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The difference between a buyer journey and a customer journey

  • 4 min read

Anyone who has invested the time mapping the end-to-end customer journey for their business will almost certainly have come across one simple revelation: it is not one journey, it’s two journeys.

In reality, it could be many over two journeys, depending on the business. However, the two journeys that will always need to be separately mapped are the ‘buyer journey’ and the ‘customer journey’.

The buyer journey takes the audience from initial engagement through to purchase. The customer journey happens next, where you are seeking to create a great customer experience, generate loyalty and advocacy, and discover cross-sell and up-sell opportunities.

The way they work, the journey structure, the content and channels, and the organisational structure to support the two journeys are significantly different. Together, they form the end-to-end customer journey and, from the customer’s point of view, they should be seamless, contextually relevant, and a fantastic experience. However, trying to treat them as a single journey is a mistake.

The Buyer Journey 

In a typical organisation, the buyer journey is owned by marketing and sales. It maps every aspect of the audience engagement–be it paid, owned, earned or shared–and how your target audience progresses seamlessly from engagement through to consideration and purchase.

Typically, businesses use the funnel technique to drive the audience towards a sale. However, when trying to map the buyer journey, using the funnel technique does not work, as it is not the buyer’s actual journey. The funnel describes the activities you are going to undertake as a business to drive the buyers forward. From the buyer’s perspective, that is not what they are thinking, feeling and doing as they make their buying journey.

Therefore, to map the buyer’s journey, you need to put yourself in the mindsets of the personas that you are targeting. You need to understand what they are actually considering at each stage of the journey and then make sure that you have the content that they will find contextually relevant, the channels to reach them at each stage, and the organisational and technological structure to smoothly progress the buyer from marketing through to sales.

The Customer Journey

Despite popular business parlance describing a ‘buyer’ as a ‘customer’ that is clearly not true. The customer is only a customer when they have bought from you. Strangely, most businesses put the lion’s share of their effort into acquiring the customer and a lamentable amount of effort into retention and nurturing cross-sell and up-sell opportunities.

Mapping the customer journey is far more challenging than mapping the buyer’s journey. The latter is, broadly, linear with clear ownership between functions. The customer journey is more diverse.

It does not start that way, of course. When the customer has made the purchase, it’s quite obvious what needs to happen next. While it will vary depending on your business, you need to deliver the product or service and bed them in as a customer–onboarding, nursery, or similar.

Then the mapping challenges begin. The best customer is a loyal customer who will stick with your business. True? Not so, of course. The best customer is a customer who is prepared to buy more from you. True? Yes, but then what price can you put on advocacy and the customer doing your job for you and bringing in new business?

Of course, these are all equally important goals and could apply to any customer. All the journeys to facilitate these goals need mapping and then, just as with the buyer’s journey, the content needs creating; the channels need mapping, and the structure organisationally and technologically needs to be put in place.

Comparing the two journeys

It is worth comparing the two journeys to understand how, together, they form the true E2E customer journey:

Single, linear journey Multiple, non-linear journeys
Owned by marketing & sales Owned by multiple functions including marketing, sales, finance, legal, customer service, etc.
Psychological journey of the buyer/decision Experiential journey of the customer
Looking around – no allegiance Loyalty/Retained
Persuaded/Influenced Supported/Cared for
Acquisition Cost Valued
Timing Real-time