Creating B2B Customer Journeys

Posted on July 9, 2013

If you are reading this I’m going to assume you have been exposed to McKinsey & Company’s Consumer Decision Journey (“CDJ”) research that was publicized in 2010 and has shaped marketing strategy since that time.  However, some marketers may not be aware of McKinsey’s efforts to benchmark the CDJ model for B2B companies — hence, the acronym now being referenced as the Customer Decision Journey.

One of the key differences in the buying cycle for B2C and B2B is the timeline of the customer journey.  That is, except for major purchases (home, car), the timeline for most consumer purchases can be measured in days or weeks.  If a consumer needs a new pair of shoes or iPod earbuds, they might spend a few days research products, then comparing prices, and then they purchase.  However, because B2B buyers make purchases with their employer’s money and the complexity of those purchases is typically high, the purchase timeline usually takes months. As a result, it is important for B2B marketers to understand what is happening during this timeframe to ensure they are engaging buyers with the goal of making the sale.

Creating customer journeys is not some academic exercise to impress your VPs — rather, it’s a critical step to remove the guesswork from your marketing strategy.  From content writers, to PPC analysts, to events marketers — they are left guessing without knowing how your buyers purchase.

McKinsey offers an insightful narrative of a B2B client that wanted to shift its focus from sales cycle to buying cycle to better align its demand generation strategy with how buyers really went about their purchase process.  The process (like most) begins with insight discovery:

  1. Primary research – interview your best customers, those that exhibit desirable attributes among your overall customer list such as annual spend (revenue contribution), spend growth,  industry growth (stability indicator), number of products/services purchased (switching cost indicator), product/service mix (profitability indicator), and referent value (endorsement value).  Ensure you separate these interview groups by major product or service lines to look for differences in how they might purchase.
  2. Secondary research – compare the data for your best customers with studies/surveys for your product/service category and industry to look for correlation and additional insights.
  3. Sales data – compare the data for your best customers to the rest of your CRM database to identify trends for the rest of your customer set.  (e.g. how are they different from how your best customers buy?)  You might also consider talking with your sales professionals for further insight.
  4. Marketing data – analyze your assisted attribution data and content consumption stats (website page views, downloads, etc.) to evaluate whether pre-sales buyer behavior actually aligns with your customer interviews.

Once this data is collected and organized, a framework like the McKinsey CDJ is useful for populating the information you’ve gathered.  By categorizing the steps that buyers take along the CDJ, your content and demand generation teams can gain a better understanding of how they contribute to engaging the buyer along the journey toward a conversion.

Points to Remember

  • Create separate customer journeys if you discover meaningful differences in how buyers are researching and purchasing your different product lines.
  • Repeat this process (benchmark your customer journeys) annually to look for changes in buyer behavior.
  • Don’t be afraid to update your customer journeys as you discover more insight.
  • Consider structuring the primary research opportunity to ask additional questions to allow you to create complete Buyer Personas

Once your customer journeys are documented, it is important to share them with your internal organizations and C-suite executives so that you can institutionalize this approach to customer insights.  If customer journeys are viewed as a “marketing framework” then gaining buy-in to align the organization to execute will be difficult.


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