B2B customer journey

Understanding and using the customer journey to your advantage

Author
Portrait von Christin Hock. | © punkt & komma
Christin Hock
Content editor

The market is saturated, and the pressure of competition is high – so how can you successfully stand out from the crowd? To set yourself apart from other brands, you can apply several common strategies: for instance, strengthening your image or promoting ground-breaking technologies. However, especially in the B2B sector, there is often a need to catch up when it comes to optimising the customer journey. 

In this regard, B2B and B2C have increasingly converged in recent years. People are transferring habits from their private everyday life onto their daily work: They inform themselves in similar ways, and they expect the same level of comfort when searching for information. 

The B2B customer journey offers companies lots of opportunities to support potential customers in obtaining information. And also to facilitate their purchase decision-making processes through phase-adapted services.

We’ll explain to you which phases the B2B customer journey consists of and how it differs from the customer journey of the B2C sector. Also included: tips on how to create a customer journey specific to your company.

What’s a customer journey?

We've all internalised it by now: The customer is king. It’s essential to fulfil our customers’ wishes and needs to their complete satisfaction. But this is only possible if we know our personas. And the better we know them and the more precisely we can trace their "journey", the more successful subsequent marketing measures will be. 

But what exactly is a customer journey? The term describes the customers’ complete itinerary – from initial contact with a product, brand, or service to a defined action (for instance, a purchase or newsletter subscription). The individual phases of the customer journey are linked by the totality of the consumers’ touchpoints

These touchpoints can be standard advertising, social media marketing or advertisements as well as indirect touchpoints that were not initiated by the company. These include recommendations or comments on review portals, for example. The entire journey is visualised on a buyer's journey map.

Find the right mix for your content – with paid, owned and earned media!

Which phases does the B2B customer journey consist of?

As in the case of the classic B2C journey, the B2B customer journey consists of five different phases:

  1. awareness 
  2. consideration 
  3. decision/purchase 
  4. retention 
  5. advocacy 

In each of these phases, potential B2B customers require different information. A closer look reveals the intentions of customers and which touchpoints and content formats are relevant to the various phases.  

1. Awareness

People have a question or a problem, and they are looking for answers and solutions: A certain trigger, also called a stimulus, makes potential customers "search". Infographics, blog posts, podcasts, webinars or service content are a small selection of marketing tools that you can use to draw attention to your company during the awareness phase. 

Important: The content in this phase is primarily intended to be helpful and not yet product-related or product-specific. 

The magic word is: thought leadership! 

2. Consideration

Information was collected, a longlist of solutions and providers was created. In the consideration phase, B2B customers now go into more in-depth research to further filter out suitable companies. Business cases, trend studies or product comparisons are some of the tools that help them do this. At this point, companies can shine with expertise and know-how and thus make it to the top of the longlist.

3. Decision/purchase

The longlist has become a shortlist. The "chosen ones" will now be put through their paces again before a final decision is made. In this phase, the contract is usually awarded to the company that fully satisfies the customer's need for information and provides the most convincing arguments for its product. In the B2B sector, the decision-making phase mainly takes place on online marketplaces, in the online shop or via e-mail communication. Sometimes also via direct communication with a sales representative. Whichever one it is: The customer must be convinced to follow through with their purchase.

© Image by Arek Socha from Pixabay

4. Retention/delivery

Many companies still neglect the fourth phase – the retention phase. And yet, it’s extremely important. Because: After the purchase is before the purchase. Ideally, customers are so enthusiastic about your products and services that they would be happy to buy from you again. 

In the retention phase, it’s all about great customer service and support – and you need to implement them as quickly as possible. The contact points are: your help desk, service portals or social media channels. You should also keep your customers up to date on the latest deals and changes to your products via your newsletter.

5. Advocacy

Yes, the “recommendation factor” is becoming increasingly relevant in the B2B sector as well: What do others say? What are their experiences with a company, product, or service? Many buyers decide for or against something based on other people’s reviews and ratings. So: Turn your customers into brand enthusiasts and supporters and encourage them to leave a "like"! 

Your to-dos: Provide your existing customers with appropriate information on an ongoing basis and never lose touch with them! You can do this by sending them regular e-mail updates and with targeted social media activities. Sharing buttons are also useful to encourage them to share your content on relevant business networks (for example, on LinkedIn or Xing).

B2B vs B2C

How do they differ?

You think that the phases of the buyer’s journey and the B2C journey are more or less the same? Then you’re not that far off. After all, you’re dealing with people in either case – both in the private and in the business realm ... However, if you take a closer look at the two customer journeys, you will notice that there are some differences:

  • The buying process: In the business-to-business sector, it often takes a long time before a decision is made for a certain product or service. That’s because a wide variety of departments and decision-makers are involved in the purchasing process. This is also referred to as a buying centre within a company. Due to the selection and coordination process, the consideration phase usually takes much longer than in the B2C sector. 

    Tip: To win over your potential customers, this phase requires a higher density and depth of information. Industry-specific web portals, trade magazines, trade fairs and, in the best case, your website and social media platforms: These are the channels on which B2B buyers are active and where they need to be “picked up”. 

    By comparison: In the B2C sector, the customer journey passes through numerous scattered stations before a purchase is completed. Emotions, branding, trends, and brand awareness play a much greater role. 
     
  • The target group/buyer personas: Relatively clear ideas and needs – that’s what characterises the buyer personas in the B2B sector. Potential customers usually know exactly which product or service would help them solve their problem. Decisions are mainly driven by reason and economical concerns. Impulse purchases as in the B2C sector are virtually non-existent. 
     
  • The willingness to change: In the private customer segment, people like to change brands, even if they have positive memories of a former purchase. In the B2B segment, this is rarely the case. In addition to economic, contractual and cost-related concerns, it is views along the lines of "as market leader, you probably have the best offer" that bind one company to another.  

How do you win other companies over, nonetheless? With sufficient professional information and a heaping scoop of emotion. Yes, that’s right! In B2B, it’s important to spark emotions too. Because, as we’ve already mentioned, you’re dealing with people here – human beings with all their needs and wishes. 

You also need to convey a sense of security and trust! This is particularly crucial during the offer and decision-making phase. Once you have won them over, you are more likely to end up on the shortlist again – with the prospect of further conversions. 

How to create a customer journey in practice

You would like to draw up a realistic picture of your customer types and the respective customer journey phases – the so-called buyers journey map? Gather together all the people who are in direct contact with your customers! Talk to existing customers and the sales department about information processes. The following questions will help you create a comprehensive map:

Target group
  • Who is my target group and who are the relevant buyer personas? 
  • What are their psychographic (e.g. attitudes and values), sociographic (e.g. age, gender, education, career status) and economic characteristics (e.g. income, possessions, budget)?
  • What kinds of needs could each buyer persona have that can be satisfied with my products or services?
  • What types of content are (not) preferred when they search for a product or service?
© Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay
Touchpoints
  • What are possible stimuli and touchpoints of the various personas?
  • At which touchpoints am I as a company already present?
  • For which topics is the information need of potential customers not sufficiently satisfied yet?
  • What does the tracking data on your own B2B website say? 
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Admittedly, it doesn't just sound like a lot of work – creating a realistic customer journey is indeed a very time-consuming endeavour. But it's well worth it: Even if you optimise just one of the touchpoints, it will have a direct impact on your marketing KPIs. 

You’d like to become active now, draw up your own customer journey, and derive optimisation measures from it? punkt & komma will be happy to support you with that! Just send us an enquiry – and then: Let the journey begin!

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