If the B2B customer journey used to be a one-way path, today’s journey is more like a maze. Customers have to loop and circle back through multiple forked paths until they find the right solution.
There are many reasons for this change:
- B2B consumers have so many options to choose from that they suffer from information overload
- Adopting new services or software now requires buy-in from more stakeholders
- Product-led growth has blurred the lines between being buyers and customers
- Monthly subscriptions require a greater sales focus on retention
The big takeaway: companies that keep looking at the B2B customer journey as a one-directional funnel are doing themselves a disservice—and ultimately, harming their company’s performance and goals.
Instead of pushing customers through a funnel, you should support and guide your customers through the confusing B2B labyrinth.
Today, we’re your guide to this new B2B customer journey. Keep reading for a breakdown of the new B2B customer landscape and how you can support your buyers and customers through its fluid, changeable stages.
What is the B2B customer journey?
The customer journey is the complete, full-funnel experience a B2B buyer has with your company, from first hearing your brand name to using and loving your products for years.
Every single business creates a customer journey, whether you’re selling legal services, french fries, or project management software.
But that journey looks different—and more complex—in the B2B world. Your target audience is other businesses, and these large-scale purchases are seen as an investment that will save the buyer time, resources, or money in the long term.
That means the stakes are much higher. These purchase decisions are grounded in research and information, rather than in emotions (like you might be if you were impulse-buying a pair of jeans).
How is the customer journey different from the buyer journey?
The term ‘buyer journey’ should be familiar to anyone working in sales.
This is the process a prospect moves through as they consider whether to work with you and (hopefully) decide to become a paying customer.
Think of the buyer journey as a subset of the customer journey. The customer journey begins earlier—from when the prospect first becomes aware of your offering—and extends much later, throughout the entirety of your working relationship.
But just as the B2B customer journey has become more fluid and less linear, so too have the lines between buyer and customer journey. In this new landscape, marketing, sales, and customer support all need to work in parallel. There’s no longer a clear, sequential handoff from one team to the next.
The new B2B customer journey
The concept of a simple, one-directional B2B sales funnel, created and controlled by the seller, is dead.
Here are three fundamental ways the B2B customer journey looks different today.
1. B2B buying is (messy) information-gathering
Buyers have access to an incredible amount of data as they strive to make informed decisions. Nearly everyone involved in the buying process will do their own research, and likely come up with a mountain of information.
Look how complicated the buyer's journey has become:
So rather than serve as the buyer’s main source of truth, the seller’s role is to empower the buyer by distilling down all the available information.
And because the distinction between buyer and customer have collapsed, that role might be filled by a salesperson, customer support representative, or even content marketer, depending on the prospect’s first point of contact.
This does give Sales less control over the buying process. Gartner estimates that buyers spend just 17% of their time talking to sales teams directly (for all solutions they’re considering, combined).
But well-informed purchase decisions should be seen as a net positive for all parties. In the same report, Gartner identified that providing customers with relevant, personalized information is the most powerful way to create high-quality, low-regret deals.
2. The line between prospects and customers is blurring
Traditionally, sales and marketing were focused on gaining new customers—and that’s where their involvement stopped. Customer success or support teams would take over, answering customers’ questions about the product to ensure they were satisfied.
But today, there are more entry points into a product. Communication, sales, and marketing happen across multiple channels:
- In product-led growth, a prospect’s first contact with your product might be as a user, through a free trial or freemium plan. What used to be questions for sales are now questions for support.
- Existing customers might request support through what are conventionally seen as marketing channels, like social media.
- To support contract renewal or expansion, sales might need to stay in close touch with established customers, monitoring how the product can better meet their changing needs.
To optimize the customer, buyer, and user experience in this new paradigm, revenue leaders need to break down silos between these business functions.
Sales, Marketing, RevOps, and Customer Success (CS) should work together as an integrated, cross-functional revenue team.
3. Adoption and retention are critical for growth
Before cloud computing, it was onerous for customers to move away from their existing vendors and software providers. This led B2B companies to focus primarily on sales and marketing to drive revenue growth. They put comparatively little effort into enabling their existing customers’ success.
But for a subscription-based SaaS model, conversion isn’t a single, one-and-done decision. Customers can unsubscribe (or conversely, upgrade their plan) at any time. And because customers have so many options, it’s harder than ever to gain customers—and easier to lose them.
That makes adoption, customer loyalty, and customer retention hugely important metrics for companies from ecommerce to software to keep growing revenue and reduce churn.
Dock for the new B2B journey
Enabling revenue in this highly integrated, cross-functional way is no easy task. It can be near-impossible to collaborate across internal teams, let alone with the customer themselves.
While we do have tools for tracking touchpoints and customer data, like CRMs, they’re built for internal use—not to manage customer-facing interactions. This leaves companies to cobble together client-facing solutions from emails, PDFs, Google Docs, and other internal tools.
It’s inefficient, it looks unprofessional, and it only gets messier the bigger you scale.
Instead, this new, integrated approach to revenue enablement calls for new kinds of tools.
We need to manage the entire customer lifecycle holistically, not silo important data in drive folders and personal inboxes.
Dock is a single, organized source of truth for revenue teams and their customers:
- Workspaces give Sales and Success one place to manage customer interactions
- Content Management lets Product Marketing upload assets for Sales and Success to share with customers
- Order Forms helps Sales share pricing quotes and close deals faster
- Security Profiles helps Sales and Success manage security reviews
We believe this collaborative, cross-functional approach to revenue enablement calls for a single, integrated platform. That’s why we created Dock.
The six B2B customer journey stages
Yes, today’s B2B customer journey is different—but the traditional journey stages are still a useful lens through which to understand the purchasing process, and around which to design your revenue strategy.
But think of the modern B2B journey as a winding path, not a one-way road.
We can understand this journey as six phases, the boundaries of which can sometimes be fuzzy. Buyers will cycle and loop back through these phases at their discretion.
- Awareness: buyer realizes they’re facing a problem or opportunity, for which they’ll need to find a solution.
- Consideration: buyer researches possible solutions to their problem and analyzes which is the right fit.
- Decision and purchase: buyer reaches an internal group consensus to settle on one solution.
- Onboarding and implementation: buyer gets product training and implements it across their organization.
- Ongoing service and product use: buyer makes the solution part of their regular operations, overcoming challenges as needed.
- Growth, expansion, and renewal: buyer scales up, scales down, or renews their agreement as needed.
Here is a brief exploration of each stage of this B2B customer journey, along with common challenges the customer will face and how the seller can address them.
Remember, these customer journey phases aren’t linear. All buyer personas will hop between stages as they clarify their needs, analyze new information, and confer with different members of their team.
The customer journey usually starts by realizing there’s a problem within their business they need to solve, or a growth opportunity to take advantage of. Either way, they’ll need an external solution to address it.
At the awareness stage, customers need to identify their problems and explore potential solutions. Both tasks call for extensive research and information gathering.
And because there’s so much content out there for buying teams to sift through, finding information that's relevant to their specific use case is like finding a needle in a haystack.
This is where the seller can step into their role as a consultant and curator of information, by sharing content made specifically for buyer enablement.
This is content that helps them make an informed purchase decision. These can be:
- Software guides (e.g. Dock’s Sales proposal software guide)
- Jobs-to-be-done tutorials (e.g. How to write a pricing proposal)
- Thought leadership content (e.g. It’s Time for Revenue Enablement)
Dedicated collaborative workspaces like Dock are the perfect way to share, store, and organize this information for prospects.
It’s even better if you can create and curate content for each buyer segment that makes it feel more personalized and relevant to their needs.
In the consideration stage, the buyer has a general understanding of their problem and what kind of solution will be required to fix it. Now, they need to clarify their needs and get tactical.
The buyer will need to drill down on what the right solution looks like for them (requirements building) and determine possible solutions to meet those needs (supplier selection).
Since buying typically happens in teams, the customer might spend significant time and energy discussing their requirements internally with other decision-makers.
Sellers can help by coaching the buyer on common questions, concerns, and objections they might need to respond to in these closed-door discussions.
Mutual action plans drive these discussions forward by giving buyers all the to-do steps required to making an informed decision.
3. Purchase decision
Next, the buyer needs to internally align their team behind a final decision. Even if the buyer is fairly positive your solution is the right fit, getting buy-in from everyone on their team can be a significant hurdle.
The buyer will need to validate their decision and reach a consensus by getting all stakeholders on board. They might also face some technical hurdles, like ensuring the chosen solution meets security standards.
Share bottom-of-funnel content that supports their purchase decision, such as:
- ROI studies
- case studies
- competitor comparisons
- technical documentation
A client-facing workspace like Dock is the best way to share this content with your prospects. It keeps things organized, and you can see exactly how often the prospect is viewing them.
Dock also offers built-in security profiles, where security information can be shared proactively with the client. This speeds up the process by allowing buyers to answer important technical questions themselves.
4. Onboarding and implementation
The best way to keep your customers is to make sure they’re getting the value they want from your product. That starts with strong, comprehensive customer onboarding and implementation.
Traditionally, onboarding is where buyers become customers. There was a clear handoff from sales to customer support. But those days are behind us, and the stages after the purchase decision are just as important—if not more so—for driving revenue.
Keep in mind that in a product-led growth model, onboarding might come before the purchase decision, through contact with a free version or free trial of a software product.
When users show interest in becoming paid customers by taking key activation actions in your product, that should trigger a sales conversation—moving the journey forward, but looping back to what’s traditionally considered an earlier stage.
Adoption and retention are critical to revenue growth—you won’t keep customers who don’t see quick time to value. But most customers won’t have an established process for adopting new software, so vendors need to lead the charge on helping drive adoption across their organization with a smooth onboarding process.
For example, for SaaS products that need to be adopted across an entire organization, onboarding a client will take significant cross-functional coordination at both the management/admin and end-user levels.
However, most CS teams onboard customers with messy spreadsheets or project management tools rather than using dedicated customer onboarding software.
Another common onboarding challenge is that knowledge is lost between the sales and onboarding process. Customers are asked to repeat their key stakeholders, goals, and KPIs that they already shared with sales.
Set customers up for success with a clearly defined onboarding process that includes touchpoints like kickoff meetings, welcome emails, and regular check-ins to assess satisfaction and look for blockers to overcome.
With Dock, you can seamlessly transition customers from sales to onboarding in the same digital environment they’re already comfortable with. You can also create a reusable customer onboarding template that lets you manage personalized onboarding at scale.
5. Ongoing service and product use
Conversion isn’t a one-time decision. Customers have plenty of other vendor options—they need a clear reason to keep using your product, every day.
As they continue using your product, your customers will inevitably run into struggles and challenges. How effectively you help them overcome these issues will determine how satisfied they are with your offering—so don’t leave them to figure things out on their own!
Proactively equip your customers with the knowledge they need to get the value they signed up for—and check in regularly to ensure their satisfaction.
At SaaS businesses, customer enablement like product tutorials, live support, and knowledge bases, is a critical piece of the puzzle. Revenue teams should also use in-product metrics to stay aware of how actively customers are using the product, and reach out proactively if they need to be re-engaged.
Service businesses should hold quarterly business reviews to talk through their customer’s experience and identify ways their experience can be improved.
6. Growth, expansion, and renewal
Your customers’ own businesses will keep changing and evolving—and so will what they need from your product. A thoughtful, involved approach to revenue enablement can make it more likely that customers will renew (or even expand) their contracts, instead of switching to other providers.
At this stage, the customer might be gaining a deeper understanding of the problems they need to solve, and revisiting what they need from a solution. This echoes the earliest stages of the customer journey, but would likely be happening in a more conversational, informal way, in dialogue with the existing vendor.
Auto-renewing contracts are one powerful way to promote customer renewals. Thanks to opt-in-opt-out psychology, people are much more likely to choose what’s presented as the default option.
However, a well-planned revenue enablement strategy can support renewals and expansion even before they’re explicitly on the table. In Dock, this entire journey, from the first touchpoint to contract renewal, happens within the same collaborative workspace that customers are already comfortable with.
Other ways to map the B2B customer journey
Many companies also use customer journey mapping as a way to visualize their customers’ experience. This makes it easier to identify problem areas or pain points that are causing them to lose leads or customers.
Another way of looking at the B2B customer journey is as a series of jobs to be done.
In Gartner’s report The new B2B buying journey and its implication for sales, they identified six distinct buying jobs, with B2B customers typically revisiting each at least once.
- Problem identification: “This is an issue we need to address.”
- Solution exploration: “What are the available solutions to this challenge?”
- Requirements building: “What exactly do we need from our solution?”
- Supplier selection: “This is the solution that best meets our needs.”
- Validation: “We need to finalize our choice of this solution.”
- Consensus creation: “Everyone needs to sign off on this decision.”
Buyers will need to step in and out of these roles throughout the buying process.
Dock: The new platform for the new journey
Dock was designed to support today’s B2B customer journey—the twisting path through the forest, not the single highway that cuts through town.
The customer journey involves many different teams and skill sets. But they all need to work together, and sometimes, they need to work closely with the customer themselves.
So why should their data be trapped across many different internal systems? Why shouldn’t their platform be designed around the customer, not the company?
We created Dock around the process that we know creates revenue growth today. Dock provides sales rooms, customer onboarding, price quote and proposal templates, and more—all in one, centralized place.
Dock is free for up to five dedicated customer workspaces. Give it a try and streamline your revenue enablement today.