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How to use research to build a B2B customer journey map

How to use research to build a B2B customer journey map
Contents

Why customer journey mapping matters

How to use research to build a B2B customer journey map

Why customer journey mapping matters

To improve the customer experience, you have to understand more about the current experience. B2B customer journey mapping forces you to step into the target audience’s shoes and record how they interact with your business (and, potentially, competitors’).

The goal is to consider the whole experience of interacting with a brand, including:

  • Marketing touchpoints designed to raise awareness and interest in the brand
  • Touchpoints along the purchase journey, from the purchase trigger through to the final selection
  • Touchpoints linked to activation, e.g., proofs of concept
  • Touchpoints linked to usage, e.g., customer service teams handling issues
  • Touchpoints linked to defection or lapsing, e.g., closing an account
  • How the various stages mentioned above link together into one single journey

It’s not just about recording every interaction. Customer journey maps should also:

  • Determine the importance of each interaction in shaping customer perceptions, and find the ‘make-or-break’ moments that should be prioritized
  • Gauge the target audience’s motivations and emotions across the customer journey. For example, you can use B2B jobs-to-be-done research to identify what ‘job’ your solutions are being hired for
  • Determine customers’ needs and expectations across each touchpoint
  • Identify the specific actions at each touchpoint. What is a buyer or user doing at each stage?
  • Identify the individuals or functions involved in the journey and the dynamics between them at each stage. For example, does one function dominate during the purchase process?
  • Explore who or what customers are directly interacting with at each stage
  • Identify who is responsible for delivering the customer experience across each stage
  • Understand what questions customers ask themselves across the customer journey and whether they have a hard time obtaining answers
  • Explore the obstacles that discourage individuals from moving to the next stage of the journey
  • Identify the most significant pain points in the journey
  • Measure your performance across the journey. You may not be able to explore this in much depth during a proper customer journey mapping exercise, but you should be able to get a high-level measure. You can measure your performance in more detail as part of a separate B2B brand tracking study

This knowledge enables you to improve customer experiences in several ways. First, you can quickly identify ‘blind spots’ that need to be addressed:

  • Find customers’/prospects’ biggest frustrations
  • Diagnose which stages of the journey are the source of most leakage or dissatisfaction
  • Identify aspects of the existing journey that need to be completely overhauled

Second, you can design a new and better customer experience:

  • Businesses can use mapping insights to optimize their budgets and drive changes where they are needed most
  • Marketers can communicate the right messages to the right people at the right time
  • The map itself can become a tool to educate/train employees. For example, Account Managers and the customer service team can turn every interaction with the customer into an opportunity to delight them
  • The sales team can anticipate buyers’ needs at every stage of the buying decision
  • The web team can optimize the experience by restructuring the website and optimizing content
  • Operational decision-makers can find unnecessary processes and reduce costs by removing them
  • Product teams can use their knowledge of buyers purchasing criteria to build products that better suit the target audience’s needs

B2B market research is generally more complex than consumer market research. Customer journey mapping is no different:

  • Because B2B decision-making units involve multiple people, there tend to several individuals involved at each touchpoint. Often, different individuals will participate at each stage; the person who makes a purchasing decision may not be the one using the solution
  • Because of the business-criticality of business purchases, the B2B buying process can last several months and involve many steps

How to create a B2B journey map

b2b customer journey map best practices

#1. Start by defining which personas you’re going to prioritize.

Not every customer is the same, and not every customer is going to have the same journey. That is where personas, or customer segments, come in.

To ensure customer journey maps are accurate and precise, you need to select some personas to focus on during the research process.

To explain why personas matter, let’s consider two customers of a B2B fintech company:

  • Company A is a small business with no legacy technology and straightforward needs from their fintech products. Their buying journey might be simple – they do their research online and purchase an ‘off-the-shelf’ product without speaking to sales representatives. Once the purchase has been made, implementation is relatively painless, and only two stakeholders use the product
  • Company B is a large enterprise with a lot of legacy technology that requires fintech products to be customized to their systems. Their buying journey is likely to be more complex and involve multiple conversations with stakeholders. Once a purchase has been made, the implementation may take several months. Even once it’s complete, adoption might be slow, as the product is rolled out among product champions before being used more widely

If you try to build a single customer journey map that will cover both audiences, you will either:

  • Build a model that is very high-level and simple to ensure it covers both audiences
  • Build a model that is overly complex and has lots of contingencies (e.g., ‘if they are a small business, this step is skipped’)

Instead, we recommend building a separate map for each persona.

You may be able to use personas or segments from previous B2B segmentation research. If your organization doesn’t have a persona model, you can create new personas by reviewing:

  • CRM data
  • Market research reports
  • Feedback from client-facing teams
  • Any other documents that might give insight into customers or buyers

Ultimately, you’re looking for archetypes of different customer types. These archetypes should reflect a buyer’s profile, priorities, needs, motivators, challenges, behaviors, and/or values.

#2. Engage internal decision-makers.

Look at your organizational structure and pick a handful of colleagues from each department. Speak to them and establish every interaction their department could have with a customer or buyer across their journey.

You should also gauge how frequently these interactions occur, who initiates them, which role/s within the customer organization is involved, the purpose of the interaction, what happens explicitly, and the process by which customers move from one stage to the next.

Ultimately, the goal of this exercise is to:

  • Develop a ‘helicopter view’ of the customer journey
  • Obtain decision-makers’ buy-in to the project
  • Help decision-makers to start thinking about things from the perspective of the customer
  • Identify possible pain points along the customer journey. We can validate whether these pain points are significant when we speak to customers

#3. Leverage existing behavioral data.

Employees’ knowledge of the customer journey is, understandably, limited.

Speaking to customers helps fill in some of these gaps, but their insights must be interpreted with caution. It’s often better to trust what people do more than what they say.

So, before you speak to customers, you need to understand more about what they do. Thankfully, most organizations have a treasure trove of information about the customer journey.

For example:

  • Your CRM may contain details of communications with customers
  • Customer service logs record queries/issues that clients experience
  • Sales management systems may detail the buying behavior of customers
  • Market research data (e.g., past interviews) may provide insights into how they think and behave along the customer journey. Past customer satisfaction studies may help you to determine potential pain points
  • Product Analytics software (such as Amplitude or Mixpanel) and Business Intelligence software (such as Looker or Tableau) can enable businesses with digital products to examine user journeys in-depth. Product Analytics tools can map each step a person takes when using a product and then help companies to explore why those things are happening

In our experience, it’s critical for businesses to thoroughly examine this ‘treasure trove’ to build a complete view of the customer journey before customer interviews.

Doing so allows researchers to focus on explaining why something is happening instead of establishing what is happening (which the business already knows).

#4. Use external research to explain why more than what.

The internal perspective will provide a lot of detailed information, but it has some limitations:

  • It tells you more about ‘what’ customers and prospects do than ‘why’ they do it (although Product Analytics can help somewhat with the ‘why’)
  • It is limited to the part of the customer journey that you see. SiriusDecisions has found that most of a buyer’s journey is complete before a buyer reaches out to a customer. And some of the post-purchase journey can be completely invisible to internal decision-makers and internal systems.

The only way to fill these gaps and fully explain behavior is to speak to customers and prospects.

#5. Pick the right people to speak to.

When conducting external research, you need to decide who to speak to. Three audiences are essential: new customers, established customers, and lapsed customers. Each will provide unique insights into the significant touchpoints and pain points during the user journey.

But it’s worth looking at competitors’ customers, not just your own. B2B competitor research` will help you to understand prospects’ behavior and motivators.

Another benefit of speaking to competitors’ customers is that you can better understand how to design future products or services. For example, if you are building a feature similar to a competitor’s, it can help to understand how businesses use your rivals’ features.

It’s not just competitors’ customers that are worth speaking to. Former employees of your rivals may be able to provide additional insights in the right situation (in some instances and industries, contacting competitors’ ex-employees is unethical).

#6. Use a variety of qualitative techniques to explore the entire journey.

Quantitative research can have a role in B2B customer journey projects (see below). Still, qualitative research is the most suitable methodology for understanding customers’ emotions and motivators across the entire customer journey.

There are several qualitative research methods to consider, and you may want to use more than one in the same project:

  • One-on-one depth interviews. Depth interviews enable you to spend up to an hour speaking to buyers about their experiences in depth. For example, you can get them to talk you through each step of the onboarding process, including actions that were invisible to your business, and ask them to identify the most painful steps. As you conduct more interviews, you can show interviewees a draft version of the customer journey map and ask for their input. That helps to reduce time spent on the ‘what’ so that you can spend more time on the ‘why’
  • Diary exercises. In B2B market research, ethnography is often impossible or prohibitively expensive. Diary exercises are a way to gather ethnographic-style insights in a more pragmatic manner; researchers often call it ‘remote ethnography.’ There are a few different types of diary exercise. In media diaries, individuals are asked to record any interactions they have with a brand and its competitors over their day or week. They are asked reactions to these interactions, which they can share their responses through text or video. This process helps you to understand the customer experience when they are not actively looking to buy. Another type of diary exercise is the purchase diary. Customers use text, videos, and photos to record each step of their buying journey
  • UX interviews. In UX interviews, users undertake aspects of the customer journey and provide their feedback ‘live’. One way to do this is via screen-sharing. A user screen-shares as they navigate a website or another channel, narrating their experience and reactions as they do so

Regardless of technique, the goal is to explore the entire customer journey, not just their interactions with your organization. This includes:

  • How they educate themselves about your category and form opinions
  • What triggers them to buy your solution
  • How they identify and compare prospective vendors
  • The interactions they have with vendors post-purchase and what causes them to switch or lapse

For each stage, you should also establish their goals, how they define ‘excellence,’ their experiences with various suppliers, and the feelings/behaviors these experiences create.

#7. If needed, survey the audience to validate the results robustly.

Armed with an end-to-end map of the customer journey, the penultimate step is to survey a large, representative sample of customers.

The goal is to:

  • Put some metrics around each step (e.g., the percentage experiencing a specific stage)
  • Obtain a high-level understanding of buyer attitudes
  • Rank the relative importance of each step
  • Gather data on your performance, which can be supplemented by digital analytics (e.g., exit rates for web pages)

#8. Visualize and share your findings.

Finally, create a visual representation of the customer journey outlining:

  • The steps followed
  • The importance of each step
  • The definition of excellence at each step
  • Your performance

There are several different ways to visualize the journey (e.g., storyboards, infographics, videos). The best option will vary according to the situation and organization.

When building the map, it’s important to remember that B2B decision-making is often non-linear. Buyers may revisit the same ‘stage’ multiple times, often simultaneously, rather than progressing through stages sequentially.

Regardless of how they’ve been visualized, the findings should be cascaded across the organization. A series of workshops should be held with key departments to establish what actions should be taken to enhance the customer experience.

 

Summary

Why customer journey mapping matters

To improve the customer experience, you have to understand more about the current experience. B2B customer journey mapping forces you to step into the target audience’s shoes and record how they interact with your business (and, potentially, competitors’).

The goal is to consider the whole experience of interacting with a brand.

This knowledge enables you to identify ‘blind spots’ the need to be addressed, and then design a new and better customer experience.

How to create a B2B journey map

Key steps and considerations: start by defining which personas you’re going to prioritize; engage internal decision-makers; leverage existing behavioral data; use external research to explain why more than what; pick the right people to speak to; use a variety of qualitative techniques to explore the entire journey; if needed, survey the audience to validate the results robustly; visualize and share your findings.

Chris Wells
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