Navigating the B2B Customer Journey: Definition, Stages, and Examples

Marc Grewenig
December 29, 2023

Companies that fail to meet their customers’ needs will drop out of the race faster than you can say B2B. So how can you avoid being one of them? We’ll talk about how to navigate the B2B customer journey, discuss the various stages, and give you the tools to execute a customer-centric strategy. 

Understanding the journey for a B2B customer will allow you to better position your business and its offerings and ultimately meet your customers where they are in that customer journey map. If you choose not to put these strategies in place, you’ll be losing resources, opportunities, and maybe even your customers.

Let’s first take a look at what exactly the B2B customer journey is.

Examining the B2B customer journey

The B2B SaaS customer journey is the path prospects or customers follow, going from a potential customer to an actual one. This path has many stages that are usually represented by a funnel. At the top of the funnel (TOFU) is the initial contact and awareness stage - where the prospect may first encounter your brand. 

The middle of the funnel (MOFU) is the consideration and interest stage. Here, the prospect is at that point in their customer journey where they might be comparing you with your competitors. Then finally, the decision and purchase stage sits at the bottom of the funnel (BOFU), where they are ready to make a decision and hopefully decide to sign that contract with you.

Unlike its B2C counterpart, the B2B customer journey is a much more complex purchase process involving multiple stakeholders, a much longer decision-making process, and transactions of much higher value. 

When your marketing and sales are well-prepared, you can better anticipate and handle the customers’ needs which can lead to higher conversion rates and loyal customers. 

Now, let’s unpack the customer journey stages:.

First stage: Initial contact and awareness

The starting point of the B2B customer journey is about letting your prospective customers know you exist and getting that initial contact. But you must set your brand and offering apart from your competitors. Why should they contact you if they can’t tell what it is that makes your product or service different? 

Strategies for generating awareness

You’re already reading one of the ways brands generate awareness. You’ve arrived here at this blog post because you probably did a Google search and asked, “What is the B2B customer journey and its stages?” Content marketing along with search engine optimization (SEO) are a powerful combination to help get eyes on content your brand has produced. You could also repurpose your content to employ another strategy: social media. And don’t forget targeted advertising in order to put your brand in front of the audience you’re hoping to reach!

Identifying potential customer touchpoints

Your marketing team should always be scanning and analyzing the B2B landscape to identify opportunities. Whether they’re touchpoints like industry events, websites, social business networks like LinkedIn, or email campaigns, marketing teams can map and analyze them to understand what your audience prefers. The analysis can also help your team improve on standing processes to produce better results in the future. 

Measuring awareness effectiveness

There’s no point in rolling out strategies and not analyzing whether they’re working. You can use Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) to see just how effective your awareness efforts are. Measure things like brand visibility, website traffic, or social media engagement, and use the results to inform your future strategies.

The second stage of the funnel is where you really get to shine.

Second stage: Consideration and Interest

As we mentioned before, this part of the customer journey B2B funnel is where prospects are weighing the benefits and costs of your product or service. Here is where you can really set yourself apart from the competition by demonstrating your value and building trust with potential customers.

Tools and techniques for nurturing interest

Equipping your box of tricks with the right tools and techniques is important when you’re trying to nurture the interest of your prospects down their journey in the funnel. Customer relationship management (CRM) tools, highly-targeted messaging, and personalized content can all be implemented to maintain communication to make sure you’re staying top-of-mind. 

Key metrics in the consideration stage 

Here’s where you’ll want to evaluate lead quality. Sure, you could just throw any lead into the top of the funnel, but you want those high-quality leads to make sure the chance of conversion is higher. You also want to monitor the lead-to-opportunity conversion rate as well as the time spent on pre-sales activities such as product demos. Here it’s going to be about efficiency and winning back time through process optimization.

Building relationships with prospects 

The end goal, in the customer buying journey in B2B, should never just be the sale. So many different things are happening to the prospect along their journey that if you ignore them, you may lose them to your competition. Really understanding their needs, as well as transparent communication, go a long way to fostering great relationships. Also, having consistent follow-up strategies is the key to sustaining these relationships way beyond just sales. Do what you’re going to say you’ll do and personalize their experiences!

Now it’s time to get them to make that final decision.

Third stage: Decision and Purchase

With the average SaaS sales cycle length of around 84 days, closing the deal will always be super satisfying. But to get your prospect to the finish line, you have to concentrate on making the decision-making process easy by addressing concerns they may have. Here’s where you’ll need to brush up on dealing with objections, too.

Influencing factors in B2B purchasing decisions

It’s not just pricing that can affect whether someone chooses your solution or not, but other things like the terms of the contract and if you offer stellar customer support will also come into play. 

Role of content and demonstrations

Getting the right content to the right customer at the right time during the customer journey for B2B is crucial in helping guide their decision-making process. Things like whitepapers, case studies, and product demonstrations can help the client see how your offering benefits them. It will give them a way to visualize how your tool or service could be implemented into their daily business. 

Negotiation and closing strategies

Your salesperson won’t just need to be able to show the product and map it to the prospect's pain points but will also have to be adept at handling objections. Being able to negotiate effectively is an invaluable skill for your reps. The salesperson will need to guide the prospective customer into identifying mutual goals but remain flexible. 

They’ll need to show they’re committed to the prospect’s success. Common objection-handling techniques could be offering incentives like discounts or showing how your solution saves them money. 

But what now?

Post-purchase experience and customer retention

Along with marketing and sales, customer success teams make up the “trinity” of the customer decision journey for B2B. Your organization must have strategies in place to ensure the customer is getting the most out of their experience with your product or service. A successful customer onboarding program is vital to make that happen. 

The importance of customer support and services

The first step is getting a prospect to sign up and become a customer. Now, your customer support team has to show they’re responsive to queries and provide tailored solutions to problems that might arise. The aim here is to maintain high customer satisfaction and retention rates. 

Feedback loop implementation

Not all customers are going to constantly write to you with questions or suggestions. In that case, you’ll need to reach out on a regular basis to collect customer feedback. This isn’t just to hear what’s going well and what’s not but also to see if they have suggestions on improving your offering. Making them part of your growth creates a feeling of “community” with your brand allowing them to align themselves with you in the long term. 

Strategies for sustainable customer retention

Some other strategies you could implement to keep your customers happy are things like loyalty programs. Rewarding them for staying with you could involve things like a discount for each additional year or giving them access to a feature not included in their price tier. 

This is also a great opportunity for up-and-cross-selling. You need to see if other products or services could enhance your customer’s business and then, demonstrate what that would look like for them. Innovative strategies and making sure your customer knows you’re only a phone call or mouse click away will encourage them to stay with you for the long haul.

The role of analytics in understanding the customer journey

Being able to take a look at your processes and strategies to make sure everything is going as it should is key to being successful and growing your business. B2B organizations need to embrace analytics to smooth out the customer journey by identifying patterns, trends, and things that could be improved. 

Key analytics tools and metrics

You’re probably already familiar with tools like Google Analytics, marketing automation platforms (MAP) like Hubspot Marketing Hub, or CRM systems like Salesforce. Tools like these can help you track, measure, and analyze every interaction your prospect or customer has with your business across all channels. 

Gaining these deeper insights can help inform your strategy development and pinpoint areas where your customers are facing challenges. Without these insights, you’re just stumbling around in the dark. 

Interpreting data for strategy improvement

The importance of data-driven insights cannot be overstated. Data is static, yes. But how you interpret that data to improve your marketing or sales strategies dynamically, as well as product or service offerings, will ultimately determine your growth trajectory!

This is all great when everything is running smoothly, but what are some of the challenges or obstacles to your customers’ success during their journey?

6 Common customer challenges during their buyer’s journey

Your teams need to be able to put themselves in your prospects’ and customers’ shoes so they can effectively respond to their needs and provide a seamless experience. Identifying stumbling blocks that may lie in the path to your customer’s success is essential in creating a customer-centric business.

1. Lack of information

If your customer or prospect can’t find relevant product or service information to help them make informed decisions, you’ll most likely lose them. Make it easy to find relevant and comprehensive information about your offerings. 

2. Too many choices

The modern market is flooded with products and services that are similar to each other. If you don’t find a way to differentiate your brand from your competition, you’ll make it overwhelming for customers to make a decision. Find gaps in your competitors’ strategy and exploit them by doing what they didn’t!

3. Lost in complex sales funnels

Is your website layout confusing or complicated to navigate? Or are they finding it hard to register for something? Worse still: they want to finalize a purchase but find the steps unintuitive and give up. Be sure to remember user experience across all your touchpoints to make sure you don’t lose potential customers at crucial decision-making points. 

4. Inconsistent communication

If your branding and messaging are misaligned, this can negatively impact your potential and existing customers by confusing them and throwing them off-course on their journey with you. Be sure to create a seamless customer experience by making sure everything about your brand and messaging is aligned and consistent.

5. Bad customer service

We’ve all been there - struggling to get help on an automated customer service line or waiting days (or even weeks!) for an email response to an inquiry. If your customer service team isn’t responsive, or it’s hard to get in touch with an actual human, your customers will feel neglected. Be sure to avoid negative experiences and have customer service that truly serves the customer by being available on multiple channels such as chat, email, and telephone. Be sure to have tools in place so your customer service team can deal with inquiries and issues in a timely manner and track the progress.  

6. Lack of personalization

In today’s B2B business environment, your customers expect you to understand their specific needs. If you don’t offer personalized experiences and the customer feels they’re just a number to you, it will create a disconnect that will be difficult to resolve.

Be sure to use data-driven insights and other tools to see how you can create better personalization for your various customer segments along the entire journey. When you have the right tool, like emlen, you can really bring a level of personalization that will set you apart from your competitors.

How emlen’s insights can help optimize the customer journey 

Understanding which content is relevant for your customer helps you to focus and streamline the customer journey. This means your customers will only find and see what’s relevant to them, making their purchasing experience easy and as smooth as possible.

In the dynamic landscape of customer engagement, emlen offers a transformative approach to optimizing the customer journey. By introducing an emlen destination early in the customer's journey — such as during inbound follow-up or post a successful outbound discovery call — prospects are seamlessly acquainted with the solution and offerings. This strategy is not just about showcasing products or services; it's about gaining valuable insights into customer behavior and preferences. emlen enables businesses to discern who is visiting their destination, providing a critical data point: understanding which prospects are genuinely interested and align with the business challenge the company aims to solve.

This information is invaluable. It allows for a refined targeting and outreach strategy, ensuring that marketing efforts are not just widespread but sharply focused on the right audience. Moreover, emlen's insights extend to the depth of engagement. Businesses can track how long prospects engage with their content, what specifically intrigues them — be it a relatable case study or an introductory video — and whether they are repeat visitors. This level of detail paints a comprehensive picture of prospect engagement, enabling businesses to tailor their approach, refine their messaging, and ultimately, foster a customer journey that is not only engaging but deeply resonant with the prospects' needs and interests.

Digital transformation and the B2B customer journey

Digital transformation has taken the B2B customer buying process and journey to another level by offering new channels for communication, ways to improve organizational performance and efficiency, and allowing businesses to enhance personalization for their customers. 

Impact of digital channels

The rise of social media, email marketing, and webinars contributes strongly to the B2B online customer journey. Before the arrival of these digital channels, organizations were limited in terms of customer touchpoints. For example, the pandemic made it impossible for B2B companies to go to conferences or trade shows to meet with buyers. Therefore being able to use digital channels, businesses could still engage with their customers and not miss out. 

Using technology for a better customer experience

Artificial intelligence (AI) and predictive analytics can help your organization by giving you personalized, relevant content and support to your customers. Things like tailored marketing materials, product recommendations, AI chatbots, and virtual assistants can drastically improve your customer’s experience with your brand. 

Understanding your customers’ journey with emlen

Traditionally, the sales rep was the first step in your buyer’s journey. Now, digitalization has changed how buyers become informed of the options they have. It’s also much more common to have more decision-makers involved in the buyer journey now, creating a much longer and more complex buying process.

Be there at every step of your B2B customers’ journey

When you can understand and then optimize the journey that your customers take with you, you’ll be one step ahead of your competitors. Pay close attention to the customer data for customer journey maps and insights on how to continuously improve that journey and improve customer retention to stay ahead. So don’t forget to:

  • Map your B2B customer journey
  • Use the right analytics and metrics tools
  • Personalize their experience along all touchpoints
  • Adopt technology to support your overall revenue and customer goals

The goal isn’t just to keep gaining new customers but to retain existing ones by converting them into repeat customers and, if you’ve done your job right, brand advocates. So be sure to continue analyzing and improving along the way because the customer journey is dynamic and always evolving!

Marc Grewenig