The differences between B2B and B2C customer journey mapping

B2B and B2C customer journey mapping differerences explained. Learn what to do to optimize the experience for your particular industry.


Bob Thompson

January 6, 2020

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After Voice of the Customer (VoC), nothing is more closely associated with Customer Experience Management (CXM) than a customer journey map (CJM). 

By creating a visual depiction of the steps that customers take in an experience, including how customers feel after interactions, CX leaders can diagnose problems and design new experiences for the future.

According to CJM expert Jim Tincher of Heart of the Customer, high-level maps of the end-to-end experiences can help identify the source of friction and frustration, before zeroing in on a specific journey to develop corrective actions. Using personas, a practice highly recommended by CX experts means multiple journeys should be analyzed. I’ll discuss personas in more detail below.

In CustomerThink’s recent CX study, 77% of respondents reported developing a CJM as part of their CX initiative. But simply creating a map was not found to be a success driver. What appears to matter more is consistency across the journey stages and thoroughness of implementing journey mapping practices.

Winning CX initiatives–those achieving tangible benefits or a competitive edge–tend to include more stages (also known as touchpoints) in journey maps. The biggest differences are found in pre-purchase stages as you can see here.

customer journey map guide

Winning CX initiatives were also much more proficient at a number of journey mapping best practices, including: developing personas, developing future state maps, including emotional factors, basing maps on solid research (e.g. customer feedback data), involving customers, and defining customer outcomes. 

In this article, I’ll take a deeper dive into personas and customer feedback as it relates to B2B and B2C journey maps.

What is the difference between B2B and B2C?

Let’s start with some basics about what it means to be a business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-consumer (B2C) company. 

At a high level, the difference is obvious. B2B companies sell to other companies. B2C companies sell to consumers. Simple.

Not so fast. 

A B2B company has other companies as customers, sure. It says so right there on the invoices. But you don’t really sell to a company, you sell to people working for that company. And these people have all sorts of roles in a B2B relationship. 

In fact, B2B buyer research by Demand Gen finds that buying cycles last 1-3 months and 80% involve up to six people. The study also notes increasing usage of online resources (social media, review sites, and vendor web sites) which has pushed sales engagement later in the cycle. 

B2B journey mapping is more complex. While certain people on the buying (customer) side of the B2B relationship sign the purchase orders, it’s a huge mistake to assume they are the most important.  Other roles that participate are executive sponsors, line managers, technical staff, users, and more. On the selling (vendor) side, there are salespeople, customer support reps, accounting personnel, manufacturing, accounting, legal, and more. They can all be engaged in different parts of the customer journey.

We’ll get to the implications for journey maps in a minute. But let’s turn to B2C because that should be super simple. Just one company selling to one consumer, right? 

Sorry, not quite. In B2C, yes, in many cases there is exactly one customer as the buyer and user. Examples might include shoppers at a store, a personal banking account, or cell phone service. In contrast to B2B, B2C buying journeys could take a few minutes to a few days. 

But what about households? When a car is purchased, even if one spouse takes the lead on the buying process, you can bet the partner and any children are key stakeholders in the decision. It’s something like a B2B scenario, and woe betides the car sales rep that caters only to the purchaser without understanding other family needs. 

This diagram nicely sums up the differences between B2C and B2B.

B2B vs B2C customer journey mapping

One key distinction is the amount of “involvement” in the purchase decision. Here’s a good definition:

A high involvement product is a product where the extensive thought process is involved and the consumer considers a lot of variables before finally making a purchase decision. Many times, high involvement purchases involve multiple buyers or multiple influencers who influence a single buyer.

As mentioned, some B2C purchases can be high involvement (e.g. car purchase) and some B2B purchases can be low involvement (office supplies). But, broadly speaking, B2B is characterized by higher involvement than B2C, which means more people are involved. While both B2B and B2C have target markets, B2C tends to have a larger number of customers with shorter and simpler buying processes. 

There are clear differences, but also common ground. People. Even in a business setting, buyers are acting more like consumers, according to a Forrester Research report The Birth Of The B2B Consumer:

Driving this change is a combination of learned and native digital consumer behaviors that are having a dramatic impact on every phase of the B2B customer life cycle. To meet the needs of the emerging B2B consumer, B2B marketers need to rethink and evolve every aspect of their strategies, programs, and tactics, from branding to lead generation and post-sale engagement.

The implications of this trend are profound. Businesses need to be better at treating customers as individuals, each with their own goals and preferences.

Personas help unlock customer insight

A business with hundreds, thousands, or even millions of customers has a big challenge: delivering experiences that don’t make customers feel like numbers. That requires some level of customization in journeys. 

While delivering true “one-to-one” experiences is not realistic for most companies, it is feasible to treat different types of customers differently. That’s where personas come in.

Think of personas as an abstraction for types of customers. These can serve as planning tools for marketing, sales, customer service, and, of course, CX professionals. Personas are developed based on a combination of factors developed through research into customer goals, challenges, habits, and demographics.

Here’s a formal definition from persona thought leader Tony Zambito in 2002:

Buyer personas are research-based archetypal (modeled) representations of who buyers are, what they are trying to accomplish, what goals drive their behavior, how they think, how they buy, and why they make buying decisions.

Zambito notes that today he would add where and when buyers buy. He also stresses that persona development should help understanding buyer behaviors; it’s not just a profile. He  recommends the following steps: 

  1. Conduct buyer insight research.  

  2. Modeling of buyer personas.  

  3. Zero-in on buyer goals.  

  4. Create topics and offers aligned to goals.  

  5. Operational and tactical efficiency.  

  6. Measurements and metrics are put into place.  

Clearly, personas require a lot of research into who your customers are and how they behave. Information can come from market research, customer feedback, and interaction data generated from customer navigating their experiences.

Here’s an example of a persona that might be useful in a B2C scenario. You can see many of Zambito’s recommendations included.

B2B vs B2C customer journey mapping persona example

Source: Dribble

A B2B customer persona would stress a different set of business characteristics, as you can see in this example portraying a CEO.

B2B vs B2C customer journey mapping persona example 2

Source: Iron Springs Design

Personas help humanize different groups of customers, instead of thinking of them as cold facts and figures. Seriously, no one wants to be thought of as an “account” or “customer number.” 

Personas can be useful as you develop journey maps because by putting yourself in the shoes of a specific persona, it’s easier to understand the path that customers may take. In addition, personas can help employees feel more connected to customers. Some companies display posters of different personas to remind employees of who they are serving. 

Showing them in a “customer room” is another option worth considering. Think of other ways you can use personas as a tool for employee engagement and communications.

Customer Journey Map B2b and B2C

Source: Forrester 

In short, B2B personas help bring to life a specific type of customer–including job role, goals, preferences, etc.–that will participate in a buying journey. Such personas help illuminate business factors that influence behavior. A consumer persona, by contrast, could include personal characteristics like favorite sport or hobbies that might influence how they behave in their buying journey.

Implications for customer journey mapping

With the foregoing discussion as a foundation, let’s dive into three key differences between B2B and B2C journey mapping. 

1. More types of people are involved in B2B journeys

B2B journeys tend to be much more complicated than B2C. Take a look at this chart from Forrester Research you’ll see a number of different roles represented in the purchase of a technology solution. 

Forrester Customer Journey Mapping

Source: B2B Buyer Journey Map Basics  

Please keep in mind that this is not a journey map, but illustrates some of the data you’ll need to construct a B2B journey map. You can see several key roles are involved at different parts of the process.

  • CIO: in charge of the overall IT strategy.

  • Business execs: will want to get a return on their investment.

  • Business technology (BT) managers: manage projects and tech personnel. 

  • BT specialists: implement solutions.

It’s not clear from this chart, but in many cases, there will also be business users–managers and professionals who use the solution in their daily work. If they need help, they’ll either call the internal help desk or contact the vendor directly.

We can easily develop a half dozen buyer roles, each of which should be represented in a journey map. Couple that with all the resources (departments, people, systems) involved in on the selling side, and you’ve got a complicated map. Verint, which sells solutions in the contact center space, created a 24-foot journey map that they displayed at their customer conference.

None of this is to suggest that B2C journey maps are always simple. In CustomerThink’s CX research, some B2C companies selling complex products, like mortgages and other financial services, have journeys that last weeks to months. 

Here’s the journey of a property and casualty agent (the customer in this scenario). While there’s just one customer, you can see how many departments must collaborate to support the end-to-end experience. 

B2B customer journey map

Source: Heart of the Customer

2. B2B customers are (generally) more valuable

As mentioned earlier, B2B is characterized as fewer/bigger “deals” as compared to B2C. Of course, one consumer purchase of a Gulfstream jet would overshadow a small business owner buying office supplies. But for this discussion, we’ll leave those as exceptions.

B2B relationships can last years, even decades. A serious problem with just one customer can put a lot of revenue at risk. During my tenure at IBM, I had responsibility for accounts buying tens of millions of dollars per year. The activities of the account team along with many other IBMers help deliver on the experience that customers expected and built loyalty for the long-term. 

With that in mind, it’s important to prioritize customer personas by business value. Customers are not worth the same, nor should they be treated the same. So, if you’re taken aback by the complexity of journey mapping, I suggest starting with your most valuable customers. Don’t know? That’s your first project.

Customer lifetime value (CLTV) is a prediction of the value (profit, generally) of a customer relationship over time, based on the net present value of future cash flows. Understanding CLTV is hugely important in CX because it’s the foundation for investing in relationships, in return for a stream of profits in the long-term. This relationship (as opposed to transactional) thinking can be applied to B2B and B2C customers.

But “valuable” can mean different things to different people. In a fast-growing tech company driving for market share and “category leadership,” revenue is what matters most. In this case, customers that buy a lot would be important even if not profitable. 

Another factor is the marketing value of a customer, especially in B2B. In marketing circles, this is often referred to as “logos” that can be placed on websites and other marketing channels. In B2C, having a celebrity as a customer could unlock a massive amount of business. 

You’ll need to decide for yourself how to place a value on different customer segments. Having done so, start your journey mapping by creating personas around the most valuable segment. Here’s an example of a persona for a CEO of a large financial services company that could be the foundation for a journey mapping exercise.

B2B customer journey map persona example

Source: MyCustomer

Another thought, to avoid “boiling the ocean” in journey mapping, is to focus initially on larger and/or more profitable types of transactions. Yes, this is a “product-centric” approach, but let’s get real. Just as not all customers are equally valuable, the same is true for the products and services that companies sell. 

To get a handle on the true value of products, services, or even entire lines of businesses is complicated. Some companies use activity-based costing techniques to fully account for all the costs involved with selling and fulfillment, enabling a true profit to be calculated. Total revenue, growth rates, and strategic priority can also help prioritize where to focus. 

I want to emphasize that this helps to decide where to start. Journey maps take quite a lot of time to create and evolve over a period of years. Make thoughtful choices of your first journey map to help show the value and build interest in the future.

3. B2B customer feedback techniques will require more customization to personas

As I’ve said, you’ll likely have multiple personas in B2B. Do you really want to give exactly the same survey to the CEO as you would to the user of what you’re selling?

To answer my rhetorical question, of course not. Each persona has different motivations and behaviors. Surveys and other feedback collection should take that into account. 

Furthermore, incomplete sampling of key personas can result in misleading conclusions about customer satisfaction. Quite a few years ago, an independent (since renamed study of customer satisfaction with a major software vendor came to dramatically different results than the vendor’s own surveys. It turns out that the firm relied mainly on feedback from the key sponsor – CIOs. But others involved with the installation and use of the solution were not happy, and this spilled out into the market via other channels.

The point is that there isn’t any single survey or channel that will tell you everything you want to know about the health of your customer relationships. Instead of looking for a “single version of the truth,” find multiple data sources that will help “triangulate” on a conclusion. 

What percentage of customers should be surveyed? Again, different strategies apply to business vs. consumer-focused enterprises. 

For example, a large manufacturer selling complex equipment to the auto industry might want to survey every single customer, including multiple people per account. In addition, “key accounts” could be assessed through regular business reviews, advisory council meetings, and other human-to-human interactions.

Let’s take a B2C example, such as passenger airlines which have millions of customers. Survey targeting and tailoring could be done based on frequent flyer status, an important indicator of customer value. But rather than attempting to survey every customer, airlines can analyze call center recordings and other communications to understand key issues and customer sentiment. 

CustomerThink research finds that more mature and successful CX initiatives use multiple sources of customer feedback. From a 2018 study, you can see significant differences in the use of text, social media, interaction data, speech, and web analytics. 

CustomerThink journey mapping data

That doesn’t mean you should blindly look for every possible source of data, in the hope that insight will somehow leap out of more data. Instead, first make sure that surveys are providing a solid foundation, accounting for key personas and more valuable customer segments. 

Then think about one or two other sources of feedback that will add insight or fill in coverage gaps. For B2C, analyzing unstructured and often unsolicited sources in social media and call center conversations could be a gold mine of insight. 

For B2B, interviews and other qualitative efforts are crucial, especially for highly valuable customers. Interaction data, in product usage or customer service, could provide some clues about customer satisfaction. Some tech companies selling cloud-based solutions can collect usage data as one indicator of whether customers are getting value. 

Customer support is often critical to customer renewals if not growth. EMC, which sells very complex solutions, found through analytics that the time to answer a call was not what customers really wanted. Instead, they valued the total time to resolve their issue. With that insight, the company could monitor resolution times and flag for action cases exceeding a limit. In effect, the analytics provided a surrogate for a survey – one that you don’t have to wait for. 

One last point: Be careful that you don’t over survey B2B customers. Experts recommend developing exclusion rules so the same person is not surveyed more than once every month or so. And don’t try to automate everything. An account manager reaching out for a phone call is a much more personal approach than yet another survey invitation by email. 

Summing up

I hope this article will help shed some light on key differences between B2B and B2C journey mapping. 

Remember that journey mapping should be a tool to drive organizational change. Make sure that maps don’t end up as a research project put on the shelf. Dave Fish, market researcher and CX consultant at CuriosityCX, puts it this way

The largest impact journey mapping has on an organization is not the outcome; but ironically the journey of doing journey mapping. People who never met each other now talk to one another. Once quasi-taboo topics are thrown out in the light. It engages the entire company and helps tear down those infamous silos. At the end, sure you may have a cool map. But if done right, you have an organization that is aligned, informed, and engaged to change things.

Regardless of B2B or B2C, the core principles of effective journey mapping are the same. Create a journey around key personas. To define personas, use insight from market research, customer feedback and other sources. Start by focusing on more valuable customers and product lines, so that CX improvements will have a bigger impact.

Take that approach, and your journey maps are more likely to drive the CX improvements that put your company on top, for years to come. 

Check out our free Customer Journey Map guide with map examples and a free template!

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About the guest author

Bob Thompson is the CEO of CustomerThink, an independent research and publishing firm focused on customer-centric business management.

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