Your Customer Journey Map is Messier Than You Think

Your Customer Journey Map is Messier Than You Think

This post was updated on June 16, 2022.

Is your customer journey a straight line or a squiggle?

How do your customers buy from you? Some see an ad and immediately say, “give it to me.” But others (even most) will visit your website, leave, contact your team, and then disappear—their journey to becoming a customer is messy.

Customer journey maps outline all the key touchpoints within the customer lifecycle. They help you understand how you interact with your customers and when customers expect engagement with your business.

But when you map out all of your customer touchpoints, it turns out that the picture is messier than you would expect. It’s not the classic straight line you learn in college marketing 101. 

Instead, the customer experience map jumps from point A to point E back to point C.

Let’s learn more about the customer journey map and how to create 1 for your business.

Table of Contents

What is a customer journey map?

A customer journey map is a visual representation of how a customer engages with your business throughout the entire customer lifecycle. It highlights every touchpoint a brand uses to nurture and retain its customers across the customer journey.

For example, your customer visits your website, signs up for your newsletter, and talks with a support agent on live chat. Then, 2 days later, the customer opens and reads your newsletter and revisits your website. All these interactions represent touchpoints in your customer journey.

customer journey map example
An example of a customer journey map

What if tracking down every single customer interaction feels overwhelming? The first time can feel like a lot, but after you’ve mapped the customer journey, you have more information to help grow your business. It’s helpful in getting to know your customers and boosting brand awareness and sales. 
Marketing consultant Stuart Hogg explains:

“It [Customer journey mapping] can give you and your team a greater understanding of how your customers are currently interacting and engaging with your brand, and also help illustrate how your products and services fit into their lives, schedules, goals, and aspirations.”

The customer journey map gives you a bird’s eye view of your business from the customer’s perspective. In this competitive market, it’s not enough just to guess about customer interactions. You need to know precisely when, where, and how your brand engages with every customer.

What are the benefits of customer journey mapping?

If you don’t know how people buy from you, how can you expect to sell to them?

When you map out a customer journey, you can find 2 types of opportunity:

  1. You find moments of influence that you didn’t realize existed. When future customers get a recommendation in a Facebook group, from a review site, or just from a friend—do you know how to influence those conversations?
  2. You find moments of impact that affect almost every customer. If every customer submits a contact form, you had better make sure your form is easy to submit. If every customer needs to use your checkout page, that’s a great place to focus your attention.

The biggest benefit of customer journey mapping is that it helps you find those high-value moments. Your to-do list will always be longer than your “I will actually do this” list, so being able to focus your attention on the parts of your business that impacts the most sales is huge.

Customer journey mapping can also show you where you’re already spending the most time. If you discover a step that involves sending a lot of manual follow-ups (for example, following up with someone who submits a contact form), you’ve identified a prime candidate for automation.

example of activecampaign automation
example of ActiveCampaign’s automation

As an example of automation—mapping out her customer journey helped ActiveCampaign customer Heather save 10 hours every week by automating her follow-up.

As a photographer, Heather had many people submit her contact form. But even though she had to follow up with every single person, very few of them were actually a good fit for her business. They were “zombie leads”—people who eat time but don’t ever become customers.

Setting up lead scoring and automated follow-ups let her clear out zombie leads and spend more effort on her top customers.

activecampaign infographic about lead management
Because she understood her customer journey, Heather used automation to save 10 hours weekly.

Not long ago, customer journey mapping was considered an essential task for marketing teams. Marketers would work together to map out the customer journey on a whiteboard, but that’s when fewer touchpoints existed.

Nowadays, customer journey mapping centers around identifying what your customers do in the buying process so your entire team can focus and automate its marketing efforts to drive more sales. Your brand benefits from knowing how marketing, sales, and customer support interact with every customer. That way, your business knows whether you’re communicating too much or too little with your target audience.

Here are more benefits of customer journey mapping:

  • Streamline the user experience: Your team can pinpoint opportunities to enhance each customer interaction. Set up automated workflows to send tailored messages when customers take a specific action, like visit a particular landing page or sign up for a demo.
  • Predict consumer behavior: Get a deeper understanding of the customer’s actions to strengthen engagement. You can use predictive sending to forecast optimal times to email each individual customer.
  • Identify operational inefficiencies: Reducing costs is just as important as earning more revenue. Customer journey mapping helps you replace repetitive processes with automation. Use sales automation to update deals and create tasks in your CRM automatically.

What are the 4 sections of a customer journey?

Most customer journey maps are divided into 4 customer journey stages that span the entire customer lifecycle. 

infographic of the 4 sections of the customer journey
ActiveCampaign’s 4 stages of the customer journey

Spanning the entire lifecycle is key—to understand your customer journey, you need to understand how people start their buying decisions and what they do after making their first purchase.

The 4 stages of the customer journey are labeled differently across companies, industries, and sectors. At ActiveCampaign, here’s how we label and describe the customer journey stages:

1. Reach & Engage / Inquiry

This first stage involves growing your audience and targeting your message to find the right prospects. You’re capturing the attention of leads and collecting their information.

From the customer’s perspective, this begins with an inquiry.

2. Nurture & Educate / Comparison

Your team focuses on helping address the specific needs of your audience. To nurture the relationship, your brand offers tailored guidance through educational resources and presents how it solves customer expectations.

For the customer, this stage is all about comparing options.

3. Convert & Close / Purchase

This third stage includes sending well-timed calls to action (CTAs) to your audience to close the sale. You’ve provided prospects with enough information and confidence to become new customers.

For customers, this is where the purchase takes place.

4. Support & Grow / Onboarding & Upselling

The cycle continues as you delight each customer through personalized experiences. Your team supports their growth and transforms happy customers into brand advocates.

For customers, it’s all about getting set up for success and any support they need.

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What are the 5 A’s used for building a customer journey map? 

Dr. Philip Kotler (marketing author, professor, and consultant) developed a clean, memorable framework that many businesses use to run an internal customer journey mapping workshop called “The 5 A’s.”

Kotler divides the buying journey into 5 distinct stages: Awareness, Appeal, Ask, Act, and Advocacy.

There is an acknowledgment that customers might not go through every stage or necessarily move through the entire experience linearly. However, it’s a good framework for covering the basics of customer journey mapping.

Phil Kotler 5 As
Phil Kotler 5 As


In the first step of Kotler’s customer journey, customers gain initial awareness of your brand, typically through paid advertising (PPC, social media, etc.) or through organic content marketing efforts.


During the appeal stage, customers become interested in what your company offers.

They realize that you can help solve their challenges and help them meet certain business goals (if you’re in the B2B world).


After learning about different options, customers move to the ask stage, where they first get in contact with your company to research your product and/or service in more depth.


This is the customer action every business owner likes the most: the point where a customer makes the decision to purchase.


Customers who are extremely delighted with their experience with you will become advocates. They’ll continue using your brand and start to recommend your product to friends, family, and colleagues.

You can influence advocacy through:

The customer journey isn’t a straight line—it’s a squiggle

Is the customer journey really a straight line? Some marketers say that it is—a potential customer learns about your business, does some research, considers their other options, and then makes a purchase.
But real customer journeys are messy and not at all a straight line. Customers reach your brand across many different channels, they go forwards and backward in the process, and you need to connect with them in many different ways. Maggie Lin, a former product marketing manager at Solvvy, agrees:

“Take a step back and think about how your customer could take one of any number of different paths to purchase. Rather than being something simple and linear, the buying decision is about the culmination of the entire customer experience and the various touchpoints your customer interacts with.”

The customer journey: perception vs. reality

Customer satisfaction is a top priority for most businesses, regardless of the industry or size. 

According to a Gartner study, 86% of leaders expect to compete based on the customer experience as they move forward. Many plan to merge marketing, support, and sales team members into cross-functional teams that drive customer satisfaction.

However, despite recognizing the importance of the customer journey, there’s still a disconnect between what marketers think a customer journey is versus what it actually is. 

We’d like to believe the customer journey diagram is a straight line, getting customers from point A to point B. In this scenario, our ideal customer learns about our brand, gets relevant information, and makes a quick purchasing decision.

customer journey map
Customer journey map

In reality, customer engagement doesn’t look so simple.

Examples of customer touchpoints

Any time a customer interacts with you, in any channel—that’s a customer touchpoint. Customer touchpoints are your opportunity to lead a consumer through your sales journey. 

Each touchpoint is a defining moment in the customer experience. A customer touchpoint can help consumers see the real value in your product, place a negative perception on your brand, or offer no impact at all.

Customer touchpoints can be divided into 3 categories: pre-purchase, purchase, and post-purchase. Check out the examples of customer touchpoints below.

examples of brand touchpoints
Examples of brand touchpoints

Touchpoints pre-purchase

  • Blog post
  • Facebook ad
  • Direct mail flyer
  • Slack community
  • Live chat conversation

Touchpoints during a purchase

  • Webinar
  • Sales call
  • Case study
  • Live demo
  • Product reviews

Touchpoints post-purchase

  • Loyalty program
  • Feedback surveys
  • Subscription renewals
  • Onboarding campaign
  • Customer support conversations

How to create your customer journey map

A customer journey map can help you find new ways to grow your business, but how do you build one?

Customer journey mapping means building a deep understanding of your customer. If it sounds overwhelming to map out every interaction with your customer, don’t worry! The secret is to select 1 of your customer personas, gather your customer feedback beforehand, and determine your customer touchpoints.

So, which is the first step in designing a journey map?

Start with your buyer persona research

A buyer persona is a semi-fictional representation of your ideal or average customer. It offers a detailed scope of a customer’s demographics, behavioral traits, and interests. For instance, your customer personas may include:

  • Age
  • Income
  • Gender
  • Job title
  • Motivations to buy
  • Key influence drivers

So, how do you collect these details? Start with your existing customers (that is, conduct customer interviews).

You can conduct a survey to gather demographic data about your audience. You also can make educated guesses about what influences your customers by browsing their social media accounts.

If you need to know what to ask, check out this post about the best market research questions to use in your customer survey.

Start by focusing on 1 persona—even if you have multiple types of people as customers. Focusing on 1 customer journey helps you nail down the research process. 

It also helps you get results faster because you can start implementing changes before doing other research.

Get the best feedback there is: customer feedback

Customer feedback is the insight from your customers about your products and services. It offers a real perspective of how your customers perceive your brand.

Customer feedback can come from direct communication with your customers or be gathered indirectly from a third-party medium, like review sites.

You can gather meaningful customer feedback in a number of ways, including:

  • Reading customer support and complaint logs
  • Monitoring web analytics that tracks customer behavior
  • Interviewing satisfied and unsatisfied customers about their experiences
  • Prompting a “How did you find out about us?” survey after a live chat conversation
  • Emailing a Net Promoter Score rating question following a customer support response

Even small businesses can do great market research (qualitative and quantitative). This post on market research for small businesses can show you how.

List out every customer touchpoint you can think of

Customer touchpoints are direct interactions customers experience with your brand—from a live chat conversation to an email newsletter to an in-person event. Customer journey mapping aims to plot all the touchpoints at the relevant customer stage accurately.

customer touchpoint examples
Examples of customer touchpoints

Customer touchpoints also depend on your sales cycle—how quickly does a potential customer turn into an actual customer? Sales cycles can range from:

  • An instant buy: Customers land on your website and make a purchase.
  • A 30-day process: Customers need some convincing and do more research before buying, or else need to persuade other people on their team.
  • Six months or more: Large businesses can take a long time to close sales because of legal negotiations and the number of people involved.

A customer journey map that helps you grow

So, how will your business adapt to a squiggly customer journey? Your team must determine what works for your customers and adjust it as your customer lifecycle evolves.
To help you get started, we’ve built a buyer persona template. Use it as a guide to market to your target audience at every stage of the customer lifecycle. Get the buyer persona template here.

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