The customer journey in B2B in the present and future

Digitalization makes B2B companies more visible and helps them get to know their customers' decision-making processes

The customer journey in B2B
The customer journey in B2B

Elring Klinger, Endress + Hauser or Klöckner: hardly anyone knows these companies. However, they are among the largest companies in the DACH region in the business to business sector. B2B is very different from B2C, with regard to everything from structures to marketing. Customers have to be addressed differently. Trade fairs, events and telephone sales calls were previously the decisive channels for B2B customer relationships and purchases. Now focus is increasingly being placed on digital channels. And this has consequences for the buyer’s customer journey. Some things have to be rethought and some things remain the same.

What remains the same is the basic nature of the target group. “Often it’s about completely different product or service values, and the buyers don’t pay the purchase price from their own pockets,” says Janos Moldvay, founder and CEO of online marketing service provider Adtriba. More than in B2C, in which a company has to address a heterogeneous consumer group, B2B involves a target group with relatively clearly defined needs. Therefore, sales usually plays a bigger role than pure marketing activities. However, the latter are becoming more and more important. This is due to the growing number of younger decision-makers.


The customer journey continues to digitalize

A much quoted study by Google and Roland Berger confirms the increasing importance of the digital customer journey. According to the study, 50 percent of B2B buyers in the USA and Germany are now digital natives. And the number is rising rapidly. The Internet plays a central role for young managers, as they are used to buying consumer goods online. They transfer this habit to their profession and, when it comes time for their company to purchase goods or services, they primarily research online content. They like to look for ratings on the Internet and inform themselves about alternative offers in specialist forums – virtually around the clock. When buyers first contact the seller, 57 percent of the decision-making process has already been completed.

The result is a decreasing number of stable business relationships cultivated over many years and a growing level of fickleness. The web just has too many new offers. Unconditional loyalty no longer exists. For companies this means, among other things, that they need to create more content that can be delivered and shared through a content management system. This enables them to support existing customers in their renewed purchase decision process. The same applies to first-time customers: apart from good content that interests the target group, search engine optimization is also decisive. But here, too, the more readers like the content, the higher the Google search engine rankings will be.


Attribution identifies the right touchpoints

Attribution models are available to track the customer journey. It is important that they also include offline campaigns. When selecting the model, companies should also make sure the findings are presented as simply as possible. “The user must be able to understand how the attribution model works and which algorithm is used,” says Moldvay. This is the only way to create trust in the solution and directly implement the results.

The basic prerequisite for good attribution is data. There is still a lack of quality in this regard. “Capturing offline touchpoints at trade shows, for example, often requires manual input, which is prone to error by definition,” says Moldvay. The sales CRM is available online and must be meticulously maintained. This is the only way to locate touchpoints that allow you to track the customer journey. Algorithmic models are seldom used in B2B, because there are simply too few data points.

And there is another big difference to B2C campaigns. Derivations from customer journey analysis and marketing attribution can be implemented more directly and easily into measures for consumers. If, for example, it is recognized that a certain campaign or channel works particularly well, a marketer can respond quickly by increasing the budget or adjusting the bids for AdWords campaigns.


Offline remains important and has to be integrated

In the B2B context, on the other hand, the process is usually more indirect and lengthy. “If it turns out that a certain annual trade fair has worked particularly well, this touchpoint cannot be scaled arbitrarily by increasing the budget,” describes Moldvay. “In the worst case, you have to wait almost a year before there are more touchpoints.”

To bring offline and online contacts together, contacts from the CRM tool are used and combined with touchpoints obtained via digital tracking. “Combining this data with the subsequent customer journey analysis via attribution modeling provides exciting insights,” promises Moldvay. For example, the relationship between telemarketing, fax campaigns and retargeting campaigns can be understood. This makes it possible to identify which channel combinations and journeys are particularly profitable to adjust budget allocation accordingly. This is the same as in a B2C customer journey.


The bottom line:

It is important to account for changing buyers. That’s why B2B customer journeys are becoming increasingly similar to those in B2C. Focus is shifting to digital touchpoints and therefore from a sales-based to a more marketing-based approach. Nevertheless, the parameters of the target group and the high importance of the offline measures remain the same. Sales and marketing managers must therefore work together hand in hand to discover potential and then make better use of it by attributing channels in a sophisticated way.