Does Your B2B Buyer Journey Cover These 7 Key Phases?
by Aden Andrus • July 29, 2020
There are a lot of ways to map out your customer journey. Every business and customer experience is unique, so the right way to map out your journey will really depend on your specific business, what you’re selling and who your customers are.
In many types of businesses, “awareness” is used to describe the point at which customers become aware of your business and enter your marketing funnel. For B2B businesses, however, awareness occurs when a key player becomes “aware” that they have a problem.
Depending on the problem your business solves, this may be something that your potential customers discover on their own. The key player here could be anyone, from customer service reps who are frustrated with their buggy support software to a CEO looking for a way to revitalize their business. It all depends on what you’re selling and who is affected by the problem it solves.
On the other hand, your business may actually play a key role in this stage. Your customers don’t know they have a problem or are missing out on an opportunity until they see an ad or hear from your sales team.
Regardless of how your customers discover that they have a problem, it’s important to understand why that problem occurs, how it comes up and who is affected by it. The better you understand the pressures that are driving your customers, the easier it will be to show them how your business can meet their needs.
Once your customers are aware that they have a problem, they start to look for solutions. Again, depending on your business, your customers might discover you in this stage…or they might not.
In some cases, it might be a situation where low-level employees bring up the problem with their supervisors. The issue is (or becomes) significant enough to get passed up the chain of command and decision-makers start to look into their options.
If awareness starts at a higher level in the company, things might go the opposite direction. If a CEO doesn’t have time to find a solution on their own, they might delegate the task to another key decision-maker.
Or, alternatively, if you’re the one who created awareness around the problem, your potential customers might decide to look into all of their options. Even if they love your product or service, many businesses prefer to evaluate multiple options before making a decision.
If you understand how your customers acquire information about their options during this phase, you can often find ways to insert yourself into the information-gathering process. Along the way, you become a trusted ally—which is a great first step towards becoming a valued partner.
Most of the time, when businesses are considering how to handle a problem, they’ve got a lot of things to think about.
Is the problem really that big of a deal? What is the scope of the problem? How much are they willing to spend on a solution? Is this something they can solve internally? Can their existing partners solve the problem? Will the benefits of the solution outweigh its direct and/or indirect costs?
It’s a lot to consider.
The good news is, this is another great place for your business to get involved. Share case studies. Show them why investing in your solution is a great idea. Explain why your business is the best, the easiest, the cheapest, the whatever-est option they could choose.
This is your opportunity to really shape and direct the thinking of your potential customers. There are a lot of ways to do this, but if you’re smart about it and focus on providing a great experience, you can do a lot to ensure that you end up on the shortlist of potential solutions.
To do that, though, you really have to understand the priorities and concerns of all the decision-makers who will be involved in this process. It isn’t enough to win over the secretary, you also have to convince the boss, so make sure you know who the key players are and how to win them over.
Even if you don’t play a significant role in the consideration process, your business must get on a potential customer’s radar by the end of this phase. If you don’t, there’s a very good chance that they’ll move to the decision phase…and your business won’t be in the running.
During the decision phase, your customers weigh the pros and cons of each of their different options. In this phase, your goal is to help them decide that your business is worth a try.
You want to do everything you can to help your customers get through this phase as quickly as possible. After all, the longer they stay in the decision phase, the likelier they are to develop “paralysis by analysis” or decide that change is simply to much work.
For many B2B businesses, the decision phase is where the marketing-sales handoff occurs.
Marketing is typically focused on building awareness and trust, which is how your business gets into and through the decision phase. Once your potential customers have decided that your business is worth a try, though, your sales team takes over and delivers a more personalized experience.
Of course, things don’t always go this way. If your potential customers discover they have a problem because your sales team cold-called them and told them about it, the line between marketing and sales might be very blurry.
The key here is to understand the thought process your customers are going through in the decision phase. The better you understand that thought process, the easier it will be to speed it along and snag a spot at the top of their list of solutions to try.
In the trial phase, your potential customers will decide to give one or more of their top options a try. Depending on what you’re selling, that might mean sample orders, a trial period, trying out several competitors simultaneously or just going all-in.
Regardless of how they decide to approach things, every B2B sale starts with a trial period. Your customers are feeling you and your solution out.
This is a critical time for your business, because even customers who are “all-in” aren’t really “all-in”. Your solution is still an unknown and if things aren’t going well, it won’t be long before they jump ship.
To prevent that from happening, you need the transition from marketing-to-sales-to-fulfillment to be seamless. If you set the wrong expectations during the beginning of your customer journey, you’ll just end up with frustrated customers.
From a business perspective, that’s a mistake you can’t afford to make.
Generally speaking, it costs far more to land a new customer than it does to keep an existing customer around. Marketing and sales are a big investment—one that needs to pay off.
To minimize turnover—especially during the early months of a new business relationship—it’s critical to think about things from your customers’ perspective. What sort of expectations do they have? What are they looking for out of the relationship? How can you make their new-customer experience as comfortable, easy and fulfilling as possible?
The better you can answer these questions, the more likely you are to make it through this crucial phase and establish a truly profitable long-term partnership.
The settledown phase is fairly straightforward. Once you’ve made it to this phase, your customers are starting to feel good about working with your business. They took a gamble…and it paid off.
During this phase, most businesses lean on their fulfillment team, marketing automation or some combination of the two to manage the customer experience. At this point, the goal is to keep the customer happy and continue to build trust in your brand.
The longer you continue to exceed expectations and deliver a great experience, the more calm your customers will feel. This particular problem is solved, so they can focus their attention on other, more pressing issues.
As far as your customer journey goes, you want to feed into that feeling. You want every interaction to fill your customers with peace, confidence and the assurance that this is no longer something they have to worry about.
By the time you’ve made it through the settledown phase, you’ve hopefully wowed your customers to the point that they love your business. You’ve made life better for them and your business, your employees and/or your products have become a valued part of their business.
At this point, you’ve established a real relationship.
Once you have this kind of relationship and history, your customers are invested in helping your business succeed, too. You’ve given them a great experience, and now they’re happy to return the favor.
So, need a case study? They’d be happy to help. In fact, they may be one of your biggest advocates amongst their peers and associates. Have a new product to sell? They’re probably interested. Need someone to put in a good word with a potential client? They’ve got your back.
This is where your customer journey pays off big time. Your customers have now gone from a marketing cost to a marketing asset. They’re getting results, you’re making good, sustainable money and everyone is enjoying the relationship.
It can take a lot of time and work to get to this point, but once you do, these customer relationships form the backbone of your business. They’re easy to maintain, highly profitable and just plain fun!
In the end, this sort of relationship is the whole reason why you invest in developing your customer journey. The better you are at cultivating great customer experiences, the more of these relationships you’ll develop and the better your business will perform.
Each customer journey is unique, but they generally have enough in common that you can map out specific steps that most customers will follow. These steps can be broadly described as: awareness, knowledge, consideration, decision, trial, settledown and relationship.
The goal of your customer journey is to get potential customers from beginning to end in the most effective (and cost-effective) way possible. You want to provide a great experience from beginning to end.
The better you understand your customers, their needs at each stage of their journey and their journey as a whole, the more effective you will be at nurturing your customers throughout their journey.
Of course, this is just the tip of the iceberg. To learn more about B2B buyer journeys and how to put them to work for your B2B business, reach out to us here to get specific tips and advice for your business. Talk to you soon!