An oversimplified B2B sales process goes something like this: create awareness, provide a compelling value proposition, close the deal.
This sales process is commonly misconstrued as the “buyer journey.” In reality, prospects and current customers interact with or are exposed to your brand in numerous ways — the sales channel is but one of them.
Understanding the B2B Buyer Journey
The buyer constellation map for national chain restaurants, below, was presented during our last Insight2Impact Foodservice Marketing Summit and underscores the vast and complex network of possible interactions.
As you can see, there are a number of potential points of influence, and it’s crucial for marketers to understand as many of these points as possible. Some brand influence points are easily overlooked, and the majority of a company’s emphasis is often set on filling its sales pipeline. However, being more diligent about understanding the B2B buyer journey can have a significant impact on the bottom line by retaining and growing existing customers, increasing the effectiveness of the sales channel and encouraging referrals.
Let’s walk through a couple of examples.
Example #1: Existing customer contacts the customer support center
Say a customer has a challenge with a piece of equipment and contacts customer support for some assistance resolving the problem. If the problem gets solved, the customer will experience some level of satisfaction. If not, they may end the conversation disappointed. Those are the only two options, right? Wrong.
What about the entire experience? Think about something from your own personal experience. Have you ever contacted customer support for something and even if they did not fix your problem, you still left with a positive impression of the brand? That’s likely because the company you contacted invested the time to intentionally think about the entire experience and how to make it positive — whether that was a representative answering the call on the first ring, exercising good communications skills or offering a replacement product.
A number of tactics can provide for a great customer experience, a crucial piece of the B2B buyer journey. The primary challenge is to consider those points of influence (points of brand experience) and be intentional about the customer experience. There may not be a way to control the outcome of being able to fix the problem or not, but you can control the experience.
Example #2: Potential prospect is referred to your company by a peer
In this example, a current customer of yours is talking with an industry peer about a piece of your equipment they recently purchased — now a potential prospect for you.
After the meeting, the potential prospect decides to learn more about your company. But you don’t know which of several avenues they may take to do so. Talk to a dealer? Visit your website? Enroll in an online training course? Explore your social media channels? Ask other people what they know? Once again, you can’t control the outcome or which path the prospect follows, but you often can control the experience.
Was helpful information intuitive to find and easy to understand? Were those who may speak for your company kept up-to-date on the latest products and services? Do you offer tools or resources to help prospects solve problems they face?
Even if the prospect does not have an immediate need, there are a couple of options to encourage positive engagement, including offering a compelling value proposition to justify a purchase decision sooner or implementing a process to regularly stay in contact.
In many mature markets, replacement programs and roll outs are a larger percentage of the marketing focus than new builds, so the key is creating top-of-mind awareness so that when a need arises, the prospect immediately thinks of your company.
Optimizing the B2B Buyer Journey
Continued growth is a challenge on its own, but ignoring opportunities that can be created by managing the B2B buyer journey just increases those challenges. Here are some simple steps for optimizing the buyer journey:
- Map out the process. Understand and document all the touch points a customer or prospect can interact with your company.
- Perform an audit. This will uncover two things: A) The points of influence that have the most impact, and B) areas that are under- or over-served to determine where to focus or limit your efforts.
- Develop a plan. Based on your findings, develop a plan to maximize the buyer journey and the overall brand experience.
- Reevaluate. After a plan is implemented, continue to monitor. This plan will essentially evolve into the continuous improvement plan for your overall customer/brand experience.
Mapping out those four steps in the buyer journey are easier said than done, and the whole process can seem overwhelming, but it is an investment that will pay dividends for years to come.
Interested in learning more about buyer journey mapping? Check out “Driving Change Through Journey Mapping.”