A B2B Guide to Customer Journey Management

When it comes to managing customer experiences, B2B businesses face a unique set of challenges. Managing a business’ progress from potential lead to ongoing satisfied customer is a complicated process that requires time, attention, and technical coordination across teams.

That’s why we’ve put together a guide to help you get started planning and managing your customers’ journeys.

Illustration of Customer Journey Management

What is customer journey management?

Customer journey management is the process of mapping out and continuously improving the experiences you want your prospects and customers to have as they move through your sales funnel. It pays particular attention to the nuances of user experience and the transition points from one stage of the customer journey to another — making sure their needs are taken care of.

What are the 5 stages of the customer journey?

There are five stages to the customer journey: awareness, consideration, decision, retention, and advocacy. (Sometimes businesses refer to these as “The 5 A’s” or “The 5 E’s” — but we think they’re clearer without the alliteration.)

  • Awareness — A customer has a problem or a need and they’re starting to look for solutions. They’re looking for information instead of a sales pitch, so educational offers such as blogs, infographics, white papers, and ebooks work best at this stage. In some cases, the awareness stage is about educating potential customers about what you do before they’ve even recognized a need for your product or service. Getting your message in front of them as early as possible will position you to be top of mind when they begin to recognize a need.
  • Consideration — At this point customers are beginning to compare offerings from different companies and may begin reaching out to brands for more information. The focus should move from high level overview to more detailed comparisons. Success stories, case studies, email nurturing campaigns, and webinars work well at this stage.
  • Decision — This is the critical juncture. Here the focus moves from marketing to sales. Customers at this stage are now qualified leads actively preparing to make a purchase. They’ve filled out a contact form, and they’re ready to request a demo and speak to sales or support staff. This phase draws on case studies, testimonials, and intros to existing customers.
  • Retention — You did it! You made the sale! Job’s over, right? Nope. This step is about keeping customers happy and engaged to increase their lifetime value for your business. Product promotions, loyalty programs, and customer training sessions demonstrate the continuing value your brand provides — plus investing in customer retention is more cost-effective than acquisition.
  • Advocacy — This is when customers start advocating for you. You’ve worked hard to impress them and they’re ready to tell others. These are the customers who provide testimonials, write reviews online, volunteer for case studies, and fill out Net Promoter Score surveys on your behalf.

Illustration of the 5 stages of the customer journey. Awareness to Consideration to Decision to Retention to Advocacy.

What tools are used in customer journey management?

In order to manage your customers’ journeys, you’ll want tools for data management, audience segmentation, marketing, and analytics. A good CRM (customer relationship management) software is the best place to start.

A lot of companies invest in industry-specific CRMs primarily as a tool for their sales team without considering how it can support their broader customer journey, only to find out later that their features are limited. Though every organization has different needs, we generally recommend businesses choose CRMs that either have their own native martech built in (such as Hubspot or Marketo) or CRMs that have robust, open API that’s flexible enough to incorporate additional marketing tools (such as Salesforce or Pipedrive).

CRMs from Hubspot, Marketo, Salesforce, or Pipedrive are all worth considering.

Remember: customer journey management is about attending to the quality of your customers’ experiences, especially as they transition from one part of the journey to another (from the consideration to the decision phase, for instance). This requires coordination between different teams at your company, such as marketing and sales. That’s why you should pay particular attention to how different teams can coordinate their tools to minimize discrepancies and make sure customers don’t fall through the cracks.

How is the B2B customer journey unique?

There are a number of factors that B2B companies need to consider when assessing the unique features and challenges for their particular customers’ journeys.

What are the challenges of optimizing the B2B journey?

There are a lot of stakeholders. Selling a product or service to a business often means getting a number of important stakeholders on board. Instead of appealing to a particular individual with one or two clear, well defined motivations influencing their decision, the B2B customer journey can involve executives, production professionals, accountants, and IT staff. That means customer personas with more complicated motivations and more elements that factor into the decision making.

Different stages of the customer journey may take longer – or vary in importance – depending on your business. When it comes to large, higher-stakes purchases for a company, the process from initial awareness to making a purchase often takes a lot longer. For them, the lead-nurturing stage is more complicated and the customer journey is subsequently less linear. Different decision makers may engage the process at different steps along the path at the same time, some weighing options in the consideration phase while others are only just learning about the product.

However, for B2B companies with a lower barrier to conversion, retention and upselling may be critical. A company with a $50,000 product has to dedicate a lot of time and energy to getting customers in the door, but a company with a $5 version of their service will invest most of their time encouraging existing customers to upgrade. Which parts of the customer journey matter most to your business will depend on the nature of the product and your range of potential customers.

You need to know when to personalize and know when to automate. Sometimes B2B marketing requires a more personalized touch; sometimes it requires thorough, thoughtful automation to move potential customers further through the funnel. Either way, marketers and salespeople have to work in close coordination to identify the right time for a salesperson to get involved. Establishing a protocol for lead scoring will help you determine when an MQL (marketing qualified lead) becomes a SQL (sales qualified lead) so you can pass potential customers from one team to another more efficiently.

Understand the lifetime value of your customers so you know how much to invest in retention. B2B customer management often involves establishing long term service relationships. The potential lifetime value of customers tends to be higher, and for that reason customer retention and advocacy phases are critical to doing business. Determining lifetime value is also crucial to managing your ad spend: a good rule of thumb is that lifetime value should be 3 to 4 times your cost per acquisition.

What do B2B customers really want?

While B2B customer relations may be a little more complicated than B2C, some elements that cross over. A study by the consulting firm Bain & Company sorts the motivating factors in B2B purchasing decisions into five elements of value that mix objective and subjective determinations in some surprising ways.

  • Table stakes — These are the basic requirements for consideration: does the product meet specifications, is it acceptably priced, does it comply with regulations, and does it abide by ethical standards?
  • Functional value — These address broader economic or performance needs such as scalability or cost reduction.
  • Ease of doing business value — These factors include boosting productivity and improving operational efficiency.
  • Individual value — These elements include design aesthetics, marketability, reputation considerations, and the perception of perks.
  • Inspirational value — Lastly, there’s the ethos of the company, its sense of social responsibility, and its vision for the future.

It’s common to view B2B customer relationships as motivated mostly or even exclusively by the most objective, measurable hard economic concerns on this list. But the study found that more subjective determinants of value based on reputation, branding, and customer perception played key factors as well and offered avenues for businesses to differentiate themselves in competitive markets.

All that’s to say: don’t underestimate the importance of wowing your customer. Your company’s ability to meet basic specifications will get you in the door, but that little extra something — that je ne sais quoi — plays a bigger role than you might think in gaining and retaining customers. Good customer journey management practices will help you optimize those experiences and demonstrate your value to your customers more clearly.

5 Ways to Create a Better B2B Customer Journey

Great, so how do you do it? What particular practices will help you improve your customers’ journeys? Here are five steps to get started.

5 ways to create a better B2B customer journey: Create a B2B customer journey map. Align yourself with what matters most to your customers. Define your metrics for success. Establish customer journey managers. Establish clear communication between teams by consolidating platforms.

Create a B2B customer journey map

There are a lot of options for tools to help you map out and manage your customer journey. To get started, Hubspot offers a free customer journey template as well as a short course on creating your own first customer journey map.

When it comes to creating the map itself, there are a number of helpful software options. Some of the most widely used are UXPressia, Gliffy, Smaply, or Figma. The more complicated your journey map, the more helpful this software will be. If you’re just getting started though, there are some low-tech ways to do it. You can map out a journey using Powerpoint. Heck, you could even use a whiteboard if you want to go analog. Do a little research to figure out what works best for your organization.

Charlies from It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia standing in front of a conspiracy map.
Conspiracy theory or analog customer journey map?

Align yourself with what matters most to your customers

Solving problems for your customers is crucial to retaining their business and maximizing their lifetime value for your organization. Your customer profiles gave you a start — now ask the actual customers. Keep in regular touch with surveys and feedback forms to find out what works best for them and what doesn’t. If you can anticipate their needs, you can position your business as the answer.

Define your metrics for success

Determine what success looks like for you and your customers, then set specific, measurable goals for how to track your progress. This could mean determining how many SQLs you need to generate per month, or establishing a target client retention rate. Whatever the goals are, establishing clear KPIs will help you both stay on track and make sure you’re continuing to meet your customers’ needs.

Over time, the data you generate from establishing clear KPIs and measuring your success will help you set better goals for the future and assess what parts of your funnel need the most work. If you have historical data about customer conversion ratios, you can better estimate how many new leads you’ll need per month to meet your sales goals, and you can identify blockers in your funnel so that you know where to invest your resources.

Establish customer journey managers

Determine which steps in the customer journey your organization needs to prioritize then assign particular people to oversee those steps in the process and refine them over time. That might mean putting someone in charge of managing customers’ experience ordering products on your website or assigning a liaison to oversee the first demo call when a new customer fills out a contact form on your landing page. Individual managers in your organization can take responsibility for overseeing these steps and for determining how to streamline them in the future.

Establish clear communication between teams by consolidating platforms

It’s normal for different teams at your business to use different software platforms to do their job. But if customer information isn’t conveyed accurately and consistently from one platform to another, these discrepancies can form some of the weakest links in the chain.

For instance, if your marketing team is collecting information about leads that doesn’t end up in the hands of your sales managers, that can put them at a disadvantage when meeting with new clients, or it can result in redundant questions that make it look like you’re not paying attention.

When possible, getting everyone on the same tech can help smooth these transition points. That’s why we recommend finding a CRM with capabilities robust enough to serve multiple purposes and scale with you as you grow.

Elevate your customer journey management strategy today

B2B Customer journey management is complicated, but the rewards are great when you do it well. A responsive, coordinated, clearly delineated plan for customer interaction at every stage of the client lifecycle will help you generate new leads, retain existing customers, and win over advocates for your business..

At Big Sea, we know how to help our B2B clients position themselves as an indispensable resource for their customers. We manage go-to-market strategy, perform martech audits, and spearhead lead generation campaigns that earn you new business while boosting your ROI. Contact us today to take the next steps on your journey.