B2B customer journey

The B2B Customer Journey: What It Is & How to Map It

Key points

  1. The B2B customer journey involves a structured process spanning from need identification to post-purchase advocacy, requiring companies to understand distinct stages—awareness, consideration, decision, retention, and advocacy—to create seamless customer experiences.
  2. The shift towards a predominantly digital journey with B2B buyers preferring to research and trial products without sales reps’ intervention indicates a need for companies to provide clear, accessible information and self-service options.
  3. By conducting a thorough customer journey analysis using heatmaps, analytics tools, and customer feedback, businesses can gain insights into customer behaviors and preferences, allowing them to improve the customer experience and drive growth.

Most typical purchases start like this: Identify a need or challenge, research solutions, and compare options before making a purchase. In a B2B setting, this process often takes weeks or even months, as it involves careful consideration and evaluation.

But unlike in the past when relying heavily on salespeople was the only way to navigate this journey, today’s B2B customers are taking a more proactive approach.

They conduct in-depth research, compare prices, read reviews, and start free product trials before making a final decision. In short, 75% of B2B buyers say they prefer a rep-free sales experience, according to Gartner’s B2B buying report.

This shift in the customer journey shows the need for B2B companies to simplify the buying experience for customers. Only then can you strengthen your sales strategy, differentiate your brand, and build lasting customer relationships.

This article explores the B2B customer journey, its stages, and how it differs from the B2C journey. I will also discuss customer journey analysis and mapping your customer journey to help you create a seamless buyer experience.

What is a B2B customer journey?

A B2B customer journey refers to the complete interactions and experiences a buyer has with your agency. It encompasses all customer touchpoints, from hearing about your brand to becoming loyal advocates.

It’s not uncommon for business owners to mix up the customer journey with the buyer’s journey. Though the two concepts may overlap, it’s essential to understand their differences.

While the customer journey covers the entire lifecycle of a customer’s interactions with your company, the buyer’s journey focuses on the stages leading up to a purchase decision.

In essence, the buyer journey is a subset of the broader customer journey and consists of three stages; awareness, consideration, and decision-making.

Remember, every buyer starts as a customer, but not all become loyal advocates. Therefore, catering to both journeys creates seamless customer experiences that attract, convert, and retain buyers.

5 stages of the B2B customer journey

A typical B2B customer journey consists of five stages namely: awareness, consideration, decision, retention, and advocacy. Let’s discuss each of them briefly.

1. Awareness

This customer journey stage begins when buyers become aware of a challenge and start researching potential solutions. It’s at this point they discover your agency and its offerings through various channels such as online searches, industry events, social media, or referrals.

At this stage, providing relevant and helpful content is a great way to build brand awareness and pique the interest of potential buyers. The goal is to help them understand their challenge and proffer solutions.

Examples of content you can create in this stage include:

  • blog posts

  • videos

  • podcasts

  • ebooks

  • whitepapers

  • webinars

2. Consideration

Once aware of their problems, customers evaluate different solutions and compare prices. Product webinars, comparison guides, and case studies are examples of content that help position your agency as an expert and move leads toward making a buying decision.

3. Decision

At this stage, customers have narrowed down their choices and are ready to make a final decision. But there’s still work to do. Since they are already product-aware, providing consultations, industry-specific case studies, testimonials, product demos, and free trials are effective ways to influence their buying decision.

4. Retention

Research shows that customer retention is more expensive than acquiring new ones. This makes it imperative to provide a seamless post-purchase experience for your clients. You can offer flexible payment options, provide reliable customer support, and a great onboarding experience to encourage repeat business.

5. Advocacy

Satisfied customers can become powerful brand advocates. They can provide positive reviews, recommend your business to others, and engage your business on social media or online communities.

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Brendan Tully

Therefore, make it a priority to deliver exceptional products and services to your clients.

The difference between B2B and B2C customer journeys

While the end goal is similar, the customer journey in the B2B (business-to-business) and B2C (business-to-consumer) world differs significantly based on factors such as target audiences, sales cycle, and decision-makers. Let’s look at the differences between the B2B and B2C customer journeys.

Target market

The target market for B2B companies is usually smaller, industry-specific businesses with needs or challenges that your product or service can solve.

Conversely, B2C companies target a broader consumer market, focusing on individual consumers who may have more general needs or desires.

These differences in the target market impact the messaging and marketing strategies throughout the customer journey.

Decision makers and end users

In most B2B companies, evaluating and selecting the best product typically involves multiple decision makers. In the Gartner report, the average enterprise B2B buying group consists of five to 11 stakeholders.

Also, the decision-makers are usually not the end users. For example, a CMO may make the final decision on which agency marketing software to purchase, but the end users are the marketing team.

In contrast, B2C businesses usually have one primary decision-maker: the individual consumer who is also the end-user.

Sales cycle

77% of B2B buyers feel that their recent purchases were very complex or difficult. This is because of the multiple stakeholders involved, making the buying process longer. In short, research shows the average B2B sales cycle could take up to 24 months.

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Whereas B2C customer journeys are usually shorter and more straightforward since the individual consumer is solely responsible for making the buying decision.

Buying motivation

B2B purchases are typically based on logic rather than emotions. Buyers consider factors such as cost, value, and impact on the business before making a decision.

In contrast, individual consumers base their buying decisions on their desires or emotions.

Marketing Channels

B2B marketing often relies on targeted content, industry-specific events, and building long-term B2B customer relationships. The aim is to establish credibility and reward loyalty.

B2C marketing frequently uses social media and mass media to reach a wider consumer audience. It places more emphasis on creating emotional connections and influencing individual buying decisions.

​​Conducting a customer journey analysis

B2B buyers don’t make impulsive decisions. Every interaction with your company either leads to the next step or pushes them further away.

conducting a customer joruney analysis

That’s why conducting a customer journey analysis is crucial. It allows you to analyze how they interact with your company at each stage of the customer journey. Think of it as stepping into the customers’ shoes to understand how your strategies impact their experience with your agency.

As such, carrying out a customer journey analysis allows you to gain valuable insights into consumer behavior, preferences, emotions, and pain points. The result? You’ll identify opportunities to improve customer experience, increase conversions, and drive growth.

Let’s look at proven ways to conduct an effective customer journey analysis for your agency.

Check heatmaps, Google Analytics, and other data points

Today’s digital world has paved the way for companies to use data-driven approaches to gain deeper insights into customer behavior and interaction patterns.

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For example, heatmaps can show you the areas your website is getting the most attention or clicks. Also, Google Analytics can provide data on user demographics, successful lead gen channels, and popular pages. Gathering this data can help you understand how customers are engaging with your website and identify areas of improvement.

Customer reviews and user surveys

Analyzing client reviews is an effective way to get insights into the buying journey and uncover pain points or areas of opportunity. For instance, customers who complain about poor customer support or terrible website experience may indicate areas that need improvement.

Also, conducting user surveys helps you gather feedback on specific touchpoints in the customer journey. This allows you to tailor your efforts based on direct customer input. Listen to your customers and address their concerns to enhance their overall buying experience and build stronger relationships.

Interviews with customers

Conducting in-depth client interviews helps understand their motivations, emotions, and challenges with your product or service. As a result, you can uncover valuable information about their thought processes, factors that influenced their buying decisions, and areas of improvement.

Looking at data in the client portal

If your agency is using a client portal software, it most likely has an analytics feature that allows you to get an overview of your customer’s journey. Which services have they bought, and when? Who are your best customers, and what makes them so good?

Keep all data about your clients in one place with our CRM feature.

Analyzing this data helps you improve the customer retention process flow. Take a deep dive into the data you already have, and add more information to it from external sources, such as your agency CRM software or social listening tools.

Mapping & optimizing the customer journey

How do you ensure your customers enjoy a positive experience at each stage of their journey? That’s where creating a B2B customer journey map comes in.

A customer journey map is a visual representation of a customer’s experience with your brand across all touchpoints. It’s an important tool to have as it helps you to better understand the path customers take when interacting with your business, identify pain points, and outline areas for improvement from initial awareness to post-purchase support.

Here are 5 steps to help you get started on your mapping process.

Develop buyer personas

A buyer persona is a fictional representation of your ideal B2B customer based on market research and existing customer data. It includes demographic information such as age, gender, income, location, and occupation, as well as psychographic details like interests, values, goals, and challenges.

define buyer personas

Developing buyer personas helps you tailor your marketing efforts to your customer’s specific needs. Statista reports that 36% of global B2B companies combine buyer personas and customer journey maps to help them understand how their customers move through the buying funnel. Through customer surveys, interviews, and reviews, you can gather data to create accurate buyer personas for your business. Moreover, in the realm of B2B, where meticulous record-keeping is paramount, the concept of data archiving emerges as a crucial component.

As I mentioned earlier, B2B buyers are usually not the end-users. So it makes sense to develop buyer personas for both decision-makers and users. It can also make sense to have a company-orientated buyer persona, for instance, targeting SEO agencies.

Touchpoints

The next step is to identify all the encounters that a customer has with your company. At what point do your customers contact, interact, or engage with your agency? These touchpoints can fall into any stage of the buying journey.

Here are a few B2B customer journey stages:

  • Touchpoints in the awareness stage may include browsing your website or engaging with social media ads.

  • In the consideration stage, it may involve reading case studies or receiving email newsletters

  • The decision stage touchpoints may involve checking out pricing pages, subscribing to free trial offers, or speaking with a sales team.

Identifying and mapping out these touchpoints helps you understand the customer journey and how to improve it.

Activation points for different personas

This refers to the specific actions or triggers that motivate B2B buyers to take the next step in their customer journey. These activation points can vary based on the unique characteristics and preferences of each persona.

They can include special discounts, personalized recommendations, or exclusive access to content. Understanding each buyer persona activation point helps you come up with targeted email campaigns and other marketing strategies that engage and convert customers at each stage of their journey.

Measurement & analysis of customer journey progress

The customer journey is dynamic and requires ongoing analysis to adapt to changing customer behaviors and enhance the overall buying experience.

To understand and improve your customer journey, it’s essential to track specific metrics that align with your business goals at each stage of the journey, from awareness to advocacy. By doing so, you gain valuable insights into how buyers navigate different stages of their interaction with your company.

Tools like Google Analytics, customer relationship management (CRM) systems, and customer feedback tools help in tracking and measuring customer interactions across various touchpoints. They provide valuable data on metrics, such as website visits, email engagement, and social media interactions.

Track everything about your agency with our powerful analytics feature.

By collecting and analyzing this data, you can identify points where potential customers are dropping off and areas of improvement. This allows you to make informed decisions to optimize the customer journey and drive better conversion rates.

Collecting customer experience feedback

How do you understand a customer’s experience with your brand at different touchpoints? That’s where collecting customer feedback comes in. You can gather this feedback through surveys, reviews, interviews, and social media monitoring. In addition to this, leveraging email verification tools can ensure that your feedback collection process is thorough and accurate.

The goal is to identify areas where leads face challenges. For instance, you can pinpoint when they cannot sign up for a free trial, upgrade their account, or access certain product features.

By detecting these issues, you can address customer concerns and further optimize the customer journey.

Frequently asked questions

What is an example of a B2B Experience?

A content marketing agency seeking new white label SEO software researches online, explores different options, compares pricing, reads case studies, requests a demo, or starts a free trial before making a buying decision.

What are the key components of a customer journey map?

Some key customer journey map components include buyer personas, touchpoints, timelines, customer emotions, pain points, actions, and opportunities.

What is the average B2B buying cycle?

The average B2B buying cycle is between six and 18 months. However, this may vary based on industry, target market, product, & decision-making process.

Optimize the B2B buying journey

The B2B customer journey is a complex and dynamic process. This much is clear. But if you focus on delivering exceptional buying experiences, you’ll excel at effectively guiding customers through different stages of their journey with your agency.

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