The B2B buying journey has always been a complex one and now it’s become a largely self-service affair. Buying teams use multiple touch points, channels, and devices to seek out and collect information about the products and services they need.  

Customer journey mapping helps demystify the buying journey, allowing businesses to see it from their customers’ perspective. Statista reports that 36% of global B2B companies use a combination of buyer personas and customer journey maps to help them understand how their customers move through the buying funnel. 

Journey mapping can help you identify pain points along a digital B2B buying journey that mimics a B2C buying experience. With much of a B2B buyer’s journey completed before a prospect ever reaches out to sales, it’s important for businesses to identify touch points and channels that buyers rely on. Then they can optimize them for maximum impact.

One-third of buyers say they start their buying journey by researching on Amazon Business,  26% on a search engine, and 23% on a brand manufacturer or industry distributor website. Forty-one percent say they eventually buy on the brand manufacturer/distributor site. 

In this guide, you’ll get an in-depth look at B2B customer journey mapping, how it works, and the benefits that come with using it effectively. We’ll also look at each step of the process, from defining buyer personas to creating detailed customer journey maps.

What Is a B2B Customer Life Cycle?

The B2B customer life cycle includes all the stages a business customer moves through during their relationship with a product or service vendor. 

Depending on what you sell and who you’re selling to, there are about four to seven B2B customer life cycle stages. We’ll boil it down to four: discover, educate, purchase, and retention. Here’s a brief snapshot of what each stage looks like:

  • Discover: Your buyer has discovered that there is an issue impacting their business. They may not yet know that a solution exists, but they’re researching. At this stage, you want your company, your products and services, and your content to be discoverable so your buyer knows your company is an option.
  • Educate: Now you’ll want to educate your buyer that potential solutions do exist. Information needs to be available to help them understand the differences between your solution and others, and why one may be a better fit.
  • Purchase: Your buyer is at a point where they’re making a decision about acquiring a solution to their problem. This is where you’ll want to provide examples of previous, positive customer experiences, timelines, and other persuasive information that shows your business is the best choice. 
  • Retention: A purchase is just the beginning of a buyer relationship. Now you’ll need to provide support and service that retains your customer, keeps them devoted to your business, and, perhaps even more important, turns them into advocates that attract new customers. This requires you to provide exceptional customer service with an emphasis on total experience.

What Is Total Experience in B2B Selling?

The way you interact with customers throughout the customer life cycle — from discovery through loyalty — contributes to their total experience with your company. Total experience incorporates four key experience categories including customer experience (CX), employee experience (EX), user experience (UX), and multiexperience (MX). 

Total experience is important because it directly affects customer satisfaction, loyalty, and the likelihood that a customer will stick around. It considers a customer’s experience across the entire ecosystem of touchpoints and interactions they’ll encounter with your business. All experience categories are important because, holistically, they define a customer’s experience with your organization.  

Mapping the B2B customer journey helps improve total experience by giving you a full understanding of how your customers interact with your products and services. Without this information, it’s impossible to impact a customer’s experience consistently and effectively across the entire customer life cycle. 

B2B Customer Journey Touch Points

A touch point is anything that a B2B buyer uses to interact with a vendor or seller. This includes person-to-person interactions (phone, live chat, events/conferences, etc.) and digital interactions (website, app, chatbot, etc.). Touch points can involve live real-time communication or be one-sided and asynchronous (e.g., emails, blog posts, on-demand videos, etc.).

According to McKinsey, the most common B2B customer journey touch points include (in no particular order): 

  • Email
  • In-person meetings and events
  • Phone
  • Website
  • Your procurement department
  • Mobile app
  • E-procurement/ecommerce portal
  • Video conferencing/virtual events
  • Live chat
  • Search engines
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Source: McKinsey

The Emergence of B2B Buying in Social Media

B2B buyers also use social media to find vendors and suppliers. In a recent survey cited by Digital Commerce 360, 65% of B2B buyers have purchased something on a social media platform. This is being driven by Millennials (a.k.a., “digital natives”) who now dominate the procurement departments and buying groups for their organizations. 

The social experience is also something buyers look for on seller websites. Elements like social proofing, which uses customer ratings, badges, and product counters to build credibility and create urgency around a given product or solution, are becoming increasingly important. 

This multifaceted buying journey is omnichannel, meaning that customers expect to seamlessly engage with companies across all the channels they use. They may not have a preference (or even awareness) for individual touch points. According to McKinsey, the number of channels customers want (and expect) vendors to be on increased to 10+ in 2021, up from four to five in 2016. They also found that 72% of companies who engage buyers across seven or more channels reported growing their market share.  

But it’s not just about how buyers find you. It’s also about the content they’re interacting with. In the B2B selling space, that often means long-form content and product information like white papers, case studies, webinars, product demos, and sales presentations. This information educates buyers and moves them further into the buying funnel. 

Understanding how these touch points work together (or not) to facilitate a self-service B2B buying journey helps you identify areas that need improvement. This allows you to create better holistic buying experiences. 

What Is a B2B Customer Journey Map?

A customer journey map is an illustration of the touch points and channels a customer uses when researching or interacting with your brand. Journey maps help you better understand what the buying journey looks like from your customers’ perspective. You can use this information to match the right content to each customer, regardless of how or where they interact with you. 

A customer journey map should include the following elements:

  • Customer persona: A summary of your target customer’s attributes, demographics, pain points, and interests.
  • Customer goals: The objectives or outcomes your customer wants to achieve or the problems they want to solve with your product or service.
  • Touch points: The channels, interactions, and content that customers encounter as they move through the buying funnel (e.g., website visits, whitepaper downloads, phone calls, or in-store visits).
  • Emotions: The feelings your customers experience as they move through the buying journey (e.g., satisfaction, confusion, frustration, etc.).

According to Hanover Research, customer journey maps provide immense value to companies, thus more businesses are adopting them. As of 2022, 47% of 400 businesses interviewed for a Hanover survey said they have a customer journey map, a 12% increase compared to 2019. 

The top reasons to build a journey map include, in this order:

  • Improving the customer experience, 
  • Increasing marketing/advertising ROI, 
  • Improving advertising and marketing campaigns, 
  • And better understanding how the pandemic impacted the business landscape.
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Source: Hanover Research

How to Map the Content of a Customer Journey? 

Customer journey mapping requires data. To get started, collect data from every department and channel that touches the customer including sales, marketing, customer service, and IT. The next step is to plot out the stages of the customer journey relevant to your business. Also known as the “buying funnel,” they typically include awareness, education, purchase, and retention. 

Once the stages are identified, you can begin mapping the customer’s actions, thoughts, and emotions to each stage. Keep in mind that the B2B buying journey is rarely linear. It can involve buying groups of 6-10 stakeholders/decision makers (or more) who move from touch point to touch point, then circle back as they gather information. 

Each member of the buying group gathers, on average, 4-5 pieces of information. According to Gartner, buying groups collectively gather between 24 and 50 pieces of information that must be reviewed, analyzed, and discussed.

Here are some steps to get you started with creating a customer journey map for your organization:

1. Create customer personas

Clearly define the customer persona you want to map, taking care to establish their demographics, patterns of behavior, motivation, goals, and triggers. (E.g., why do they need your product or service right now?)

2. Use data to map the journey

We’ve already touched on the importance of data — it’s the foundation of what you’ll use to create your journey map. You should use both quantitative (website traffic, conversion rates, time on page, etc.) and qualitative (surveys, focus groups, interviews, etc.) data to paint a picture of how your customer moves through and interacts with each touch point. 

Qualitative data helps you understand what people are doing and quantitative data helps you understand why they’re doing it. Getting qualitative data is the only way to identify pain points, roadblocks, and information gaps. 

3. Create a list of touchpoints and content types

From the data and insights you’ve gathered, create a list of every touch point from initial contact to ongoing engagement. For each, identify the content type, purpose, and format. 

4. Map the customer journey

Once you’ve completed the above steps, you can create your journey map. Arrange each touch point into a narrative arc that shows how a potential customer moves from awareness to advocacy. 

For example, if someone clicks on an email link to your website, what page do they land on? What’s the messaging or call-to-action? As they click through pages or take other actions (e.g., purchase), how does their experience evolve? 

5. Identify pain points and friction

Now that you have a map of the customer journey, take a closer look for pain points and friction. These are roadblocks or obstacles that prevent customers from moving smoothly through the customer experience. Some common sources of friction include navigation issues on your site, long delays in responses to customer service inquiries, or unclear messaging around pricing.

Tools like Miro and UXPressia can help you create a customer journey map, but you don’t need anything fancy. The point is to visualize the customer journey as clearly as possible so you can begin to optimize and streamline it holistically. We created a self-serve journey map template to help you begin the process. 

Once all the elements of your journey map are captured, you can create a visualization like this one which incorporates both quantitative data (colors) and qualitative data (notes): 

Creating a B2B customer journey map allows you to see where content is missing or how certain touch points aren’t supporting each other. From there, it’s a matter of creating the right content for each stage in the buyer’s journey and delivering it when — and how — the customer wants it.

B2B vs B2C customer journey

It’s true that B2B customers, and their journeys to find the products and services they need, are increasingly mimicking B2C shopping experiences. But there are some key differences. 

A B2C buying cycle is shorter (less than 24 hours) and involves a “buying group” of one or two people. It’s also likely to include more emotional elements like brand loyalty and impulse buys. And it may incorporate more external influences like social media, review websites, and ads. The key data points to monitor in a B2C journey are conversion rates, exit rates, cart abandonment, time-on-site, and loyalty (e.g., repeat purchases). 

B2B buying journeys involve multiple decision makers, longer sales cycles (weeks or months), and complex purchase decisions that require large buying teams and much more research and input. These are often large investments, driven by different rational than B2C purchases (e.g., cost savings, increased efficiency, updated capabilities, etc.)

Both B2B and B2C shoppers have come to expect a seamless omnichannel approach that includes personalized experiences, relevant content, and multiple ways for them to connect with your business. 

To ensure you’re meeting buyers’ expectations, you’ll need to monitor the same key data points in a B2B context — conversion rates, exit rates, cart abandonment, time-on-site, and loyalty (e.g., renewals) — and incorporate the right type of content at each stage of the buyer’s journey.

What Are B2B Customer Journey Pain Points?

A changing B2B customer buying journey has created new pain points for buyers. To navigate this buying journey, sellers need to understand the most common B2B buying pain points. These include:  

Seller-free sales

Gartner predicts that 80% of B2B sales interactions will be on digital channels by 2025. That leaves buyers largely on their own as they navigate the early to mid-stages of the buying journey. 

The pain point for buyers is that content is often not relatable or customized to where they’re at in the research process. Journey mapping addresses this by allowing sellers to see the whole journey and create content that’s customized for buyers based on where they’re at in the moment. 

A complex buying process

B2B buyers need multiple points of approval for their purchases. They’re using many types of content and information to create a case for investing in each new product or service. 

This can be time-consuming and frustrating. And often leads to buyers dropping out before they reach the purchase stage. Providing the right content at the right time is, once again, the answer to this particular roadblock — and this is the main purpose of creating a customer journey map.

Content isn’t engaging or accessible

Business leaders and company stakeholders are pressed for time and inundated with content. When content is gated or requires the buyer to reach out to sales, it can deter buyers from moving further down the funnel. 

To combat this, many B2B sellers now offer open and easy-to-access content. Additionally, short-form videos and eye-catching visuals have been shown to be more engaging to business leaders. This is why it’s so important to build buyer personas that include pain points, motivations, and content preferences. 

A lack of trust

Buyers conducting research on their own are sifting through lots of sales content. They need reassurance that the seller is being honest and transparent about their product. Often, they turn to social media to learn more about a company from influencers and businesses that have firsthand experience with a given vendor. 

Creating a social media strategy that incorporates influencers, user feedback, and offers prospects and customers an easy way to ask questions and get support can help you build credibility and rapport with buyers. 

Order fulfillment and tracking woes

Almost half of buyers in a recent Statista survey said they experienced problems with order fulfillment and tracking.  This can be a huge source of frustration, especially in the B2B space where buyers are dealing with larger orders. 

Identifying this as an issue is the first step towards improving it. Investing in the right technology and integrating it into your selling process is key to solving this problem. For example, it’s important to have robust order fulfillment and tracking systems in place so that buyers don’t experience any issues during the payment process or when their product is delivered. 

Product and pricing information isn’t clear

34% of respondents in the Statista survey said that understanding product information and pricing was a big challenge in the B2B buying process.  The pain point here is that buyers don’t have the time or patience to search through pages and pages of content looking for product specs or pricing. 

Your website should be intuitive and easy-to-navigate, with detailed product information easily accessible — and searchable. Since pricing isn’t always straightforward, particularly for B2B tech solutions that require customization and integrations, create content that addresses your pricing approach. Make it easy for buyers to reach out to a sales rep to get a quote.

Transforming the B2B buying journey

It’s clear that the B2B buying journey has changed dramatically over the past few years. With new channels and touch points constantly emerging, it’s likely to get even more complex. 

Meeting B2B customers at their buying stage requires a seamless omnichannel experience. One that gives them the information they need in a format that’s accessible and engaging. 

Customer journey mapping allows you to see your business from your customers’ perspective — where they get stuck, what motivates them to act, and what causes them to drop off. It also helps you identify pain points and roadblocks so that you can fix them and create better, more optimized experiences for buyers. Journey mapping is the best way to understand what this new generation of self-serve B2B buyers needs at every stage of the buying cycle.

Dig Deeper

You’ve got the tools to understand your customer’s journey on a deeper level. Now get insights into how AI can ease B2B product discovery in ways that’s good for your customer and your bottom line. Our powerful AI-powered search and content curation platform helps you create personalized experiences at every touch point. 

With Coveo, you’ll be able to transform the B2B customer experience into one that drives revenue growth by optimizing the entire buying funnel from discovery to purchase.

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