Customer Journey Bicyclists

How to understand the customer journey — and lead them down the path you choose

6 min read
Tom Rankin

Helping visitors get through your sales funnel is a task you shouldn’t take lightly. If you don’t understand their overall customer journey, you won’t be able to guide them toward the action you want, such as a signing up for a newsletter or making a purchase.

Understanding the customer journey involves a number of tasks. For example, you’ll actually run through the sales funnel yourself, to get a first-person look at the process. Also, taking some time to document the exact customer journey you want your leads to take will help further refine your sales funnel.

In this piece, we’ll show you how to understand the customer journey. We’ll also discuss some techniques to help you guide customers toward your all-important conversion elements. However, let’s begin by actually defining what the customer journey is!

The customer journey (and why you need to tag along)

Describing the customer as going on a journey seems abstract, but it’s actually a very useful comparison. Regardless of your products, services and niche, customers will go through a start, middle and end point along the road to making a purchase.

For example, a potential customer might see an ad or promoted post on social media showcasing an offer. This might include a link to a dedicated sales page on your website:

After reading this message, your leads can click on the call-to-action (CTA) directing them to a sales or checkout page — where they’ll hopefully become a paying customer.

You might notice that this customer journey runs parallel to your sales funnel, and both concepts are indeed intertwined.

The first step to understanding the journey your customers are currently taking is to go through it yourself. This is a smart idea for a number of reasons:

  • You get to step into the customer’s shoes and experience your sales funnel the way they do.
  • You’ll see whether there are any glaring omissions in your funnel that you can optimize.
  • Finally, you’ll have a better understanding of what your business already does to convert customers — which can help refine your approach.

The first point in that list is key.

Without knowing what your customer journey is like, there’s no way you can improve it.

By putting yourself in your customers’ (metaphorical) shoes, you’re also showing consideration for them as individuals — and gaining knowledge that can bolster your bottom line.

How to understand the customer journey

You might think that there are many ways to get a conversion. However, there are actually two primary journeys your customer can take.

First, there’s the traditional journey — otherwise known as the touchpoint approach. When optimizing this journey, you’ll primarily consider the key points of customer interaction, such as speaking with an in-store sales clerk. Your job is to monitor and optimize each touchpoint until your metrics and key performance indicators (KPIs) are healthy.

This approach can be effective. However, because of its narrow focus, there’s little consideration for what the customer deems important, nor for any variations they might experience in their individual journeys.

In contrast, an end-to-end journey considers the customer’s relationship with your business as a whole. While touchpoints still matter, there’s a recognition that every interaction impacts conversions.

Letting the customer lead (rather than your sales team) can often produce better results.

By understanding your current customer journey, you can quickly ascertain whether you’re focused on touchpoints or end-to-end goals, and react accordingly. To actually do this, you’ll want to follow these five key steps:

  1. Reach an agreement within your team that this endeavor will offer measurable benefits, given that there’s a cost involved.
  2. Determine the various channels that potential customers use to find out about your business.
  3. Consider how you’ll measure the frequency with which these various channels are used, and how effective they are.
  4. Once you have this data, decide how to track customers through each channel.
  5. Come up with hard numbers for your journey’s effectiveness.

The more time you take with these tasks, the more insight you’ll gain into the customer journey. Plus, you’ll have concrete data that will tell you how well you’re doing at getting leads from point A to point B.

Customer Journey Racetrack

Lead customers down the path you choose (aka convert)

Understanding your current customer journey is all well and good, but actually leading them down a path of your choosing should be your primary goal. IBM has produced an excellent guide on this topic (and on understanding the customer journey as a whole).

In short, you’ll want to:

  • Make sure your insights are easy to access and understand.
  • Improve your results through collaboration within your team, and with external providers where possible.
  • Explicitly know the path your customer will take for any given channel.
  • Look at your most successful customer journeys, so you can use them as an example to optimize others.
  • Make sure you’re stretching the value of your data to its fullest.

Mapping out the customer’s journey is going to be a cornerstone of the entire exercise. We’d suggest checking out ConversionXL’s comprehensive guide on how to do this, although there are also plenty of other (equally valid) approaches worth considering.


Understanding how the customer moves through your sales funnel is important, but so is knowing the exact path they travel to become a successful conversion. Fortunately, doing this is a relatively simple process. The most important thing you’ll require is the ability to see things from the customer’s point of view.

In this article, we’ve shown you how to do just that — by moving through the sales funnel yourself, and then ascertaining which journey the customer is currently on. Then you start mapping out the journey you want them to take, making sure you’re adding suitable “touchstones” to keep them on the right path.