What is the B2B Customer Journey?

In this article, we explore the B2B customer journey. If you work in B2B sales or marketing, it’s important that you understand the customer journey that your future customers embark on so that you can target your marketing and sales efforts.

The B2B customer journey is long and very complicated. The complexity of the journey is one of the key differences between B2B and B2C. The B2B buyers will be influenced by multiple channels over extended periods of time, and you are often dealing with a team of decision-makers. At its most detailed the customer journey will differ between organizations and a customer journey map is a useful tool to have when planning your sales and marketing, we’ll look at it at from a bird’s eye view to give you a head start.

Emerging trends in the B2B customer journey

Technology has made the customer journey more complex, not less. Buyers have the information they need at their fingertips and are almost reluctant to contact vendors. Marketers have an increasing number of channels they can reach a prospect through, however actually measuring what works and what doesn’t is an increasing challenge. The role of the sales team is also changing; they are meeting prospects who are much more knowledgeable than they once were. The journey a buyer takes has changed drastically in just the last few years, here are some emerging trends:

  1. B2B buyers want to do their own research. Buyers will contact the vendor increasingly late in the customer journey. How vendors can influence the buying decision has changed. Research shows 90% of the buying decision is made before a salesperson is involved. In many cases, a vendor isn’t involved until the buyer has shortlisted potential solutions.
  1. The B2B buying decisions are becoming longer, not shorter. Buyers are seeking more information as they learn more about specific topics.
  1. The purchasing decision has always been made by teams, but these teams are growing in size. Especially as buyers are looking for increasingly complex solutions, the number of stakeholders has grown.
  1. Buyers are using multiple digital channels to meet their information needs including social media, websites, blogs, forums, and communities.

What can we conclude from these trends? There is no longer a simple B2B buying journey. We are dealing with an increasingly complex decision-making process. We do know that buyers are more reliant on finding information themselves. This means that B2B businesses need to make it as easy as possible for this information to be found and use digital channels to influence buyers.

What does the B2B customer journey look like?

It seems there are dozens of different B2B customer journey maps. However, in its simplest form, the B2B customer tries to answer the questions why, how and who?

Why do I need to solve this problem?

The B2B buyer will start their journey by trying to answer the question “why?”. Why do I need to invest money in this problem? A business will often want to leverage their investment to maintain what they have, make money, or save money. Marketing content must be educational and raise awareness, both of the solution and the broader context of the problem that needs to be solved. The buyer is looking for information on the problem and wants to be educated. Ath this stage the buyer is nowhere near making a purchasing decision.

How do I solve this problem?

From understanding why a problem needs to be solved the question in the buyer’s mind then becomes “how do I solve the problem?”. At this point the buyer has agreed they need to do something, however, they haven’t crystallized what that something is. Businesses will want to make the right decision and get as much value for their purchase as possible. The solution might be buying something new, it could however equally be investing in what they already have and this applies to both product and services.

Who can help me solve this problem?

This is where the buyer is deciding who to buy from.  This is where the education and awareness you have generated earns you a spot in the shortlist. You have helped the buyer reached this point and built up equity through your guidance. The ideal scenario is that by this point the buyer trusts and values your guidance, so your competitors need to work even harder.

The alternative B2B customer journey: Awareness, Consideration, Decision.

When you read the customer journey outlined above, where the buyer goes through the stages of why, how, and who, you may be wondering how this compares to the more established phases of awareness, consideration, and decision. The two approaches overlay each other. In the awareness phase, the customer is trying to understand their challenge. In consideration phase, they’re committed to solving the problem and looking at different approaches.  In the decision phase, they are starting to shortlist vendors.  This journey fits exactly to why, how, and who. In either case, this is a very simplistic view of the B2B customer journey, in reality, the journey is far more elaborate.

How does knowing the B2B customer journey help me grow my business?

We know that an increasing proportion of the customer journey is completed before a vendor is even contacted. Your potential customers are shortlisting solution providers before they even contact them.  The influence of the marketing organization on the decision-making process is growing.  The job on the salesperson is now to build on the relationship that marketing has established through their content.  To provide the right content you must understand what your audience is looking for at different points of the customer journey.