Digital marketing has significantly changed customer – supplier relationships for many industries, and B2B marketers are trying to figure out its impact and determine what to do. Understanding the customer’s journey is a critical starting point for developing an effective digital marketing strategy and programs.
The customer journey concept became popular as a way to improve the customer experience (to learn more read Using Customer Journey Maps to Improve Customer Experience from the Harvard Business Review). By expanding and tweaking the concept to include interactions with others outside the company and more than “just the experience”, it provides valuable insights for digital marketing (as well as other marketing issues and opportunities).
Applying this concept enables B2B marketers to think more holistically – and more creatively – about customer – supplier relationships and thereby truly understand the role and impact of digital marketing. Essentially, customer journey means understanding each step of the journey from needs identification to the ultimate purchase and beyond to the post-sale experience. And it covers not only the criteria for selecting the solution but also the different players involved, their roles, information sources and channels (digital and traditional), competitors’ offerings, key decisions made during the journey, and the motivations and rationale for those decisions.
The following further describes this important concept:
Key Steps of the Journey: Needs Identification – Awareness – Consideration – Evaluation – Purchase – Post Sale Experience
Players & Inputs – Described & Characterized
• Who, within the customer’s organization, is involved, and what are their roles? Decision-maker or influencer?
• Which past experiences are considered, and what is the input – impact?
• Which information sources, i.e., digital, hard copy, and word-of-mouth, are consulted, and what is the input – impact?
• Which outside players are consulted, and what is their input – impact? This could involve a variety of players, including different types of suppliers (digital and traditional, distribution channels and manufacturers, and your company as well as competitors), industry experts, government agencies, and other players (e.g., electronic marketplaces, leasing firms).
• Did any internal or external events occur that affected the process, and if so, how?
Motivations, Decisions & Actions – Analyzed & Assessed
• Why are certain past experiences and information sources used and not others?
• Why are certain outside players consulted and not others?
• Which solutions and brands are considered (or not considered) & why?
• Which suppliers are considered (or not considered) & why?
• What determines the pace of the process? Any significant hurdles? Any way the process could be done faster?
• What are the GO – NO GO decisions at various points and reasons for these decisions?
• What are the tech – product – brand – supplier selection criteria? The evaluation process and purchase rationale?
• What is GOOD/BAD/MISSING about the post-sale experience?
Developing Customer-Driven Strategy and Programs
⇒ How can your company influence the customer’s journey to drive preference for and sales of its products and services?
⇒ What is the role and impact of digital marketing, and how should your company leverage this technology/channel?
Many B2B marketers do not really understand digital marketing, and their market perspective is often clouded by the status quo. Applying the customer journey concept enables B2B marketers to break out of this box and obtain a more comprehensive, clear picture of the customer’s needs and behaviors and the role and impact of digital marketing. It does this by not only including the known market spaces but also the unknown and by not only asking why but why not.
Nearly all companies need to do something about digital marketing, and thus the more important issues are what to do and how to successfully execute. Hiring a digital executive or digital team can be helpful, but without a customer-driven strategy, they will rely upon a playbook from another company/industry or just wing it, both risky for your company. By thoroughly understanding the customer’s journey, your company can develop a customer-driven strategy and thereby make smarter, faster decisions for digital marketing.