged.
Furthermore, CDPs are a lot better about not duplicating data. They’re sophisticated programs that are great at accurately tracking consumer behavior across platforms. They keep an eye on social media likes, email opens, and website CTA clicks. Then, they seamlessly aggregate that data so it’s in a centralized location for you.
A CDP is the first step to creating a complete picture of customer behavior. The unique benefit is the insight they provide into the behavior from those early stages of the funnel—awareness and interest—even if you don’t yet have identifying information on-hand for those prospects.
Understand the Early Stages
What’s often missing in customer behavior tracking is information from those early stages of the funnel. How do people find you online?
The answer to this question will vary from industry to industry, and even from business to business. But when you understand where each of your eventual customers starts their journey with your business, you can evaluate the effectiveness of each channel.
Maybe you’re a B2B that’s found great success marketing on LinkedIn. You use a combination of paid and organic tactics, sharing long-form posts weekly and boosting your most valuable content to share with a wider audience.
Once you see that your LinkedIn strategy is garnering results, you can apply pieces of that strategy to other channels. If there was a post that drew a lot of attention from your followers, can you repurpose that into an email newsletter to send to your mailing list? If you’re finding that paid marketing tactics are effective on LinkedIn, consider testing those same strategies on Facebook to see how they perform on another major social site.
By amplifying the tactics you’re using in that successful channel across other arenas, you boost the effectiveness of all your campaigns.
Even if your business is not in a place to invest in software that allows you to track those behaviors, like a CDP, there are other ways to gain insight into these critical early interactions. Consider crafting a survey for new customers, asking them how they discovered your brand. This simple, low-tech solution can provide a valuable window into where your customers come from.
So, you’ve started to fill in some of the blanks about those early stages of the customer journey. Now you can begin to create more effective personas based on behavior or psychographics. By making distinctions among your customers based on their behaviors, actions, and demographic information, you can craft personas. These serve as portraits of your best types of customers (or as we like to call them, your whales).
Developing clear personas allows you to segment your audience. That way, you target the right prospects or customers with the right messaging at the right time. Consumers respond well to personalization. According to research from Accenture, 91 percent of consumers are more likely to do business with a brand that knows and remembers their preferences and then makes offers or recommendations based on that information.
Segmentation gives you greater control over both the marketing messaging and the channels for sharing it. For example, let’s say yours is a SaaS B2B.
You notice that there’s a distinct difference between how your larger clients and smaller clients discover you. Small businesses are far more likely to come to you through referrals, whereas large organizations discover you through LinkedIn.
Armed with that information, you can develop two distinct ways of interacting with small and large companies. For your existing small business clients, you can create a robust referral program, incentivizing the referral process. Meanwhile, you can retool your creative in LinkedIn ads to be more specifically geared towards large organizations.
Of course, you can develop personas based on more limited customer data. But when you have the full picture of a customer’s journey with your brand, you can craft even more detailed personas. The more specific the persona, the better able you are to personalize with messaging and tactics that will resonate with them.
Get Better at Measuring and Experimentation
When it comes to implementing any change within your business, we’re big fans of measuring and experimenting. Start with the data you have on hand. Build a hypothesis around it; run a test to see if your hypothesis proves true. Then, review the results and synthesize your learnings, and repeat with your new data to guide further refinements of your approach.
How you tackle the customer journey is no exception to this rule. That’s why having a full picture of the entire marketing and sales funnel is so critical. When you can see how the funnel works, end-to-end, you better understand bottlenecks and can implement strategies to alleviate them. When data points inform your picture of the total customer journey, you can get smarter about the hypotheses you create and the tests you run.
This measuring and experimentation need to be a team effort. There’s a reason we keep calling this the sales and marketing funnel; your sales and marketing team are inextricably linked in how they interact with customers. So, they must take equal pains to find the best way to guide people through the funnel.
Refining your approach is not just about testing new marketing messages and means of personalization. Sometimes it’s bigger than that. Often, a look at the entire funnel will help you realize that there’s an issue with your product or service.
If you switched up your offerings—redesigned your product, changed up your service package—you might be able to hook more customers. But you’ll have greater difficulty identifying whether your bottlenecks are caused by messaging or offerings if you don’t have the full view of a customer’s journey with your business.
End-to-end customer data is a goldmine of information. By understanding the entire journey that customers take with your brand, from discovery through to purchase, you can make smarter, more informed decisions about how you want to interact with future customers. That could mean creating new products, tailoring your marketing messaging, or revisiting your sales playbook. Whatever the case may be, complete customer data can help you make the changes that will boost revenues.
About the Sterling Woods Group, LLC
The Sterling Woods Group’s mission is to help clients make sense of their data to predictably grow sales. We apply data science to help you optimize your sales funnel, improve your marketing ROI, launch new products successfully, and enter new markets profitably.
We use a hypothesis-driven, data-supported methodology to discover insights that no one else is paying attention to. Then, we help you assemble the right sales strategies, marketing plans, technologies, and resources to seize this opportunity.
About the Author
Rob Ristagno, founder and CEO of the Sterling Woods Group, previously served as a senior executive at several digital media and e-commerce businesses, including as COO of America’s Test Kitchen. Starting his career at McKinsey, his focus has always been on embracing digital technology and data science to spur strategic growth.
Rob is the author of A Member is Worth a Thousand Visitors and is a regular keynote speaker at conferences around the world. He has been featured on ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox, and Digiday.
He holds degrees from the Harvard Business School and Dartmouth College and has taught at both Harvard and Boston College.
Rob lives outside Boston, MA with his wife, Kate; daughter, Leni; and black lab, Royce.