What is a customer journey? And what are the differences between the buyer’s journey and the marketing funnel? In this guide, we define the term, show how to build a customer journey in B2B and which touchpoints of your customers you should keep an eye on.
What is the customer journey? A definition and explanation of terms
Customer journey is a term from marketing and means in the German customer journey (often also purchase journey). The words User Journey or Buyers Journey are used interchangeably.
The term customer journey describes the various phases and activities that a potential customer goes through before (and depending on the model also after) the purchase. From a marketing point of view, the description of the customer journey of a B2B target group is helpful because it brings the B2B marketing strategy, which is still far too often strongly company-centric, down to earth – and makes it more efficient. In addition, it is immensely important for your lead management.
As part of the customer journey, it is first important to know the motive why a potential customer embarks on the buying journey:
- a newly identified problem as part of a development or optimization
- cost optimization
- push advertising
- generally new technologies with new possibilities about which a target group would like to find out more
- new challenges and tasks
Why is the customer journey so important?
In online marketing, we are increasingly losing direct contact with our customers. The customer journey is a model that helps marketers gain a basic understanding of their target audience’s behavior, issues, consumption, and desires.
Since every company has a different customer journey and the marketing measures in the individual phases change as a result, it is important to use the basic model as a starting point.
For example, you can use suitable analyzes and target group surveys to find the touchpoints (points of contact between potential customers and companies) that you have not yet occupied.
For example, your target group looks for possible solutions mainly via Google. However, your company website is not search engine optimized. As a result, your company does not appear at this important touchpoint and is therefore not shortlisted by the customer as a possible provider. As a result, you do not combine SEO and lead generation.
In addition, you can control your marketing measures better and more specifically. For example, if a customer has just identified their problem, you should not overwhelm them directly with product data sheets, but introduce them to the topic with a blog post or an explanatory video and demonstrate your expertise. If you use marketing automation, it is essential to work out your customer journey for efficient use.
Touchpoints in the customer journey
Whenever customers start looking for a service or a product, i.e. start the customer journey, so-called touchpoints or contact points arise. Put simply, this means that the prospect comes into contact with your company or your brand at these touchpoints.
Here there are opportunities for companies to get in touch with people who are willing to buy. However, the latter does not necessarily have to happen: In times of social media or in personal networks in real life, companies are being talked about more and more often without them having any direct influence on them.
For you as a company, it is important to make these touchpoints (this can be an advertisement, an advertisement, a social media post or a white paper) as customer-centric, informative, and professional as possible.
The goal for an optimized customer journey is not only to create many touchpoints so that there is a high chance that your potential customers will notice you but also design them as well as possible and always in line with your brand values. This tactic is called touchpoint optimization.
A customer journey map is a good way to have an overview of the buyer’s journey and the touchpoints that are as precise as possible. Here, the customer’s ideal buying journey is shown graphically and all important touchpoints are also entered.
The task of marketing (or sales ) is therefore
- to analyze the customer journey of its target group(s),
- to know the right marketing measures and possible touchpoints,
- to be able to check whether the company is even present at these points and
- can serve the current information needs of potential buyers.
The phases of the customer journey
It is important to know which information needs exist in which phase. Since there are also different sources of information in this regard, you should know them in relation to your target group – and place your company there.
A potential customer becomes aware of a problem and starts looking for a solution and possible suppliers. This phase represents the beginning of the customer journey. Prices and product features are less important here than a general presence on a topic in order to be perceived as a brand at all. Content is one of the tools that can be very useful in the awareness phase if it is relevant, informative, and written with a focus on the utility for the potential customer. In addition, SEO, social media, and advertisements are also ideal for the first phase of the customer journey.
The marketing measures for the awareness phase:
- blog posts
- Social media posts
- To sue
- Trade fairs and events
Based on the information research in the awareness phase, a list of solutions and providers is created. The list is reduced by in-depth research, on the basis of which at best a use case or business case is created. As a rule, the first contact between supplier sales and B2B buyers occurs in this phase at the earliest. On the content side, marketing can support this primarily with well-designed case studies, webinars, white papers, and other application examples. It is also important in this phase to convince with expertise and specialist knowledge. In moderation, individual product information can also be interspersed.
The measures for the consideration phase:
- Email Marketing
- white paper
- Product pages, landing pages
The longlist has now become a shortlist. The remaining providers are now being checked again for the best fit before one is ultimately awarded the contract. Since a buying center is staffed by a wide variety of stakeholders, content for the latter also makes sense in this phase. Example: What does a digitized production line mean for the work of an IT manager in a manufacturing company? The sales department is now also involved, it informs and advises the customer and ultimately makes him an offer.
The measures for the decision phase:
- Sales will contact you
- sales presentations
- Case Studies
- product demos
- Trial Subscriptions/Trial Versions
- Landing pages, product data sheets
After the purchase, the customer journey is by no means over. Rather, you must now ensure that your customer is satisfied with the product or service. Marketing and sales can share this task. It is important to maintain contact and to convince and bind the customer to your own company in the long term. For example, use evaluation options for customers, invite them to customer loyalty events, and provide them with informative materials.
The measures for the retention phase:
- customer loyalty events
- Gifts/giveaways (Christmas cards etc.)
If you did everything right in the retention phase, you now have the opportunity to turn your customer into a fan who will recommend your company and your products to other potential buyers. For example, ask if the buyer is willing to act as a testimonial or do a user report or case study with you. Good customer loyalty creates an advocate for your solutions and products.
The measures for the advocacy phase:
- Evaluation option for the customer
- Advice from sales/existing customer management
- Invitations to events
- Newsletter/additional content
B2B Buyers Journey then and now: why sales can no longer do it alone!
In the past, the buyers’ journey in B2B usually looked like this: Marketing obtained leads, for example at a trade fair or through a lead campaign. Or a potential customer made an inbound call to the provider. In either case, up until the 2000s, the buyer was heavily dependent on information provided by a supplier.
As a result, experienced sales staff encountered significantly less well-informed customers. In the past, companies were able to influence the purchasing decision process in B2B much better and were exposed to much less competition. Today, the Internet strengthens the buyer’s position with countless, easy-to-dig sources of information and endless networking with other experts – and forces companies to communicate more extensively, and therefore more honest.
A single sales employee can no longer accompany this intensive process from start to finish alone. It is therefore necessary for marketing to support sales, especially in the initial phases, with good branding and content that is useful for potential customers.
An example of the B2B customer journey
Based on several purchasing decision studies, we created an infographic depicting the buyer journey of design engineers. Even if this does not correspond to your target audience, the infographic helps with the basic understanding of the processes, sources, and effectiveness of B2B content marketing in the B2B customer journey.
Creating B2B customer journeys in marketing practice
The basic knowledge for creating the customer journey lies in detailed target group knowledge. The following steps will lead you to a realistic result:
1. Gathering information: Talk to existing customers and your sales department about the information processes of potential buyers. Interest in knowledge: What are regular stimuli for purchasing processes and where does the target group obtain information in the first step? Because only if you understand what problem your potential customers are confronted with at the beginning of their buying journey can you create the right content for the awareness phase. And even if you have to walk a long and usually rocky path through the entire customer journey, it is worth tapping potential customers in the first phase and not just focusing on B2B customers who are ready to buy.
2. Persona creation: The next step is to find out which specific information in which format the target group needs in the respective phase. It is particularly helpful to create a so-called B2B buyer persona.
3. Touchpoint analysis and customer journey map: With the help of this data, you now have the opportunity to create a so-called customer journey map. In the course of the so-called Customer Journey Mapping, you will receive a compact overview of where your target group obtains information, when, and how. Individual steps in this overview can be broken down in detail, for example using tracking data to trace the average information path on your own B2B website. But beware: You need the active consent of the website visitor here. But “offline touchpoints” such as a telephone call, your business cards, trade fair appearances, or even a visit to your company should not be ignored.
4. Marketing optimization based on the customer journey: In step 3 you identified the touchpoints. Now the question arises: Are we even present at the respective contact point? If so, is there anything else that can be optimized? Creating a presence is the first step, but this should always be done with a focus on the respective customer needs that you have previously defined in your buyer persona and touchpoint analysis. For example, if you find out that your prospects are primarily looking for solutions to their problems on LinkedIn, then you should build your LinkedIn company channel in such a way that it offers these potential buyers all the answers.
Admittedly, that sounds like a lot of work. The good thing is that you can determine the level of detail yourself. And even if you only optimize one touchpoint in the first step, this will have a beneficial effect on the marketing key figures.
Customer Journey and Marketing Funnel: What’s the Difference?
Basically, the difference is marginal, which is why the terms are very often used synonymously. Both models, the customer journey or buyers journey, as well as the marketing funnel (or sales funnel), depict the customer’s purchase journey and help marketers to place their marketing measures in the right channel at the right time.
However, the marketing funnel is designed more from the company’s point of view and usually runs from the awareness phase to the purchase. The customer journey, on the other hand, is created more from the customer’s point of view and combines the goals of marketing more closely with the goals of the potential buyer. At least in theory.
However, not every company that works with the sales funnel (purchase funnel) model is not customer-centric and every company that uses the customer journey is customer-centric. What is important here is the development and implementation of the respective model in practice. Customer centricity is a question of attitude and values for the entire company. There are also new models of the marketing funnel, the marketing circle (or sales circle) which, like the customer journey, goes beyond the purchase. We have described this model in the linked article.
Purchase decision processes in B2B: additional numerical knowledge
Demandbase and DemandGenReport published their “B2B Buyers Survey Report” in 2018. We have pulled out the most interesting figures for you. If you want to dig even deeper, you can download the full report here. 259 participants were surveyed, mainly from the high-tech, manufacturing, and B2B services sectors.
- The two most cited factors that have changed the most in the buying process over the past year are more time spent on research and more sources used (45% each).
- Most buying centers consist of one to six people (79%).
- The four most important factors when it comes to evaluating the providers remaining on the shortlist: are quick and easy availability of the solution (77%), features and functionalities (72%), solving an acute problem (72%), the price ( 71%).
- 73% of respondents said the ultimate winner convinced them above all by showing a better understanding of the buying company and its industry. Also important: quick response times to questions (third place with 66%).
- The most important aspects of the provider’s website: are relevant content that addresses the potential buyer directly (76%) and easy access to prices and competitive information (67%).
- 76% noticed ads from the provider they later chose (and for 49% the ad even influenced the decision)
Good luck in optimizing the B2B customer journey of your potential customers!