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Four ways to optimise B2B customer journeys

The best way to map customer journeys at your business will depend on your priorities. Here, we outline four distinct approaches and weigh up the pros and cons of each to help you see which of them is right for you.

Customer experience (CX) is one of the hottest topics in B2B marketing today. In fact, research from Marketing Week and creative agency Omobono shows that optimising the customer experience is now the top priority for organisations with a turnover of more than £500 million.

With 75 per cent of the marketers surveyed saying customer experience is increasing in importance within their organisations, that trend looks set to continue into 2019 and beyond.

But every customer journey is different, and the specific techniques you should use to improve the customer experience can vary hugely from case to case. Given the complexity of the B2B marketing and sales cycle, choosing the right path forwards can be a daunting task.

So, today we’ll examine four distinct approaches Forrester Research analysts recommend to model and optimise B2B customer journeys to help you see which approach is best for you.

1. ‘Quick win’ customer journey mapping

A big challenge for companies at the start of their customer experience transformations is getting buy‐in for CX initiatives.

Given that marketers must collaborate with multiple departments from across the business to map and optimise every customer experience, you’ll need to get the whole business on board to be successful.

One of the best ways to do this is to focus on a well known (and ideally time sensitive) challenge that a core group of stakeholders can resolve quickly.

You can then use this initial ‘win’ as a success story to champion the benefits of customer experience management (CEM) and rally support for more ambitious projects.

Start by quantifying a business problem that stems from a poor customer experience, whether that’s a sudden drop in revenue, a poor lead‐to‐sale conversion rate, a high churn rate or anything else. Then, set yourself a target for improvement over a short timeframe – ideally within 90 days.

From there, work with your core stakeholder group to plot out the customer journey in question using your best assumptions about your audience’s needs, behaviour and feelings at each step of the process.

You can then assess the health of the journey from the customer’s perspective and rank the different steps according to their impact on a client’s decision‐making process. This will help you focus on the parts of the journey that are in the greatest need of improvement.

Finally, translate your findings into a diagnosis of the problem’s cause and create a list of measurable priorities and actions you can implement to create your CX success story.

2. ‘Hypothesis first’ customer journey mapping

This approach is all about cross‐functional alignment. It’s commonly used when organisations want to drive a company‐wide culture change and become more customer‐centric.

Hypothesis‐first customer journey mapping typically brings together 12 – 20 internal subject matter experts, frontline employees, marketers and other CX professionals for a one‐ to two‐day workshop.

The idea is to create a blueprint you can use to reframe internal discussions around the customer experience, rather than internal operations.

Work with a broad cross‐section of stakeholders from across the organisation to map core customer journeys that are well‐understood and which you already have some customer data about.

This might include your lead generation, lead nurturing, onboarding, troubleshooting or renewal journeys.

The key here is to ensure someone who is familiar with customer journey mapping methodology leads your workshop and sets expectations about what the exercise will achieve.

At the end of the process, you should have prototype journey maps for the customer experiences you’re interrogating, as well as a hypothesis about how each can be improved.

From there, you can look to validate your maps with additional research to ensure you’ve drawn the right conclusions.

3. ‘Research first’ customer journey mapping

The problem with starting your CX transformation by making a series of assumptions about how customers interact with your brand is that sometimes those assumptions will be wrong.

This risk is especially acute when examining persistent business challenges or when you don’t have a great deal of reliable customer data to guide your thinking about a set of processes.

In these cases, it can be useful to thoroughly research your audience and its needs before you conduct a customer journey mapping workshop.

That means combining customer data, stakeholder interviews, focus group insights and more to truly understand the journeys your customers take, what they need at each stage of the process and how they feel about the existing customer experience.

As you do this, be on the lookout for anything with the potential to transform the way you think about your relationships with customers.

For example, one of our clients asked us to focus on product managers and IT leaders when developing audience personas for marketing its digital ID management products to its financial services vertical.

However, our research revealed that CX leaders also held sway at their target organisations, as did the business development managers who would be using these digital ID management features as a selling point when pitching their companies’ own products.

Discoveries like this can reveal new avenues for improving your customer journeys that you’d never otherwise have considered. You can then use these insights to create an accurate customer journey map and assess how best to improve the customer experience.

4. The ‘customer co‐creation’ model

Even once you have a validated customer journey map, there’s still one common pitfall to be aware of – and that’s making assumptions about what improvements your customers will want.

For example, it’s not unheard of for B2B companies to redesign and digitise their ordering journeys to create self‐service tools, only to discover that customers are sceptical about not having an individual relationship manager to call when things go wrong.

To make sure this doesn’t happen to you, include questions about which elements of their experiences with your brand to date customers value when conducting interviews to validate your journey maps.

The ‘customer co‐creation’ model takes this idea a step further and puts customers in the room with you during your CX optimisation workshop.

Having members of your target audience present for part of the workshopping process allows you to use them as a sounding board when testing concepts or prototyping new journey designs.

However, these co‐creation sessions are not for the fainthearted. They require extensive preparation time to develop workshop activities, recruit the right customers and properly train everyone involved.

Choosing the right optimisation model for you

As with any strategic marketing decision, the right approach to CX modelling for your business will depend on your goals.

Brands that are new to CX optimisation should look closely at the quick win approach. It’s great for proving the value of CX to the rest of the business as a first step. But, it’s less effective at generating company‐wide alignment and should be followed‐up with more extensive CX work.

The hypothesis‐first model is relatively easy to set up and good for building a consensus about your customers’ needs and how best to meet them.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t result in a verified customer journey map. So, you will generally need to follow your initial ‘hypothesis building’ workshop up with additional audience profiling and strategy work to ensure you’ve diagnosed the situation correctly.

The main advantage of the research‐first approach is that it allows you to eliminate the risk of having to go back to the drawing board that comes with the hypothesis‐first approach.

However, this option also requires special expertise to execute effectively, and it can take several weeks to compile a blueprint you can use for your CX initiatives. As such, it’s best‐suited to businesses that are already fully committed to customer experience optimisation.

Finally, the customer co‐creation model can help ensure you truly understand your audience’s needs. But it requires highly skilled facilitation and can still be lengthy once you factor in time for preparatory research and workshop planning.

At the same time, the requirement that you involve existing customers means this approach isn’t suitable for pre‐purchase journeys.

You’ll need to consider how committed your company is to CX optimisation and how much time and resources you can commit to these initiatives to decide which approach is best for you. But it should be clear that better research will typically lead to better, more reliable results.

Optimising any customer journey is a big job, and you may need to work with an external agency if you lack the skills to develop in‐depth audience profiles or run stakeholder workshops in‐house.

But championing CEM is the only way to drive a cultural change within your organisation that puts the customer at the centre of everything you do.

Key takeaways

    • ‘Quick win’ customer journey mapping is best for solving known CX challenges and getting buy‐in for larger CX initiatives.
    • ‘Hypothesis first’ customer journey mapping is best for tackling well‐understood customer journeys and generating company‐wide consensus about the best path forwards.
    • ‘Research first’ customer journey mapping is best for challenging assumptions within your organisation and creating verified models to guide your CX programme.
    • ‘Customer co‐creation’ is only an option for post‐purchase customer journeys but can help confirm that your plans for CX optimisation are on the right track.

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