Michael Nutley
Michael Nutley 22 September 2022
Categories B2B, Content, Research

B2B Customers Have More Control Over their Buying Journey than Ever Before – How are Marketers Coping?

The Covid-19 pandemic drove customers – businesses as well as consumers – online in unprecedented numbers. Sellers responded by adopting and accelerating digital strategies to reach their consumers.

These were the key questions London Research and Adobe set out to answer in a new report – The State of B2B Customer Journey Maturity.

The findings reveal B2B customers have greater control of the purchase process than ever before. They consume a greater amount of digital content before contacting a sales person; make greater use of digital self-service post-sale; and have a growing expectation that their B2B digital interactions will match the best B2C experiences.

On the other side of the transaction, B2B companies are not coping well with these changes. Less than a fifth (18%) describe themselves as ‘advanced’ in their ability to deliver seamless omnichannel customer journeys. A slightly higher proportion (22%) describe their ability as only ‘basic’, while the rest say they’re ‘intermediate’. And these numbers don’t change much by either company size or business sector.

What’s Stopping You?

The report also found that there is no single common barrier companies face when trying to improve their customer journey management abilities.

Businesses are just as likely to be struggling with problems around data (lack of understanding of customer behaviour, lack of real-time data, buyer invisibility) as they are with resourcing and technology issues (lack of digital capabilities, difficulty creating and managing content, disconnected software platforms) or cultural concerns (lack of leadership buy-in, sales-driven culture, lack of alignment between sales and marketing).

Companies saying they have an advanced level of customer journey maturity (classified in the report as ‘leaders’) are still only dealing with a few of these areas better than the other respondents (‘the mainstream’).

They’re less likely to lack digital capabilities, they’re better at dealing with content, and they’re more likely to have the real-time data they need. But the two groups find all the other barriers equally challenging.

Leadership Qualities

An area where leaders do differ from the rest is in the mix of marketing channels they employ. Both groups regard their website, email, physical events and LinkedIn as key channels.

But leaders are significantly more likely than mainstream companies to see search, social media, webshops, virtual chat and mobile as key. This greater use of non-traditional channels for B2B also suggests leaders are more likely to be experimenting with new approaches and technologies.

Leaders are also marked out by their greater use of data, and of more sources of data. They’re much more likely to employ user testing, digital analytics and customer satisfaction surveys or Net Promoter Score.

But perhaps the most significant difference between leaders and the mainstream is how well their marketing technology works together. Leaders are around twice as likely to have fully integrated their email and/or marketing automation software with other elements of their martech stack.

The report goes on: “It should therefore come as little surprise that they are also twice as likely to be delivering personalised customer journeys, since having a single view of the customer across all technologies and touchpoints is a fundamental building block for personalisation.”

Delivering the Buying Journeys Your Customers Want

The report recommends six steps mainstream companies should take to improve their maturity in customer journey management:

Surface relevant content to engage and identify prospects. B2B marketers need to encourage prospects to raise their hands as early as possible on their path to purchase. This means the online content available about your business must be high quality, and relevant to the individual touchpoint as well as to the customer.

Optimise your channel mix. Review your use of search, social media, call centres, webshops and chatbots, as leaders over-index in their use of all of these.

Commit to a test-and-learn approach. Develop an agile, iterative mentality in your marketing, and set aside a portion of your budget to fund your experiments.

Invest in your digital capabilities. Leaders are more likely to have the digital skills they require, they’re better at dealing with content, and they’re more likely to have the real-time data they need. Audit your capabilities in all these areas.

Draw on a wider range of data for insights and metrics. Expertise in the use of data is one of the biggest differentiators between leaders and mainstream companies. Look to employ a wider range of metrics, to better measure performance and efficiency.

Focus on integrating your marketing technology. Leaders are significantly ahead of the mainstream in the integration of their martech stack. This makes it much easier to deliver the personalised customer journeys buyers expect.

The good news for companies still struggling at the basic and intermediate levels of customer journey maturity is that, while there are areas where leading companies have a significant edge, the report concludes that: “even the more evolved companies have opportunities to enhance the experiences they provide”.

This means ambitious mainstream businesses can still bridge the gap between themselves and the leaders. It’s still all to play for.

The State of B2B Customer Journey Maturity report is now available for download

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