Streamlining your customer journey is impossible without a map

Solomon Radley21/01/2019

The best B2B marketers make the purchase process as simple, clear and efficient possible. But to do this effectively, you first need a detailed map of the customer journey itself.

Think about the last time you had a terrible experience with a B2B brand’s marketing content.

Maybe you got a sales call shortly after downloading a white paper. Maybe you had to spend ages searching through a website to find the information you were looking for. Or, perhaps you were simply disappointed by poor content that failed to deliver the insights you were promised.

Whatever incident springs to mind, you’re in good company. When the CEB asked thousands of senior executives to describe the B2B buying process in one word, their responses included phrases like “hard”, “awful”, “painful”, “frustrating” and “minefield”.

B2B buyers today feel overwhelmed by the complexity of the purchase process – 65 per cent say they spend as much time as they’d expected to need for the entire purchase just getting ready to speak with a salesperson. The solution is to make the customer journey better.

Quite simply, providing poor or irrelevant content or experiences damages customer relationships. That’s why it’s so important to have a detailed customer journey map you can use to make sure your customers are receiving the right content at the right time.

Only half of B2B marketers have undertaken customer journey mapping and developed buyer personas. But, these concepts are fundamental to the success of any marketing strategy.

You may already know your customers’ biggest pain points. But when it comes to distributing personalised content tailored to pre‐empt and meet a buyer’s evolving needs as they move through the marketing funnel: you have got to have a good map.

For many marketers, the challenge is knowing where to start. With complex customer journeys spanning multiple touchpoints and often lasting months, mapping it all out can seem like a big job. But when you get it right, the rewards can be huge.

Dutch bank ING grew its profits 23 per cent following a website overhaul designed to streamline the customer journey for its B2B clients. The bank’s share price rose 15 per cent after it condensed the number of pages on its site as part of a drive to provide users with better insights and usability.

That’s just a taste of what’s possible when you use customer journey insights to streamline the buying experience for your customers. So today, we’ll outline how to create an effective customer journey map and use it to ensure you’re efficiently guiding prospects through what we call the ‘marketing loop’.

In the process, you’ll discover how to use your map to identify the biggest opportunities to improve the ROI of your content campaigns.

How to create your customer journey map

Understanding your customer journey is about discovering what customers experience from the moment they discover your brand, then working to make the buying process as simple, clear and efficient as possible.

Building up an accurate picture of the processes your customers go through will require cooperation from every client‐facing part of your business. So, it’s important to get buy‐in for the project from senior management early on to ensure everything runs smoothly.

Once everyone’s on board, the first step is to identify the various different audiences that interact with your organisation.

B2B buyers tend to purchase in teams of 6 – 8, but they won’t all join in at the same time. You need to account for each persona’s engagement during the journey, making sure you clearly understand who is involved and what they are doing when they are on the scene.

If you have several products, you will likely need multiple journey maps to reflect the different needs of your ideal prospects for each of them.

Secondary audiences like end users will be on separate journeys that don’t necessarily end with them buying anything – and it can be useful to develop journey maps for these groups, too. But most companies will focus on their primary target audience, first.

Identify the key touchpoints where your primary audience interacts with your brand and organise them according to where they sit in the marketing loop. Then, use these touchpoints to chart all the different paths that may lead them to buy something, or fulfil a specific marketing goal.

Remember that organic touchpoints such as your website and blog are just as important as your outbound channels here.

Given that B2B buyers conduct so much of their research independently online, you need to consider how your brand will appear in search engines, at events, on social media and in any media coverage you receive.

“Although precision is important in fleshing out a journey map, we find that 5 – 10 steps is ideal,” recommend business consultants Nicholas Toman, Brent Adamson and Cristina Gomez. “Beyond ten, the map may be too cumbersome to use effectively.”

With this framework in place, you’re ready to plot your primary audience’s specific needs and pain points at each stage of the customer journey.

Be sure to conduct interviews and run workshops with colleagues in client‐facing departments like customer services and sales to ensure your map is as detailed as possible. These staff will often be able to provide unique customer insights you would otherwise have missed.

As you’re about to see, the resulting map will empower you to put the right content in place to meet your customers’ needs and influence their thinking as you guide them through the decision‐making process.

But for it to work, your customer journey map needs to genuinely mirror the interactions customers typically have with your brand. So, before you can start making strategic decisions based on your journey map, you need to prove that the journey it depicts is correct.

Designing your ideal customer journey

In their quest to optimise the customer journey, many marketers simply try to arm their customers with as much potentially useful information as possible.

Unfortunately, a CEB survey of 600 B2B buyers suggests overloading customers with information actually decreases purchase ease by 18 per cent. The same research found that a more prescriptive approach can increase purchase ease by 86 per cent.

Buyers don’t want to know all the options available. They want to know which one is best for them.

This example illustrates how companies can form rational ideas about what their customers need that are still totally wrong.

So, no customer journey map is truly complete until you’ve taken steps to check that it matches the experiences of your customers. Wherever possible, look to verify the insights your sales and customer services team share with you by going straight to the source.

Use interviews, focus groups or surveys to uncover the key stumbling blocks customers encountered during the purchase process, stressing that this will help improve the service you can offer them in future.

What information would have helped them make faster progress or a better decision? Were there any stakeholders who should have participated or have been brought in sooner? If they were starting over, what would they do differently?

The insights you uncover while doing this will often reveal recurring challenges that have real‐world implications for your content marketing.

Look for places in the customer journey where buyers typically get stuck and use the insights you’ve uncovered to diagnose the problem.

Sometimes, you’ll discover that you don’t have the right content in place to inform their decisions. Elsewhere, you might find the content deals with the wrong themes or needs an update. There may even be places where you can streamline the journey by consolidating multiple touchpoints or content pieces.

When you finish, you’ll be left with a blueprint for your ‘ideal’ customer journey and the processes you’ll need to put in place to make it a reality.

Of course, there will always be an element of trial and error with any process like this. You’ll need to test different ideas to see what works best. And you should never stop looking for ways to boost the performance of key content pieces or improve the targeting of your campaigns.

But using the steps we’ve outlined here to design what your ideal customer journey looks like will help you refine your content strategy and prioritise the projects that will have the greatest impact on your marketing campaigns.

Without an accurate customer journey map, you’re essentially relying on your gut to make strategic content decisions. And as you’ve seen already, that can cause marketers to make bad decisions that aren’t in the interests of their customers or their brand.

That’s why every B2B business should take the time to create an accurate map of its typical customer journey.

It’s the only way to guarantee the work you do will deliver the best experience for your customers.

Key takeaways

  • You need a detailed customer journey map to meet your customers’ evolving needs as they progress through the purchase journey.
  • Consult with client‐facing staff and existing customers to ensure your map depicts the customer journey as accurately as possible.
  • Use the insights you uncover to identify opportunities to streamline the buying process and deliver better, more relevant content.