Effective use of online journey management in a commercial environment

4817114_personalised journeyOnline journey management is the creation of a series of tailored steps that online visitors are able to go through incorporating a platform that is able to identify what stage the visitor is at and to deliver highly focused content that drives the visitor along his or her journey.

This is a classic sales process for many organisations, often referred to as the sales funnel, yet this methodology on the web is not widely available. Below I will provide a brief overview of a client that uses this technology to stunning effect.

Laser eye surgery company

Founded over 10 years ago on a traditional clinical sales model (information -> consultation -> sale -> treatment) the emergence of the Internet offered this client a unique opportunity to map their current sales process onto an online model. At the start of this project in 2002 less than 20% of treated individuals ever touched their web presence. In 2009, nearly 90% of treated patients went through some element of the various web assets – they have, in effect, transformed into a dot com business in just a few years with spectacular results.

The challenges

Mapping a sales transition curve onto an online system is relatively simple to do with the right platform and this was achieved quite quickly and easily. Using the VITES™ platform a number of sales steps were created; first-timers, information gatherers, thinkers, consultation bookers, consultation attenders and treated patients. At all stages in the journey help and assistance is made available. Testimonials re-enforcing and evangelising the positives in the process are posted.

To grow the business and generate sustainable sales, every person in the process has to go through (almost) every stage and this process is not always linear, some steps are missed out and some are clumped together depending on the needs, fears, issues and financial standing of the customer.

At each stage there are various challenges faced by the company and the customer. Here is a summary of the stages and the challenges:

First timers – Stage A

Customer : Who is this company? Are they right for me? What’s involved in surgery? How much? Will it hurt?

Company : Quick engagement, make sure they stay or leave a method for re-engaging (email, address)

Information gatherers – Stage B

Customer : Where is the information I need? How much will it hurt? How can I afford it?

Company : Getting the “this is simple & painless” message across. We can make this affordable. We are the best.

Thinking about it – Stage C

Customer : Really not sure about surgery? Will I go blind if it goes wrong? It’s expensive.

Company : Gotta keep ’em warm, if they disengage we stand a good chance of losing them. It really *is* safe.

Consultation bookers – Stage D

Customer : Can I see someone near me? Does it cost? Will it hurt? Credit or cash purchase?

Company : Consultations are free, no obligation, no sales pressure. We are the best!

Consultation attenders – Stage E

Customer : Hmm, I’m suitable now – should I go ahead? What happens if I go blind? What about post-op complications?

Company : Gotta get them to buy, this is the most expensive stage to lose ’em, momentum is the game

Treated patients – Stage F

Customer : Wow, it’s fab – who else can I tell this about, can’t believe I didn’t do this sooner, it didn’t hurt

Company : Lets get these guys talking to the wide world and also to the people in the early stages

There are clear themes that run throughout most of the process, fear and cost for example, but at each stage there are subtly different issues, challenges and therefore different messages, different calls to action and different ways of dealing with the visitor.

The solution

Using the VITES™ Journey Platform, rules define that each visitor is tagged at each stage and “dropped” into a profile that fits the stage that they are at. In each profile there are different ways of dealing with the various challenges and these are served up as custom content based on what is known about the visitor. Additionally, there is external learning that can be transferred into the system; for example an incoming first-time visitor who has typed “laser eye treatment” into Google has a higher preponderance to move faster through the sales cycle than, say, an individual who has responded to a “win FREE laser eye surgery” banner on Hotmail.

A bespoke forum comprising FAQ’s and posts is available to the visitor. It is important that platform technology and the quick and easy availability of “help” work together to enable the journey to continue.

Below are some rule examples:

  • If you are a stage A and have typed “laser eye treatment” into Google then show a “Consultation request” form
  • If you are a stage A from a (filler) banner campaign based around “Win FREE” then show a “Win FREE form”
  • If you are a stage A person and leave the site then flood the visitors banner network with “Win FREE” banners to get you back.
  • If you have been on stage B for more than 30 days show an “Interest Free Offer”
  • If you have just become a stage B then show a “Consult Booking” option
  • If you are at stage C then show testimonials from people like you, treated near you and show forum posts from stage F people (how wonderful it is)
  • If you are stage D then show special offers during week 6 to 9

The rules are not complex but there are a great deal of them and with around 3,500 entrance points to the site used by approximately 1,000,000 visitors per month the automated system simply chugs away delivering the right content at the right time. To further expand the model, to say “show a consult booking” option is wider than just online; it includes the use of personalised email and also communicates this information to (and from) the call-centre to ensure that the sales message is consistent across all communication platforms.

See it working?

The average time from first-arrival to sale is around 90 days and with the VITES™ platform being self learning and with many of the rules making quite subtle changes it’s actually very difficult to see the process in action – which is good. You don’t want the visitor to have a “jolting” experience every time he or she returns to the site. The very nature of VITES™ is that it is subtle.

Trial and error economics

The very nature of the platform encourages testing, seeking improvements in all the stages. A few percentage point improvements in the stages generates huge compounded gains. For example, the overall conversion rate from visitor to client has doubled over the last 3 years and the cost per sale has dropped 80% over that time period whilst the time-to-close has fallen by over a third. These are all substantial gains and one of the reasons that the work done on this client is often quoted as real “best practice” across the world and used by some of the top Internet gurus as the basis for workshops, seminars and events.