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Charting and optimizing the end-to-end B2B customer journey

13 min read
Learn how to optimize the B2B customer journey, improve opportunities for upsell, and improve customer retention.


Personalized, meaningful B2B customer experiences are proven to improve business outcomes. Loyal customers not only come back for repeat business, but they advocate for your brand and increase new customers’ trust in your products and services.

The value of investing in your B2B customer journey lies in the potential growth to be gained by building a solid customer base that repurchases, renews, and advocates for your brand.

However, every customer journey is different. So how can you improve and tailor every customer experience at scale, and how can you leverage loyalty to fuel growth? 

B2B customer journey definition

The B2B customer journey encompasses the end-to-end experience a customer may have with your brand from lead acquisition to renewals.

The B2B buyer/sales journey

The B2B buyer journey is the steps a customer may go through to discover your brand, products, and services and complete their purchase. The buyer journey encompasses all the experiences your customer may have from initial brand contact to completion of the purchase process and may relate to a completely new customer or take the form of a new sale (eg. cross-sell or upsell) to an existing customer.

You can learn more about the B2B buyer journey specifically in our dedicated article.

The buyer journey vs the customer journey

The buyer journey – from discovery to the buying process – and the broader customer journey are often conflated.

However, the buyer journey is only part of the overall customer journey, representing the sales-focused stages of a customers’ overall relationship with your brand. Once a customer has purchased a product or service, the real work of developing loyalty and encouraging brand advocacy begins.

B2B customer journey stages

Generally speaking, the end-to-end B2B customer journey can be broken down into the following stages:

1. Awareness

The buyer becomes aware of your brand, products, and services. Marketing – with sales support – will likely have a large hand in this stage. Means of generating awareness include advertising (out of home, social, display, direct mail), events, public relations, SEO.

2. Consideration

In this stage, your brand proves its ability to resolve any issues the customer may have, addressing the pain points that have led them to seek a solution.

3. Decision

The customer at this stage will be making decisions on which product or service they wish to choose. Digital content will often be at the forefront of providing vital information for this decision to take place.

4. Purchase and Delivery

Once the decision has been made, customers will make their purchase. This stage requires expert handling of buying and delivery processes to ensure that all customer expectations of products and services are met.

5. Support and Retention

A customer that has made one purchase and found the experience to be satisfactory is more likely to return for another or to renew their agreement. Building excellent experiences at the start of the customer journey will make this stage more attainable – but building loyalty over time means that the ongoing experience must continue to meet customer expectations.

6. Growth and expansion

Upselling and cross-selling products and services can lead to customers not only renewing their agreements with your brand but growing their relationship with you into new areas.

Once customers have repeatedly returned to purchase or renew as a result of great experiences, their likelihood of advocating for your brand increases. This stage widens the customer pool and lends authority to the initial buyer journey stages for new customers.

7. Exit

Customers stop purchasing products and services for a whole host of different and very valid reasons. How you manage this process and the lasting impression this leaves can be key to determining whether they choose to return again in the future.

The post-sales customer journey

It can often be the case that companies focus solely on the initial steps to win a customer and ensure a purchase is made (the buyer journey). However, the post-sales customer journey is often more important. Not only is it more costly to acquire customers than to keep them, but a high attrition rate makes brand growth harder too, which is why keeping your customers happy should be a priority.

Starting from the purchase stage and extending to the growth and expansion stage outlined above, the post-sales customer journey must provide positive experiences that meet and exceed customer expectations.

The following should be considered as vital steps in the post-sales customer journey to ensure customers stay:

  • Implementation

The initial delivery and implementation of a product or service is key for ensuring customers are retained. In this step of the customer journey, the brand promises that the customer has been exposed to must be fulfilled to avoid disappointment. The implementation must be as the customer expected.

Not only should the product or service itself be as expected, but it should also be delivered and accessed in a way that’s convenient and simple for the customer. Onboarding may require guidance, training, or intensive personal support, particularly given that B2B sales are often dependent on developing strong customer relationships.

  • Support

A key part of the customer journey is access to support. Whether providing digital support in the form of FAQs or self-service information centers or offering specific, personalized customer service options, this step is vital to get right to ensure issues are handled promptly and efficiently. Offering the right support option at the right time for the right customer can be the difference between renewal and departing for a competitor.

  • Renewal

Customers who have had great experiences and have grown to trust your brand are more likely to renew. However, upselling and cross-selling products will require your team to understand specific customer challenges and pain points, rather than offering options that aren’t relevant. Taking customer data into account is vital for tailoring the options that you offer customers who are keen to renew.

Customer touchpoints

Mapping your customer journey can help you to detail precisely what your customers do, when, and why. It allows you to understand where customers might be losing interest, where the experience can improve, or how brands can make every experience as good as the next.

At each customer touchpoint, your team should be considering:

  • What is the customer likely to be thinking, feeling or doing at this touchpoint?
  • What do we want them to think, feel or do, and how can we optimize their journey accordingly?
  • What obstacles might cause customers to not engage with this touchpoint?
  • How can we remove these obstacles?

By gathering customer feedback, you can use data to further tailor these touchpoints to inspire the thoughts, feelings, and actions that you wish to happen. You can also include staff feedback and observations to pinpoint obstacles and resolve issues that might be holding customers back from progressing further through their journey.

Below are some examples of touchpoints that may influence the customer experience along their journey:

Awareness

  • News articles
  • Adverts
  • Online search results
  • Social media posts

Consideration

Decision

  • Website
  • Self-service contact center or FAQs
  • Brand advocates (existing customers)
  • Email marketing

Purchase & Delivery

  • Website
  • Customer support channels
  • Email marketing
  • Sales team interactions
  • Reseller or partner network interactions
  • Delivery team or third party supplier interactions

Support & Retention

  • Sales team interactions, such as account management calls or meetings
  • Contact center interactions
  • Digital support channel interactions – Web, app, chatbots
  • Email marketing

Growth and expansion

  • Sales team interactions, such as upselling or cross-selling discussions
  • Email marketing 

Optimizing the journey

More than anything else, listening to customer feedback and taking action to continually improve the experience is how brands can optimize the journey, drive growth, and increase customer retention.

Map the customer journey

Mapping the end-to-end B2B customer journey can help you to better understand which touchpoints are causing pain points, what can be improved, and which steps should be taken to make it a seamless experience for every customer.

Use digital tools to support optimization

Utilizing digital tools such as a CX management platform can make taking action seamless and part of the day to day. Visualizing customer and financial data alongside insights can make next steps clearer and help you to deliver the right experience to the right stakeholder every time.

Identify responsible teams, provide insights and take action

Ensuring that you identify the teams responsible for each stage of the customer journey and providing them with the insights they need to take action can significantly improve the results you see. Offering customer feedback data and clarifying the resulting actions that need to be taken can solidify the strategic direction that’s needed. Rather than leaving teams to perform by rote, offering guidance as to which steps will make the most impact will help make their work easier.

Take a holistic approach to the customer journey 

Often, the handling of different stages of the customer journey can be siloed across your organization. Sometimes it’s even the case that multiple teams are working on the same process, but not communicating their insights or the actions they plan to take. Make sure you keep all teams in the loop on the insights you discover and actions planned and help them to build strong links between touchpoints to ensure the customer journey isn’t broken.

Understand the emotional resonance of each touchpoint

Though you may be dealing with several stakeholders at each stage of the B2B customer journey, your customers’ engagement can often depend on how each touchpoint makes individual stakeholders feel.

For example, if your customer’s implementation team finds your support center frustrating to use, they might be tempted to go elsewhere to find a better experience. Getting specific customer stakeholder feedback on particular touchpoints – not just on the overall customer relationship with your brand – can help you to better tailor experiences to the outcomes you desire.

Remember to nurture customers after a sale is made

It can be tempting to call it a day when a lead generation opportunity turns into a sale, but continual nurturing can be the difference between high customer churn and ongoing business growth. Getting your customers excited not only about the initial sale but for your other offerings or further developments can help develop steadier business outcomes.

Assess how well you consistently meet and exceed expectations

Internal and external perceptions of success can vary greatly. Taking the pulse of your customer relationship through relationship measurement tools can help to determine if internal views match how your customers see your brand. Exceeding customer expectations can significantly increase your likelihood of customers renewing – and your return on investment to flourish. Compiling data and viewing trends can help you to make educated decisions on how to optimize your customer journey, rather than relying on internal perception.

Use comparative measurements

 Comparing solely to your past successes or to industry benchmarks can limit your ability to progress your customer journey further. By understanding what your top competitors are doing effectively – and where you might be falling short – can help you to take strategic action to ensure your customers aren’t won over by your competitors.

Listen to customer needs

Often, providing the solution a customer will buy into comes down to listening to customer needs. Though your product might provide a solution for an initial issue, renewal and retention happen when you can anticipate customer needs and offer solutions to future problems. Regular evaluations of customer sentiment can help you to identify these needs and act accordingly.

Develop your B2B customer journey effectively with our B2B CX for account management best practice guide