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Making Sense Of The B2B Customer Journey—and How to Optimize It

Working with B2B companies can be more complex compared to the B2C space.

As a business, you need to create a good customer experience not only for individual customers but for two types of crowds—the B2B buyer and its actual users. 

By this, I mean that you need to consider both the buying side of your B2B customer (buyer persona), as well as the user community that lives within your customers’ organizations. This will create profitable relationships with your clients over a long time due to customer satisfaction.

As a user experience (UX) researcher, I like to incorporate some systems thinking in my work to expose all parties involved in creating a great customer experience across the buying journey. My teams and I make use of visual artifacts to communicate it to the stakeholders that are responsible for the different touchpoints so they can do their job better. 

The most common artifact is a B2B customer journey map. Mapping the B2B customer journey is a great way to get an understanding of the experience of the buyers and users on your client's side, and use it as a starting point to optimizing it together with your stakeholders. 

This article will give you an introduction to how to go about this process and help you to be more customer-centric.

What is the B2B customer journey?

You can think of the B2B customer journey as a storyline that describes your end-to-end relationship with a particular B2B client. There are multiple stages in the relationships that are often described as “touchpoints” or “customer interactions” in industry terms. At every touchpoint, there’s a different customer interaction that leads to a new part of the customer journey. 

Typically, a B2B customer journey will include the stages of the customer journey of how your clients and your company start a relationship and formalize it as part of the purchasing process (e.g. they hear about you, test your products, and compare to a few competitors and sign a deal). Then they make a purchase decision and become your current customers. 

This process continues all the way to a situation where existing customers become loyal customers (loyalty), or end the relationship (exit).

How does the B2B customer journey differ from the B2C customer journey?

The main difference is in the number of stakeholders you need to consider throughout the customer journey as well as the workflow around the buying process that tends to be different when an organization (B2B buyer) is involved rather than a B2C buyer. 

Typically, in B2C customer journeys, you only take into account one type of person (buyer) who goes through all the touchpoints, both as the buyer and the user of a product or a service. 

In B2B customer journeys there’s an added complexity. It’s very common that you have two types of personas to consider—the buyer and the user. Oftentimes, you have a few people (personas) who are involved in the decision-making process. 

We can think of it this way. Whenever there’s a need for a new software product as a result of pain points, there is a person or a group of people that could be managers or practitioners (or both) who would act as the “buying committee” and deal with you in the very early stages of your relationship. 

Once the relationship is formalized and you have onboarded your B2B client, then you’ll start working directly with the users of your product (e.g. developers, designers, lawyers, etc.). 

Many B2B contracts are yearly, so you’ll probably meet someone from the buying side at the end of the year once again to evaluate the service and see if and under which terms your relationship continues. As you can understand there’s a continuous sales cycle that involves customer retention in B2B sales.

B2B customer journey stages

Typically, you’ll be looking at the following touchpoints in an end-to-end B2B customer journey: 

Awareness

Usually, a potential B2B buyer figures out they need a solution to a new problem they identified based on current pain points. They will start doing some research looking for SaaS solutions to resolve these pain points based on their customer needs, and this is how they become aware of your company, as well as your competitors. 

This touchpoint is usually handled by the B2B marketing people who have to plan for creating a good “information scent” to lead users to your website with a carefully planned SEO strategy based on how they would typically look for solutions. 

This step usually involves good efforts on both your social media channels as well as on search engines.

Consideration

At this stage, a potential client starts digging deeper into a few solution providers in an attempt to find the best solution for their pain points. Your sales reps will typically get involved in this stage and will seek some potential customer feedback to learn how you can work together.

Sometimes this stage is long and involves many parties (especially in large organizations). The content marketing team also has an important role to play here providing all the necessary information to the decision-makers (the B2B buyers). 

Decision 

Your lead was impressed and made a decision to become a client! That’s exciting, you overcame all the roadblocks in the sales process. These steps usually involve a bit of negotiation and back-and-forth conversations to make sure a client gets the best solution. 

The sales team, including sales engineers and sales reps, plays an important role here. Also, in the marketing jargon, this step is often called “conversion” since we convert a lead to being an actual customer. Conversion rate is one of the most common metrics in both eCommerce and B2B marketing.

Implementation

Every software solution needs a change management strategy to become fully adopted by users. 

This step could take up to a few months with complicated products, and it typically involves an implementation specialist who builds a roadmap for successful implementation and adoption of the product, going through a few milestones. 

Service

After the implementation is done, your B2B customers are now getting continuous service from you. You have to make sure your customers get the support they need, enabling you to build trust and ensure continuous retention, as well as profitability.  

Typically, it would be the responsibility of the account manager, customer support, and the customer success team to oversee smooth continuous service. 

Growth and expansion

Once your client’s renewal date approaches, you might try to identify opportunities for growth (e.g. more licenses, the next service tier, etc. ). This is typically handled by the account manager and renewal manager. 

Exit 

Just like any other relationship in life, sometimes your business relationship with a B2B client has to come to an end because of one or a few valid reasons. 

Even this stage has to be well-managed, because if you end your relationship on a good note, there’s always a chance your client will return to you (or recommend you!) in the future. 

How to create a great experience for B2B customers?

Now that you understand the customer journey touchpoints that are involved in the process and their complexity, let’s look at a few things you can do to create a great customer experience for your B2B customers based on their customer expectations.

Personas and Firmographics

The first you can do is to learn who your buyer personas are, what are they looking for, and what roles they typically do in an organization. Bear in mind that in large organizations there’s a group of people who will be involved in evaluating and onboarding new suppliers with an average of roughly 7 different stakeholders evaluating the tool.

By learning the type of buyer persona (with the help of a good CRM tool!) you can potentially better cater to their needs. 

When it comes to the organizations themselves you can use firmographics, which is the same thing as demographic criteria when we deal with individuals. By segmenting organizations by size and location, you’ll be in a better position to create a B2B customer experience that fits these criteria. 

That leads us to the next point. 

Lead Qualification

In order to create a great experience, you have to make sure an organization is ready to embark on a journey with your company. 

After you collected enough leads and data about online behavior, done some firmographics, and understood the buyer personas, you can start to see trends and qualify the leads as “high likelihood to become a client” or not. 

It’s good for you as a business to understand where to invest energy in creating a great experience, and it’s good for prospective clients too. After all, you’d rather estimate who’s not ready to become a customer and know not to invest too much time there.

These prospective customers will appreciate it too, and will probably be back in the future when they are ready. The data analytics team and the marketing team can help you orchestrate this process, and having a good CRM tool in place can be very helpful for good lead qualification.

Customer journey mapping

Mapping the B2B customer journey is one of the best techniques to see which touchpoints in the end-to-end journey cause the most severe pain points. Usually, it helps you identify knowledge gaps, understand where to dig deeper, and then improve the journey as a whole. 

Remember that you have to choose one type of buyer persona to make the most of this exercise. This past article on the CX Lead can guide you on how to create a customer journey map step-by-step. 

Content Strategy

In a world where people consume so much information online, a good content strategy that fits all stages of the buyer journey is an essential part of any good experience. 

If you have content people on your team, you’ll have to work with them on creating this content. For example, in the awareness phase, you need good teasers such as videos and pages that contain short explanations of what your solution is. The goal here is to get attention. 

Afterward, the idea is to give more information that will allow potential clients to dive deeper and even compare your solutions with your competitors. White papers, reviews, and case studies could be helpful here. For instance, if Gartner mentions you in their reports and gives you a good rank, then this is something you can leverage in your content marketing strategy.

During implementation and service, you would want to create “how-to” articles and videos as well as FAQs that will support your clients all the way from the implementation phase onward. 

An interesting example is Usertesting, a tool for UX research. They took into account the fact that there’s a new group entering this profession coming from other jobs (e.g. market researchers, and even journalists) and they need to be trained on some research methodologies. To help, they created the UserTesting Academy that allows organizations to support their design and UX research employees from that angle.

Onboarding

There’s nothing like a first impression. If your organization can come up with an implementation strategy for your new clients, they will appreciate it and potentially stick with you for a long time. 

After all, every organization that looks for solutions is trying to solve a problem. The tool is only part of the solution, but a good strategy around change management that could lead to adoption is crucial, and many organizations do not know how to do it. That’s why you need to include a strategy around this part, too. 

Related read: Customer Onboarding Tips And Best Practices

Customer support

After onboarding new customers, they’ll for sure need help and support to use your new features and make the most out of your tool. 

A great customer success manager and strategy make a big difference in the customer experience. As B2B customer journeys are ongoing, since renewal dates occur every year, you want to always be perceived as "that good vendor who rocks the support strategy." 

User Community

If you want to go beyond renewal and branch into a more growth-oriented strategy, you need to come up with a way to help your customers build an internal user community around the tool. 

If you can create this user community, you’re more likely to have your client’s loyalty for longer and, get a better deal next year, since people spread the word inside their organization and the demand for licenses could potentially grow. Community-led growth is your key to getting into this stage.

Bloomfire, a content management system, has a great example of a user community. This enables users to learn how to be an admin to the tool, and also how to manage their own knowledge and content communities on Bloomfire. This is done by sharing best practices (by Bloomfire and the community), allowing people to ask questions, and getting feedback from other members about problems and solutions.

Get started with some customer journey mapping

As you can understand, the B2B customer journey is complex and involves many moving pieces, touchpoints, and stakeholders. If this article helped you understand that, you’re already in a better place compared to where you were before you read this article. 

The next steps would be to learn how to find opportunities for improvement by creating a customer journey map, and how to work with different stakeholders within your organization that could help you create an amazing experience through the B2B customer journey. 


Related Articles: 10 Best Customer Journey Mapping Tools In 2022, How To Optimize Your Website Customer Journey For Happier Customers

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By Yaron Cohen

Yaron is a professional in UX research and digital strategy. His expertise in user research and digital analytics contributed to design, product, and customer success teams in multiple industries.

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