Demystifying the “Customer Decision Journey” in a B2B Context

Is “Consumer Decision Journey” just a buzzword?

We have heard many fellow marketers complaining about the overuse of the “Consumer Decision Journey” buzzword. We think of it differently: the term itself is too generic to be considered actionable in many cases. It’s like learning a verb without knowing its conjugations – you understand it in principle but can’t apply it in reality.

Last week, we analyzed an old article from McKinsey about the consumer decision journey. It offers more value to B2C marketers than B2B marketers, with surveyed brands, example tactics and consumer behaviors on B2C side. As a B2B company ourselves, we were wondering how the basic principles would apply to the B2B world.

In this blog post, we will discuss in details: how B2B customers’ loyalty loop is created differently to B2C’s, and how you can align your marketing to seize the moment that loop appears.

McKinsey_Consumer_Decision_Journey

Loyalty measurement should be two-dimensional

If you measure customer loyalty by how many times they buy from you or how much money they spend on your product, perhaps you’re only focusing your marketing on the bottom of the funnel, and missing out on opportunities at the top of the funnel. Here is how we think a customer’s loyalty should be evaluated.

By loyalty loop repetition (times of purchases)

This is an obvious criteria and it can be applied for both end users and business users. If a customer is loyal to your brand, he will buy your product every time he has the need. However, the main difference between end users and businesses is the role of the decision makers.

In the consumer product case, an end user is usually also the decision maker.  Once he purchases your product, if he likes your product better than others (and he can still afford to buy it), he will continue to be a loyal customer.  A customer’s life milestones don’t necessarily change his lifestyle or product preference.  When they do, the changes are predictable, such as couples selling the sports cars and buying a minivan when they expect a family.

B2B marketers’ target is more complicated, but it functions in similar ways. If companies buy your product, they are structurally loyal due to contractual agreements, but the emotional loyalty comes from the people, not the account.  When this contract expires, you may have hidden factors affecting a decision to replace your product, such as new personnel changes and a shift in perceived needs of the company.  But it can also be a shift in the loyalty of the people in the account.

Organizations don’t develop feelings toward your brand, individuals do.

Let’s take an example. A manager was working for AAAA Company and bought your product once. AAAA Company has never bought from you since, but you recognize that same manager bought your product for BBBB Company. How would you evaluate the level of loyalty in this case? Our answer: the manager is your loyal buyer, and you can’t judge AAAA Company’s loyalty at all because they have never been the real buyer.

So, don’t count how many times a company buys from you but how many times a person does, no matter where he goes.

Tips: the same distinction between the company and the decision maker can also be applied to evaluate engagement.

By loyalty loop proliferation (referencing reach)

This criteria is much less obvious and also less revenue-based, but creates more ground for developing new, engaged leads.

If your buyers are end users, their decisions are made based on their preference and have little effect on others. You can’t say whether Pepsi or Coke is better (unless you’re a die-hard fan of either), yet people still pick the drink they like. It all comes to personal opinion and while it can affect the perceptions of those around you, there isn’t an obligation to change your taste because your friend expresses a preference.

However, preferences work differently in B2B marketing. Every purchasing decision affects a whole company, so people are more careful not to make clearly wrong choices. They’re more open to peer recommendations, industry best practices, successful case studies and free demos because these sources of information help reduce their uncertainty. In other words, B2B marketing relies more on reference and exposure to someone else’s experience. But the strongest evidence to make sure if something works is to experience it.

Let’s go back to the example of the manager working at AAAA Company. The product he bought from you was shared with three other members in his team and has been used by them ever since. After the manager joins BBBB Company, a team member stays at AAAA and keeps using the product when the other two goes to CCCC Company and DDDD Company, evangelizing your product.

In this example, one single purchase actually created four loyal customers.

So, our suggestion is, don’t evaluate a buyer only by how many times he buys from you but also by how many people he influences.

Tips: you can explore new opportunities using your current list of evangelists with the help of social networks.

Go track the seeds

Doing business is like planting trees

You can view an end user as an orchid, and a business user as a dandelion, given the optimum growing condition (i.e. your product is the best in the industry).

B2C_Orchids

An orchid has multiple blooms, and each bloom can have multiple flowers, which stand for purchases. It’s really difficult to grow another orchid from seeds. You judge the tree out of the number of flowers and blooms it bears, not the trees growing on its seeds.

Dandelions also bloom several times in their lifetime, but they breed pretty well. If you have a bush of dandelions, you’ll eventually have a farm. Nobody guarantees that every seed becomes a new plant, but one dandelion flower definitely creates more plants than an orchid flower does, because its seed is spread more easily.

It’s a competition, don’t let seeds fly away

The parachuted seeds are your buyers, changing jobs and evangelizing your brand, only if you can control and give them the best condition to do so. If the seeds fly over to your competitors’ farm, the flowers won’t be yours. You need to follow them and give them reasons to stay loyal to you.

B2B_Dandelions

To avoid losing seeds, you can build a greenhouse. In doing business, that greenhouse represents social networks. For example, you can use LinkedIn to figure out new potential decision makers who have recently left a company that uses your products, or reach out to influencers who have experienced using your product before.

Another important point is that you should give the seeds good soils to grow. These leads need a nurturing campaign for themselves because they don’t go into your sales funnel as raw leads. You need to treat them differently, and personalize messages and offers to suit their stage of engagement. Remember: one mistake of marketing in the uncanny valley is ignoring existing relationships. These leads need to be empowered, not just given information.

In short, your seeds are yours, but only if you can control the greenhouse.

For more details on the value of tracking decision makers as they move to different companies, check out our Bounced Buyer Strategy. The strategy is followed by a step-by-step checklist designed for Marketo users.