SaaS Customer Journey: How to Take a Walk in Your Customers’ Shoes

Dana Yatsenko

There are two related concepts in marketing — customer funnel and customer journey. 

Marketers and salespeople love funnels because they are simple and controlled, and show a pleasing picture of leads that inevitably convert, forced by gravity. A SaaS sales funnel is so adorable we even put one on Eleken’s landing page.

customer funnel by Eleken
Aw, what a cute customer funnel!

In fact, as product designers, we at Eleken prefer using customer journeys in our UX research, but we would never think of illustrating anything with a journey because nobody loves customer journeys. In fact, they create all kinds of troubles — they are messy, confusing, and hard to work with. Just look at Gartner buyer journey below. 

B2B buying journey by Gartner
A not that cute customer journey by gartner.com

The bad news is that you need to work with journeys anyway if you’re in SaaS. Successful SaaS can’t do without superb user experience, which is hard to achieve without compiling user goals and actions into a timeline skeleton.

The good news is that understanding journeys is way more simple than it looks.

The difference between sales funnel and customer journey

Funnel tells a company-centric story. From your company’s point of view, leads start at the top of the funnel and passively move toward the bottom from awareness to purchase. 

A marketing funnel is focused more on broad categorization than individual touchpoints. Even though a customer’s real behavior can go through those milestones, they usually take a much more winding road. 

That's why funnels can't offer us much insight about consumers. When we want to understand customers’ behavior, we need a user-centric marketing and design tool. We need a customer journey.

The difference between sales funnel and customer journey

What is customer journey

A customer journey is a story of someone who has a problem and is looking for a solution to that problem. Even though it visualizes the same process of moving from strangers to buyers as a funnel does, the journey approaches it from the customer’s perspective.

That’s a key point to realize — for customers, journey includes a problem and a solution, it doesn’t necessarily include you as an endpoint

Actually, SaaS customers are facing an unprecedented number of choices in platforms and tools. So how will you break through to gain their attention and make your prospective customers realize your SaaS is the one they are looking for?

Why is customer journey important for SaaS

Look at Gartner’s B2B SaaS customer journey we’ve left above. Customers have some jobs to be done to find a solution to their problem, but they don’t move gradually. They are looping around each step, bouncing from one to another, sometimes going backward. All because choosing software is anything but an easy decision.

SaaS market is a web version of an endless Turkish bazaar full of colorful noisy street sellers yelling at you. Choosing software tools is not exciting. It’s overwhelming. It’s confusing.

Maybe not for an industry insider, but for a person that just flipped through a dozen of SaaS landing pages, they all look the same, and they all say the same.

saas landing pages meme

Moreover, there are thousands of possible options in each SaaS category, and the numbers are growing wild. To illustrate the point: 1 in 5 of the solutions on 2020’s MarTech landscape weren’t there one year before. The segment that consisted of 150 apps in 2011, had grown to 8,000 apps in nine years only.

It’s a matter of minutes to get buried under the information flow that all that thousands of companies produce.

People need some guidance. You’re an expert. Do you see the window of opportunity opening?

saas overwhelming market meme

Buyers appreciate a helping hand as they navigate an overwhelming purchase process. In fact, customers who received content that helped them to move across their buying jobs were three times more likely to buy a bigger deal with less regret.

For content to be helpful, it must be relevant. The way we treat the customer who’s unhappy with their team’s workflow, vs the one looking for project management apps vs the one who has signed up for trial will be hugely different. 

That’s where we need a customer journey — it helps us to align our solutions with challenges your customers are facing. Looking at the entire experience from the user’s standpoint, we can make that experience more valuable.

How to map customer journey

To start working with a customer journey we need to break it into steps, visualize them and map our marketing messages to every step. 

What stages does the journey consist of? Nobody knows. In fact, every customer has their unique stages, but we keep trying to summarize them to a single formula. 

McKinsey consumer decision journey consists of initial consideration, active evaluation, closure and post-purchase. Gartner’s B2B buyer journey we’ve seen above splits into problem identification, solution exploration, requirements building, supplier selection, validation and consensus creation. 

We at Eleken prefer the model developed by Eugene Schwartz in 1966 called “Stages of Awareness”. It divides the journey into five stages: unaware, problem-aware, solution-aware, product-aware and most aware. 

With this map, we plan a series of touchpoints aimed to help potential customers in their journeys.

Journey mapping example by Eleken
Journey mapping example by Eleken content team

And you know what that means? The article you’re reading was designed to be a touchpoint of your journey. And given you’re halfway through the piece at the moment, high chances are everything goes as planned.

Want to see how it works? Let’s figure out how the customer journey framework can be used on the example of Eleken’s content marketing team — and how it can be adopted by SaaS companies.

1. Unaware stage 

Thanks to keyword research, we know that our audience often googles “what is a customer journey map.” That’s an informational intent, we map it to an unaware stage of the customer's journey and write a corresponding article.

People with this request are at the very beginning of their journey. So even if we try to spread knowledge of our brand in the article, we don’t promote our design services. 

agressive unaware stage marketing meme

What we need to do at the first awareness stage of the buyer's journey is to give comprehensive answers to readers' questions and thus, move readers from unaware to a problem-aware stage. 

2. Problem-aware stage 

When a person aims to create a SaaS customer journey map, they face a number of practical questions, or problems, that need to be clarified:

If you look closely at the picture of our reader's journey map above, you’ll see that all those questions are covered by the topics mapped to the problem-aware stage. 

Our unaware-stage article raises those questions and links to the articles that give the answers — thus, help readers to move to the next stage of their journeys. 

3. Solution-aware stage

Why are you digging into the info on buyer journeys? Probably for using customer journey maps to improve your marketing or customer experience. And quite possibly, you want to redesign something or even design from scratch — in that case, you’re a potential Eleken’s client.

SaaS web app, or mobile app, or product webpage — no matter what you need, we want to be a shortlisted solution. So, we’ll prepare a bunch of content that lists the ways to design pages and apps with stellar customer experience. 

Remember that customer journeys include a problem and a solution but don’t necessarily include you as an endpoint? The solution-aware stage is your chance to book a place among the solutions your customers consider.

At the solution-aware stage, the customer is much closer to a purchase than at the beginning of the journey, so helping them to see all solutions available you can show off a bit, proving that your solution is the most suitable — and redirect your reader to a page that speaks about you solely. 

4. Product-aware stage

If you need UI/UX design and we did a good job describing our value proposition, you’ll probably click on a link that will bring you to our UI/UX design services landing page.

The product-aware stage is your selling content finest hour. Customers are already considering paying you money, so it’s high time to address your best convincing pillars. This could be case studies and testimonials that prove your words or earth-shattering offers that help potential customers decide on the step further. 

Eleken’s earth-shattering offer is a free one-week trial. It helps remove friction from the customer’s journey — no need to make a hard decision whether to buy or not a "cat in a bag." All doubts dispel as you get a chance to try our services and figure out if they’re going to fit you.

Eleken’s irresistible free trial in action
Eleken’s irresistible free trial in action

For SaaS companies, freemium pricing is usually used to remove barriers to product value. Users can try a product for free at a base level to feel the benefits it offers, and then the product sells itself, uncovering premium features that offer even more value.

But when you are relying on your product to do the heavy lifting of driving engagement and conversion, you should provide users with a truly superb experience. To ensure a consistent experience for all users, UX designers create their specialized customer journeys, a.k.a user flows, that visualize the path users take inside your product from an entry point through to the final interaction.

User flow we crafted for Fin.do money transfer system app
User flow we crafted for Fin.do money transfer system app

5. Most aware stage

The customer journey doesn’t end when the users find what they need, and it’s especially important for SaaS companies. A newcomer can easily top up your churn list given that your competitor offers a better product at a better price. 

Changing suppliers is as simple as a few clicks for a customer, and is nothing less than a financial loss for a supplier. User acquisition expenses are front-loaded, but monthly per-user fees need time before they become profitable, so providers need to put the work in to make sure customers stick around.

Customer journey: a method to investigate user experience

A customer journey means users set in motion by a problem that moves them looking for a solution. Understanding that journeys can help SaaS companies to join consumers in their investigations and help to turn moments of frustration into moments of delight.

With such a human-centered approach, you can help customers figure out the crowded SaaS market to earn their trust and make the customer stick with you via human-centered design.  

Customer journey: a method to investigate user experience


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