How Journey Maps Can Help Product Managers Build Better Products

In this post, I will walk you through some of the ways journey maps can add invaluable new insights to any product manager’s understanding of their customers, product, and organization. When you’re finished reading, I’m hoping you’ll want to head straight over to your marketing team to start collaborating on your own customer journey map — or several of them.

What Are Journey Maps?

Journey maps tell the step-by-step story, usually in a visual way, of some aspect of your customer’s experience.

You could develop a journey map, for example, to document your user onboarding process. Such a journey map might begin with the first contact your prospect has with your company, through the process of filling out the free trial form, to the first interactions with the product itself, to every follow-up contact your sales reps have with the prospect. It might also include detail about the lag time between each of these steps and any educational information the sales team sent to the prospect in between.

A Product Manager’s Guide to Journey Maps

Let’s explore one example of how a customer might experience working with your company — the sales funnel — to see how a journey map can be so valuable. Or, more to the point, let’s examine how not having a journey map might undermine your sales process and negatively affect your future sales and product development.

Imagine you offer a SaaS product, and part of your lead-generation process is a 30-day free trial. Anyone who visits your website or clicks on one of your banner ads is taken to a signup form that requires an email address and phone number, and when they’ve filled out that form they can start using your product immediately. Any time someone signs up for the trial, one of your reps will immediately send them a standard first-contact sales email.

So far, so good.

But let’s also assume that your marketing team offers gated content on your site and through online ads — free white papers, for example. Marketing has its own lead-nurture process, which includes a follow-up email when a prospect downloads a white paper. But marketing also puts anyone who downloads a white paper on a 7-day companywide “Do Not Contact” list in your organization’s Salesforce platform. That means once a prospect has downloaded a white paper, and marketing has begun its lead-nurture campaign, sales can no longer contact them.

And here’s the big problem: What if someone signs up for your free trial, starts using your product, and then downloads one of your white papers? Answer: They’re removed from the sales funnel, and their dedicated sales rep can’t contact them for the next week. This is obviously totally counterproductive to your sales efforts, because a prospect who signs up for your free trial and also downloads your white paper is at least as pre-qualified as a sales lead as someone who only signs up for the trial.

In this example, sales and marketing both have legitimate and logical strategies, but they are working in silos — so no one has connected the dots to realize that their combined efforts work against each other and against the company’s goals.

If you worked with these teams to draft a customer journey map, however, you would clearly spot the problem. When the prospect raises a hand by signing up for your trial, that triggers the first contact from sales. But when that same prospect raises a hand again by accessing your white paper — saying, in effect, “I’m really interested” — they are treated like a dead lead by sales.

This sort of conflict comes to light only when you and your team turn things around, and view the experience not in terms of the steps your company takes but rather in terms of how your customer experiences the whole process.

Here are a few more reasons journey maps can be so valuable.

1. A journey map can uncover problems in your company’s process that might be turning customers away without you even realizing it.

In the mad rush to add features, functionality and other competitive advantages to your products, it’s very easy to overlook parts of the customer experience that seem standard and trivial. But if these “trivial” things are not handled properly, they can have a strong negative effect on how your customers perceive you and feel about working with you.

It can be very tempting, for example, to add a single-phrase story — “customer buys product online” — to your product roadmap, and to assume that your development team will make this a streamlined, user-friendly process.

But what if they don’t? What if development includes extra steps in your sign-up process? What if several of the required fields are unnecessary to the purchase process, and create just enough friction that buyers abandon the purchase midway?

Yes, your analytics tools might uncover this trend, but only after you’ve lost out on enough people to notice — people who almost bought your product but didn’t.

Tweet This:
“A journey map can help you spot onboarding problems before you chase away real would-be customers.”

With a customer journey map to illuminate every required step in the purchase of your product, you’d be able to experience this process exactly as your customer does — and you’d have a much better chance of discovering problems before you chase a real would-be customer away from your site.

2. A journey map can identify gaps or overlap in the customer experience that can undermine your efforts.

In the example above, I walked you through a hypothetical organization in which the sales and marketing departments had lead-generation processes that might have worked as standalone campaigns but that, when implemented simultaneously, actually prevented sales from connecting with some of their most promising prospects.

The genius of a journey map is that it turns the entire concept of customer engagement on its head. It halts our natural tendency to focus on our side of the process and instead forces us to view interacting with our company through the lens of our customer.

Using that lens, we can often identify gaps in the process, such as the fact that perhaps our product suite is too complicated for a new prospect to understand, and we have no mechanism in place to educate that prospect on their first visit to our site. Experiencing things from our customer’s viewpoint can also uncover overlaps in the process, such as when a support question submitted by email triggers an automatic sales call — before the company realizes that in fact the support question came from an existing customer who does not want to learn that the company doesn’t even know he’s been using their product for years.

Journey maps, in other words, are a great way to take us as product managers out of our own product-focused bubbles and force us to take a fresh and honest look — through our customers’ eyes — at what it’s like to interact with us.

3. A journey map can help bring together the various departments across your company, and help more closely align everyone to the same goals.

Throughout this post I’ve alluded to the fact that you’ll want to craft your journey map with input from across the company — marketing, product management, sales, development, support. After all, when you flip your viewpoint around from inside your company to your customer’s experience with it, you’ll need to know how that customer experiences each component of your organization.

What this means is that the act of developing journey maps will necessitate more collaboration across teams, more of your organization putting the spotlight on your customer experience and determining how they can all work together to improve that experience. This is all to the good.

One of the great things about creating journey maps is simply that they bring disparate teams together that might otherwise work entirely in silos, even though they are all ultimately working for the same customer. This collaboration will of course give a richer, more detailed picture to the journey map itself. But perhaps just as important, it will also help more closely align everyone across the company in their strategic objectives, and it will help amplify the value of the shared domain expertise scattered throughout the organization.

Tweet This:
“Great things can happen when your company comes together to focus on your customers.”

Or, to describe the value of a journey map more succinctly, great things can happen when your company comes together to focus on your customers.

Tying Your Journey Map to the Product Roadmap

Of course, when you’ve created your journey map and gleaned whatever valuable learnings it offers about your customers and your process, you’ll want to make these learnings actionable — and possibly communicate them to support the strategic decisions you’ve made.

This is why a customer journey map can also serve as an important complement to your product roadmap.

Once you have documented in a journey map a step-by-step walk through some aspect of interacting with your company or product, you will have more logical and compelling reasoning behind the strategic decisions in your roadmap. And if you are using flexible, visual roadmap software, you can easily connect your journey map directly to the roadmap itself, to present your reasoning to your various audiences such as stakeholders or the sales team.

In other words, their ability to add value to your product roadmaps is just one more reason that customer journey maps should be a part of your company’s process for continually improving customer engagement.

What’s your experience with customer journey maps? Any thoughts? Tips? Please share them in the comments below.