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B2B Customer Journey: The Basics [2021]

6 Mins read

The B2B customer journey is a complex matter, packed with a host of different touchpoints that affect customer experience. Understanding that complexity is essential in planning your customer service and marketing strategies.

So, how can you analyze your journey and go about improving it in the right way? We’ve come up with the essential guide to help you do just that.

Let’s get started.

Definition of B2B customer journey

The B2B customer journey is the collection of touchpoints and interactions a customer has with a B2B company, from their very first encounter, all the way through to post purchase.

Consider a B2B buyer who becomes aware of a SaaS software company that can address their particular needs, for example. There’s a whole load of other steps to go through before committing to a purchase. And even after purchasing, there’s still the setup, making sure they’re getting the most out of it, and so on. That’s all part of the customer journey.

It’s the lasting impression of this journey that creates the all-important customer experience.

The B2B customer journey stages

The B2B customer journey consists of five main stages: awareness, consideration, conversion, loyalty, and advocacy. The exact stages may be broken down further or vary depending on the specific type of business (for example, some companies may require onboarding, or have multiple points of purchase).

Incredibly, throughout this whole journey, according to Gartner’s 2019 Future of B2B Buying Journey Report, most B2B buyers spend only 17 percent of their time actually talking to you.

The rest of the journey happens “behind your back” — mostly researching and discussing with their team. That means that quality content is of paramount importance to give buyers access to the information they need to move through the stages.

The table below provides a general overview of how the B2B customer journey could look.

A table showing the main stages of the B2B customer journey.

Difference between B2C and B2B journeys

The difference between B2C and B2B customer journeys is essentially that B2B customer journeys are more complex. And of course, they’re selling to different audiences.

That means that although the overall structure, running from awareness through to advocacy, is similar in both, behavior is guided by different motives in B2B.  We can therefore make a number of distinctions. The table below shows some of the most important.

A table showing the main differences between the B2C and B2B customer journey.

These differences impact how a B2B company goes about their business.

For example, in the case of selling to multiple people, when you’re talking to a non-decision-maker, it might make sense to talk about how user friendly your service is, and try to give them the tools they need to make a business case to the decision-maker.

On the other hand, if it’s the actual decision-maker you’re talking to, you might want to think about a strategy that is much more focused on business results and KPIs.

6 Steps to building a customer journey map

Creating a customer journey map helps chart the stages your customers go through. It is a crucial first port of call in improving your customer journey, because it allows you to find touchpoints you had neglected before or bottlenecks that appeared. Here are five steps to help you create your journey map.

1. Analyze typical buying groups

In a B2B environment, there are often multiple people involved, all with different roles and responsibilities. In fact, the typical buying group for a complex B2B solution involves six to 10 decision makers according to Gartner. And they’ll all have different requirements you’ll have to take on board. Make sure you understand their level of influence on buying decisions, too.

2. Understand your customers’ goals

What needs are your buyers trying to fulfill or what problems are they trying to solve? Take the time to get a handle on their motivations so you can better understand the value you’re going to provide.

3. Leverage data and analytics

Analytics is an extremely useful tool in your customer journey arsenal. It can help you move away from making subjective decisions and ensure you instead deal in cold, hard facts. Use data from multiple sources like your CRM or customer experience platform to get a holistic view of the journey.

4. Build out the journey stages

As mentioned previously, your precise customer journey map will depend on your business’ exact processes. To make things easier, it might help to start from a generic template (you can use the generic stage layout above), and then split that out into more complicated components as you go. It helps to put yourself into your customer’s shoes (perhaps assuming one of your buyer personas) and try to go through the stages as an experiment.

5. Lay out the different touchpoints

Many B2B touchpoints, for example websites, blog content, and organic search, are shared between B2B and B2C. Others, however, are more specific to B2B. Demos, sales meetings, onboarding — you need to map all that. A digital customer journey may be more commonplace now, but don’t forget to take into account analogue channels like print media, too.

6. Define your own goals

It’s useful to keep the end results you want in mind as you go through the process as well. Ultimately you’re going to want results in areas such as retention and customer satisfaction. Gather customer feedback and cross-reference your business analytics to see if you hit these goals.

Looking to better manage your customer experience and gain greater insight into your customer journey? See what the Acquire Platform could do for you.

Note: Depending on your company’s processes, it may make sense to have one customer journey map per major B2B client.

How to improve your B2B customer journey

According to Gartner’s 2019 report, 77 percent of B2B buyers feel that making a purchase is very complicated and time consuming. And, ultimately, that is bad for business. To minimize complications, make sure you optimize your B2B customer journey the right way. Here are some ideas to get you going:

  • Create buyer personas. When we buy a product, what we’re really doing is ‘hiring’ it to help us do a job, according to Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen. A good place to start then is with a list of your customer’s jobs. What is it that they need to do? Consider factors like your contact’s position within their organization, their business needs, and their role within the decision-making process. These days, 60 percent of all B2B tech buyers are millennials (2 percent are even Gen Z) so this is definitely something to take into consideration.
  • Stay focused with your content creation. More than half of all B2B buyers view at least eight pieces of content during the purchase process, and 82 percent of buyers viewed at least five pieces of content from the vendor prior to purchase, according to Forrester. Make sure each piece of content sets up the next action you want to see from your buyers to move prospects along the journey. Structure content around the issues that are most important to your customers.
  • Identify and remove roadblocks. Make targeted interventions to remove friction and improve results by working backwards to pick out anything from your customer journey that could get in the way of a sale. Factors nearest to the purchase point are often the lowest hanging fruit.
  • Qualify your leads properly. Don’t take any old form-fill to be a qualified lead. At the end of the day, pushing a lead through the process when they’re not ready is going to be damaging for everyone, your business included.
  • Get onboarding right. Make sure your onboarding process is as smooth as possible. It will help you stand out from the crowd and lay the path for customer success.
  • Stay front of mind. Nurturing current customers is crucial. Keep in touch so they stay engaged, update them on how things are going, and give them access to useful reports. And when it comes to renewal dates, make sure you send out timely reminders.

Learn from the B2C journey

Customer journeys tend to be thought of in terms of B2C. In fact, the reality is that in B2B, buyers are not only looking for but expect a buying experience like that of a B2C customer. And if there’s one thing B2C does well it’s personalization.

Yet, can you think of a time you’ve had a truly personal B2B interaction? To really stand out from the crowd with your B2B customer journey, always keep in mind that behind every brand logo are actual human beings.

What are your thoughts about the B2B customer journey? Let us know with a comment.

Content Editor

Benedict Clark is a psychologist and writer, having previously spent 8 years in the digital marketing industry. With a master’s degree in Business and Occupational Psychology
from Kingston University, he writes about the interplay between customer experience and psychology for Acquire.

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