The Complete Guide to B2B Customer Journey Mapping

The Complete Guide to B2B Customer Journey Mapping

Modern B2B marketing is customer-focused. While that statement might not come as much of a surprise, implementing it can prove to be difficult. It requires both a close understanding of, and commitment to, customer experience strategy.

Put simply, a strong customer experience strategy in the B2B realm means ensuring that every touchpoint along the buyer's journey results in positive audience experiences. With each touchpoint, brand credibility rises, value clarifies, and the potential customer becomes more likely to convert.

An illustration of a customer unsure of where to look for a brand

Especially in B2B industries, where 6+ touchpoints are necessary to generate a qualified sales lead, taking charge of each touchpoint as part of the larger audience experience is vital. It requires shifting your POV from the messages you want to push to the points where your audience encounters your business, brand, and product.

A well-planned customer experience strategy can significantly increase not just your lead generation efforts, but also your customer and revenue generation. It allows your business to set more sustainable and realistic marketing goals, changing the focus to the customer in a way that allows every organizational level to realize the need for a customer-centric culture shift. One study found that 87% of U.S. and U.K. business executives view it as a top growth engine.

87% of U.S. and U.K. business executives view CES as a top growth engine

Take the rapid rise of the ride-sharing industry as an example. For decades, taxi companies were entrenched in a self-contained industry as the only option offering on-demand rides to consumers not able or willing to wait for more scheduled forms of public transportation. But within the last decade, ride-sharing alternatives like Uber and Lyft were able to completely disrupt this industry with a more customer-driven business model that aimed to focus on audience experience above all.

Of course, following the example of Uber and Lyft is easier said than done. The same study finding UX strategy to be a top growth engine also discovered that only 1 in 3 business executives felt fully prepared to address and implement it. That's where customer journey mapping enters the equation.

Only 1 in 3 business executives feel fully prepared to address and implement UX strategy

What is Customer Journey Mapping?

As the name suggests, a B2B customer journey map is a visual collection of the typical road your target audience takes on their way to becoming a customer. Typically presented in a linear fashion, it outlines not just their current relationship with your brand and business but also their needs, perceptions, and feelings at each stage of the journey.

Once completed, this visual tool can go a long way toward providing context and reasoning behind individual sales initiatives. It also allows organizational leadership and everyone else connected to your marketing efforts to recognize just how important a shift to a customer-centric promotional strategy truly is. The resulting breakdown of organizational silos can lead to a more collaborative, cross-functional marketing effort that ultimately improves both customer acquisition and retention.

Most customer journey maps are divided into 5 distinct stages, aligning closely with the traditional B2B sales funnel:

A graphic depicting the following stages: Awareness, Consideration, Decision, Loyalty, and Advocacy
  • Awareness – in which audience members first discover the brand through initial pain point recognition and research into potential solutions. Touchpoints here tend to be about making a positive first brand and product impression.
  • Consideration – in which audience members are beginning to compare potential solutions to their problems or pain points. Touchpoints at this stage succeed when creating strong differentiation and social proof, like case studies that showcase product success.
  • Decision – in which audience members make their buying decision either individually or as part of a buying group. Successful touchpoints at this stage reinforce core product benefits and offer glimpses into the product through demos or trials.
  • Loyalty – in which new customers first experience the product and form impressions that will inform their decision to remain customers long-term. Successful touchpoints at this stage foster trust, improve product onboarding, and solicit customer feedback in order to build long-term engagement.
  • Advocacy – in which loyal customers turn into brand and product advocates that spread the word about their positive experiences to peers and colleagues. Successful touchpoints at this stage encourage testimonials and product reviews or mine repeat customers for potential case studies.

Companies that take an active role in mapping their typical customer journey can build their entire marketing and sales strategy around these stages. With a close understanding of the audience's mindset and needs at each stage, they can design touchpoints specifically designed to create a positive customer experience and move prospects through the sales funnel.

B2B Customer Journey vs. B2C Customer Journey: Similarities and Differences

Regardless of industry, every potential customer undergoes a journey from awareness to purchase and beyond. Just what that journey looks like, though, can differ significantly.

Most importantly, B2B customer journeys tend to be more complex, due to longer sales cycles and more stakeholders involved in the decision-making process. Individual pain points turn into organizational needs, with potential buyers representing a goal that extends beyond themselves. Understanding just who you are talking to, and what role that audience member plays in the purchasing process, can influence your messaging, content, and choice of channel.

The more complex journey also means accounting for individual stages that are more nuanced and require more specific touchpoints specifically designed to account for buyer needs:

  • At the awareness stage, buyers may interact with brands through high-level web pages, third-party review and comparison sites like G2 and Capterra, or industry groups on social media.
  • At the information searching stage, buyers may seek more specific product information on deeper-level web pages, through case studies, or via live chat support.
  • At the supplier shortlisting stage, buyers look to comparative content that specifically pits potential products against each other, delivered via long-form channels like blog posts or webinars.
  • At the quotes, pricing, and negotiation stage, buyers often seek personal contact with suppliers that go beyond the standard pricing tiers listed on the supplier's web page.
  • At the ordering stage, buyers look for specificity in terms of ordering details, quantity, shipping estimates, and more. Email and one-to-one communications are the most common touchpoints.
  • At the delivery stage, buyers receive the order as a touchpoint on its own, with onboarding and other opportunities to ensure its successful use.
  • At the post-sales support stage, buyers expect companies to proactively reach out to ensure long-term success, both via standardized surveys and one-to-one communication.
  • At the finance and invoicing stage, buyers expect clarity in payments both via physical touchpoints like direct mail and electronic alternatives.

Each stage in the B2B journey, in other words, is tailored towards the more complex sales process. Note that touchpoints follow buyer needs and expectations, not vice versa - which is what makes building a successful B2B customer journey map such an important step in creating the larger CX strategy.

A graphic of the cartographer rolling out a giant, blank map

A Comprehensive Guide to Creating a Successful B2B Customer Journey Map

So far, we've covered in-depth the ins and outs of a finished customer journey map. Of course, a generalized version with the potential to apply to all B2B industries and niches only has limited appeal to a business looking to map the journey of their own target audience on the way to becoming customers and brand loyalists.

Creating that unique, customized journey map requires 6 steps that all work together to build the finished product. Let's dig deeper into the nuances for each of these steps to create your own B2B customer journey map.

Step 1: Define Your Buyer Personas

Successful journey mapping is only possible with an in-depth understanding of your target audience that reaches beyond demographics and into the interests, behaviors, and pain points of your audience. Through buyer personas, you can create a clear picture of the audience segments that you will map in this process.

You might be familiar with buyer personas, which are snapshot profiles of hypothetical, idealized customers. They take your audience research and turn it into unique segments that outline the segment's position in the company, role in the buying process, pain points, preferred channels, and more.

Look to create a buyer persona for each core member of the typical buying group within your industry. Then, analyze their involvement in each stage of the customer journey. Depending on the differences, you might need a uniquely mapped customer journey for each persona.

Step 2: Break Down the Stages of Your Customer Journey

Using the above breakdown of general stages as a guide, analyze the typical buying process for your own product or service. You may or may not need to include each stage, or you may need to add a new stage unique to your industry.

For example, SaaS providers often define a distinct onboarding step separate from the purchase decision that includes tutorials or guided training as soon as a software purchase is complete. Similarly, manufacturing clients may include a distinct 'site visit' stage in which a potential supplier's factory is examined by internal experts before the purchase of any goods is confirmed.

Generally speaking, it helps to start simple and follow a template. But if your audience tends to always follow a step that isn't already outlined, add it to increase the accuracy of your journey map.

Step 3: Evaluate the Buying Process and Pain Points at Each Stage

For each stage you have defined, put yourself into your audience's shoes. What are they looking for at this stage? What problems are they trying to solve, and where do they look to solve those problems?

You might have solid, educated guesses at the answers to these questions. However, it's always best to rely on research to get more specific and accurate, truly reflecting your customer experience. Many user experience experts use a "jobs to be done" framework to outline needs and actions taken for each stage.

Step 4: List and Evaluate Existing Customer Touchpoints With Your Brand

At each stage, your marketing and sales messaging is likely already reaching your audience. Now, it's time to map those existing touchpoints to the stage in question, allowing you to see exactly where your blog posts, social media efforts, paid campaigns, sales calls, etc. are hitting your audience.

This step especially benefits from collaboration. Ask members of your sales and marketing team for any touchpoints they can think of, and where those touchpoints may fit. Being comprehensive here is a benefit, not a drawback. A content gap analysis, for example, can go a long way into building that content roadmap and mapping it to the customer journey.

Once all touchpoints have been outlined, it's time to evaluate them. You might find, for example, that many of your existing marketing efforts focus on the awareness stage, allowing you to shift some to the decision stage. Similarly, you can ensure that the messaging in each touchpoint aligns with your audience's needs and pain points at the stage towards which it is targeted.

A graphic of the cartographer standing in front of his finished map

Step 5: Create a Visual Customer Journey Map

So far, our efforts have focused largely on collecting data points. Turn those data points into a visual system for evaluation and future guidance using a visual customer journey map template.

Here, you can draw on plenty of software and app providers looking to sell their platforms. Sketch, Adobe XD, Smaply, and Miro are just some of the countless options available for marketers. Many of them offer a free trial; compare them to each other before choosing the one that works best for your needs.

Step 6: Regularly Evaluate Your Journey Map Against Real-World Data and Trends

The final step in customer journey mapping begins when the map is complete. Customer experience strategy is an ongoing process, and much of it depends on making sure that your map remains both accurate and optimized.

At a regular interval of at least every 6 months, review the journey map using a few simple steps:

  • Walk through each of the steps in this guide again to ensure the buyer personas, touchpoints, audience needs, etc. are still accurate for your audience.
  • Review any current audience research to see how the insights gained from it may change your map moving forward.
  • Review the analytics and KPIs for each core touchpoint in each stage to determine whether it is performing as expected, or needs improvements down the road.

Once again, collaboration is key in this step. Everyone using the customer journey map, from marketing to sales and even senior leadership, should be involved in making sure that it remains accurate and actionable over time.

Leveraging Your Journey Map for an Omnichannel Customer Experience

Mapping your journey-spanning customer touchpoints also allows you to take one step further towards omnichannel marketing, in which the customer experience is optimized regardless of the channels through which the touchpoints occur. As the logical next step beyond multi-channel marketing, omnichannel approaches leverage all relevant channels in ways that are both interchangeable and build on each other for a better, more comprehensive experience.

In this approach customer data is stored across channels to be leveraged at a moment's notice. An eCommerce brand, for instance, is able to personalize the website experience while at the same time allowing purchases through its online store, mobile app, or social media store. At its best, omnichannel eCommerce experiences even allow customers to begin their purchasing journey on one channel while completing it on another.

Research from Google shows that 98% of American internet users switch between devices in the same day, even as they interact with the same brand. A comprehensive customer journey map allows you to optimize your channels to account for those switches, creating a positive experience that both accounts for your audience's preferred channels and allows them to engage with you and continue their buying journey with you regardless of channel.

Uncovering Sustainable Benefits of Successful B2B Customer Journey Mapping

Beyond the potential to create a true omnichannel marketing strategy, customer journey mapping also comes with a few other advantages that are important to consider as you look to implement the process.

Most importantly, it shifts the company's focus to the consumer, turning customer acquisition and retention into an organization-wide, cross-functional effort in which everyone is involved. That shift is essential to ensuring that the customer experience is at the center of all marketing, sales, and promotional efforts.

With that focus in mind, some of the most critical benefits of journey mapping include:

  • Setting more realistic and sustainable goals for each journey stage, along with the ability to measure those goals in the long-term.
  • A visual tool that allows internal stakeholders to better understand the context and reasoning behind individual marketing and sales deliverables.
  • A change in perspective to customer-centric marketing and sales efforts that is easier for all internal stakeholders to buy into.
  • More streamlined channel and messaging strategies that have a higher potential of successfully addressing audience needs and pain points.
  • Improved inbound marketing efforts that focus resources only on content and lead magnets most likely to convert leads.
  • The ability to define existing gaps in the customer experience that can lead to business adjustments to better focus marketing and sales efforts.
  • A breakdown of organizational silos that can instead focus on internal collaboration with the goal of enhancing the customer experience.
  • Increased retention rates, thanks to the ability to attract more loyal customers and a strategic consideration of post-purchase messaging.

Put differently, building a B2B customer journey map has both tangible and intangible, and both strategic and tactical benefits for your organization. Its implementation can go a long way towards building more sustainable, successful, and efficient marketing campaigns.

From Journey Mapping to Successful CX Strategy

Above all, customer journey mapping allows you to take a step back. Especially for organizations with long-established marketing practices, it forces experts to consider all of their efforts from a customer-centric perspective, allowing for a comprehensive review and evaluation of all existing tactics as well as ongoing optimization of future campaigns and strategic planning. On a broader scale, it requires a culture shift to considering customer needs and preferences first.

This ability to build more strategic and differentiated marketing efforts, of course, comes with a price. In this case, that price is the need to re-think existing efforts, instead leveraging comprehensive audience research and insights to change the point of view. Getting started requires both buy-in to this shift, and the research necessary to build personas, journey stages, and pain points.

Fortunately, you don't have to do it on your own. Steel Croissant is ready to help you build a customer journey map that can ultimately shape your entire marketing efforts. Ready to get started? Contact us today to start the conversation.

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