B2B Customer Journeys: How They’re Evolving
We walk through how B2B businesses should approach constructing the ideal customer journey in 2023.
The 5 stages of the B2B customer journey
The customer journey describes all the interactions that take place between a customer and a business. It starts before a customer discovers your product and continues beyond a sale.
Business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-consumer (B2C) customer journeys share the same five basic stages:
Awareness: Customer becomes aware of their problem and begins searching for solutions
Consideration: Customer discovers your product or service as a potential solution to their problem
Conversion: Customer decides to buy from you
Service: Customer uses your product or service
Advocacy: Customer becomes a loyal user of your product or service and promotes it to other people
B2B vs. B2C customer journey mapping
Customer journey maps are “documents that visually illustrate customers’ processes, needs, and perceptions throughout their relationships with a company,” according to Forrester Research. They identify interactions and touchpoints at every stage of the customer lifecycle.
You create these maps to understand how customers view the experience of doing business with your company – meaning you take their perspective. That’s why Forrester also calls these documents “moment of truth” maps.
There are some differences between B2B and B2C journey mapping, which we highlight below.
Customer journey touchpoints take place before, during, and after a sale. As B2B sales cycles tend to be longer than B2C ones, B2B customer journey maps have more touchpoints in the awareness and consideration stages.
Certain touchpoints are particularly important in B2B relationships – think reading case studies and customer testimonials, viewing product demos, comparing prices and product features, going through week 1 onboarding, and evaluating a plan upgrade.
With B2B marketing, you have to convince multiple stakeholders of your product’s value since the end-user of your product may not be the same people with purchasing power. You need to identify who all these people are, understand their personas, and engage them on the channels they use with content that’s relevant to them.
For example, if you sell email marketing software, you need to not only convince marketers that you can make their jobs easier but also convince the C-suite that a more efficient marketing team translates to increased revenue.
By contrast, in B2C marketing, the consumer and end-user are usually one and the same person. (Family products tend to be an exception – for example, you’d market baby products to parents, not the babies themselves.)
How B2B customer journeys are evolving in 2023
B2B customer journeys are becoming more complex, as more business users now expect a customer experience similar to that of B2C brands. This demand is largely driven by millennials, who are now the primary B2B decision-makers, according to research by The B2B Institute and LinkedIn.
Being digital natives, millennials are used to cloud-based software and collaboration tools, and the experience of using these services has shaped their expectations of B2B products and solutions. For instance, they demand self-service sales transactions – choose a plan, pay for it, set up an account, and go. Gartner found that 44% of millennials don’t want to interact with a sales rep when it comes to making B2B purchases.
The report notes that millennials “are being met with a wave of new digital products, brand concepts, AI-powered plug-ins and productivity tools that are more akin to the consumer user experience of Uber and Airbnb than traditional business services.” To deliver similar experiences, B2B brands like Basecamp, Stripe, and Slack have mimicked popular lifestyle apps with their high-gloss marketing campaigns, aesthetics, and emphasis on UX.
The post-sale experience is changing, too. With the rise of “everything-as-a-service” models like SaaS, businesses need to convince customers to renew their subscriptions either monthly or annually. It’s now crucial to repeatedly engage customers at the service and loyalty stages through customer retention and engagement strategies.
3 challenges of B2B customer journey mapping
Identifying & prioritizing potential customer touchpoints
Marketers in 2023 need a new strategy for recognizing customers across channels and attributing conversions to certain interactions. You’ve probably been using third-party cookies for that – after all, they’re useful for retargeting ads and for tracking customer interactions on third-party platforms, apps, and websites. But data privacy regulations and privacy-driven changes on iOS, Safari, Firefox, and Chrome are leading to these cookies’ demise.
If you still rely on third-party cookies, these changes will greatly reduce visibility into the customer journey. The good news is you can regain that visibility by building a marketing strategy based on first-party data. (More on that later.)
Integrating the customer experience across touchpoints
One goal of customer journey mapping is to create a consistent experience across channels and touchpoints. But as the number and variety of those touchpoints grow, integrating tools can be complicated. For instance, different tools might use different naming conventions for data collection. You’d have to standardize these names if you want to unify data from multiple sources. To create this unified view, you need a centralized platform that integrates with your various customer engagement tools through APIs.
Preventing data silos & ensuring all teams can access customer data
The lack of integration between tools results in data silos and missed opportunities to engage customers. Let’s say sales has given a product demo to a specific prospect. If marketing doesn’t know that, they might email the prospect an invitation to try a demo. As a result, you waste the customer’s time and risk their annoyance and waste your own marketing time and resources.
How to harness the power of customer data to optimize B2B customer journeys
Use a CDP to centralize & consolidate your data
Boston Consulting Group found that companies that integrate their first-party data sources tend to “generate double the incremental revenue from a single ad placement, communication, or outreach” compared to companies who don’t.
Use a customer data platform (CDP) to connect multiple data sources and gather, clean, and validate your data in a single platform. From there, you can send that data downstream to customer engagement tools like email, advertising, customer service, and product development software.
Create a single customer view that combines all touchpoints
Most CDPs have an identity resolution capability that stitches together everything you know about a customer into a single profile. For example, you’d see that a certain customer who signed up for a free version of your software through a social media ad is the same person who has been reading your newsletter. As a result, you learn that certain paid ads and email content were significant touchpoints in that particular customer journey.
This information helps you serve your current customers, as well as provides valuable insights into how to reach new prospects.
Construct omnichannel campaigns
Once you’ve combined data from multiple sources into a complete image of the B2B customer journey, you can see which channels each customer segment tends to interact with and which touchpoints tend to be effective in nudging them toward the next stage. From there, you can design omnichannel campaigns that mirror this journey and orchestrate them all from a CDP or a customer engagement platform.
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