B2B companies are waking up to the fact that success demands consistently delivering on customer expectations over the relationship’s lifetime. A recent IBM study found that CEOs are worried that their management teams don’t fully understand the expectations of prospects and customers, or how to operationalize their customer experience strategy fast enough.

The concern is justified. Marketers did not list knowing their customers’ journeys as a priority in’s ExactTarget Marketing Cloud 2014 State of Marketing study of over 2,500 participants. Ironically, in the same study, marketers listed their number one priority as driving higher conversion rates. An objective that isn’t achievable unless you understand your customers’ journey.

While marketers gnash their teeth over how many emails to send and if texting increases loyalty, their CEOs are questioning why marketing isn’t embracing customer-led best practices -- in other words, doing things differently.

CEOs lose faith in their management teams when they realize that customer experience is more than just a slick marketing campaign, better call center performance or publishing the company’s values on its website. Being customer-aligned changes every part of the company and most management teams are at a loss of where to begin. 

Removing the Guesswork with Journey Maps

The place to begin is with journey mapping: a tool used to discover, in detail, customers’ actions and experience expectations. These maps, developed through the lens of each major buyer group, capture the detailed actions as well as the internal and external interactions buyers have from the initiating trigger event through purchase and product usage. What resources buyers look for, where they go to find them, trusted sources they turn to, decisions they make along the way, how emotions impact those decisions, and what they expect from vendors are all components of a journey map.

Done correctly, journey maps reveal a plethora of actionable knowledge. They take the guesswork out of which interactions should be digital versus physical, what content to offer, sales methodology, customer success process models and product roadmaps. In fact, there are over 30 uses for the information journey mapping produces, not destinations. Journey maps change over time because buyers’ expectations change as well as business problems mature -- the latter being a big blind spot for companies.

The Maturity Factor

How buyers go about solving a mature, well-understood business problem is very different from how they go about addressing an emerging opportunity. Their mindset, success metrics, journey steps and expectations are radically different. There is a direct correlation between the composition of a buyers’ journey and the maturity of the underlying problem or opportunity being solved.

For example, the buyers’ journey a Vice President of Sales takes to implement standardized sales processes and reporting for his team is very different from the journey the same vice president would take in finding a way to help his sales team effectively replace cold calling with social selling. The first is a very mature business problem that is widely understood and documented with established best practices. The solution set is well known and includes purchasing a customer relationship management solution like The second is an example of an early stage business problem that is not well understood, lacks best practices, no clear alternative approaches to consider, and no track record of success.

The first journey is straightforward and relatively short. The VP of Sales will focus on what modules he needs, which post-purchase support program, price, and tap into his social graph to understand the ‘tips and tricks’ to getting the customer experience he wants. The second example’s journey is long and unstructured with the VP heavily researching social selling principles, repeatedly tapping into his social graph to learn if and how others did it and what the outcomes were. Given how nascent this problem is, the VP will approach it with a “let’s experiment and see what happens” attitude. Quite different from the first example which has a well understand and well publicized roll-out and training plan that involves the entire sales and marketing teams.

Understanding how journeys change as problems mature is critical to organizations looking to successfully operationalize their customer-centric strategy. Sellers that understand this evolution and incorporate it into their strategy are nimbler and can more easily meet buyer expectations. One way to understand the evolution of buyer’s journeys is through the use of archetypes.

Archetypes of Buyer's Journeys

Journey archetypes are meta-level definitions based on several non-attitudinal variables including maturity of business problem/opportunity, purchase decision process, outcome track record, alternatives and supporting best practices along with company size, industry and geography, to list a few. Established in the physical science and mathematics, archetype analysis was introduced to the field of marketing in 1998 to analyze and understand the heterogeneity of market attributes and variables.

There are five major buyers’ journey archetypes:

  1. Experimental – A business need and sought outcome may exist but curiosity is the real driver. Journeys vary widely and are often seen more as experiments or tests of a new idea. The personality of the buyer largely influences the path of the journey.
  2. Strategic – The business need is understood as a strategic opportunity though there may not be consensus on the definition of success. Buyers’ journeys are heavily influenced by how "pack-leaders" have approach the problem and the outcomes they achieved. Patterns in journey maps emerge at a high level by industry and company size but are not widely generalizable.
  3. Competitive – The business need and sought outcome are well understood and agreed to. Journeys are clearly defined by industry best practices, established internal processes and success metrics. Generalizable detailed journey maps emerge at the industry, company size, and geography and persona/role level. The buyer focuses on validating the outcome, time-to-value, desired customer experience and reducing decision risk.
  4. Standard – The business problem, sought outcome, journey steps, buyer-persona roles and responsibilities are well understood, documented and consistent across industries, company size, persona/role and geography. The steps in the journey are standardized and the buyer focuses on validating the outcome and the desired customer experience.
  5. Routine – The business need, expected outcome, solution alternatives and buyers’ journeys are standardized across industries, company sizes and geographies. The journey is often abbreviated since the decisions are routine, any risks well understood and the desired outcome is virtually guaranteed.

Archetypes help explain why some business problems are solved the same way regardless of industry while for other business problems it seems that every buyer takes a different approach. Journey archetypes help companies understand how their buyers’ journeys and customer experience expectations will evolve and change over time.

For CEOs challenging their management teams to become customer-aligned, journey mapping is the starting point. To become customer-led, CEOs need to understand journey archetypes so they can lead their organizations through the evolution. Since not all journeys are equal, success lies in navigating the evolution to consistently meet customer expectations.

Title image by LoloStock (Shutterstock)

Editor's Note: Read more from Christine in The Road to Customer Experience is Not Thru Net Promoter Score