The Linear Trap: What is the Best way to Approach the B2B Customer Journey?



Get an understanding of why you need to break away from the linear mindset of the customer journey. Learn the benefits and reasons approaching the customer journey from a non-linear standpoint is strategically beneficial.

By Win Salyards, Senior Marketing Consultant at Heinz Marketing

It is tempting to view the customer journey as a straightforward, linear process. We often envision customers progressing neatly from awareness to consideration to decision, adhering to a set path. However, this oversimplified perspective can lead to missed opportunities and a lack of understanding of the true complexity of the B2B customer journey. Abandoning this linear mindset and embracing a more nuanced approach is crucial. Let’s dig into why.

The Problem with Linear Thinking:

  1. Oversimplification: The linear model assumes that all customers follow the same path, ignoring the unique needs, challenges, and decision-making processes of individual businesses. Research by Gartner reveals that today’s B2B buying journey is significantly more complex, with customers looping back and revisiting various stages multiple times before making a decision. Numerous organizational stakeholders often drive this complexity, each with priorities and concerns.
  2. Lack of Flexibility: A linear approach needs to account for the fact that customers may move back and forth between stages, requiring different types of engagement at other times. According to a study by McKinsey, the B2B decision-making process is dynamic and iterative, involving repeated interactions and information gathering. B2B buyers might seek additional information, revisit previously considered options, or re-evaluate their needs, making it essential for marketers to remain flexible and responsive.
  3. Ignoring External Influences: The linear model often fails to consider the impact of external factors, such as market trends, competitor actions, and changing business priorities, which can significantly influence the customer journey. For instance, a sudden shift in industry regulations or the introduction of disruptive technology can alter a customer’s trajectory, necessitating a pivot in marketing strategy. A Harvard Business Review article highlights how B2B buyers are influenced by many external factors, from economic conditions to technological advancements, underscoring the need for a more adaptive approach.
  4. Missed Opportunities: By focusing solely on a predetermined path, marketers may use opportunities to engage with customers in meaningful ways that fall outside the linear journey. B2B buyers increasingly engage with content and make decisions based on peer recommendations and social proof. This non-linear engagement pattern suggests that marketers must be present and active across various touchpoints, not just the traditional ones.

Fueling Growth Through Change Guide


Embracing a Non-Linear Approach:

  1. Understand the Complexity: Recognize that the B2B customer journey is a complex, multi-dimensional process that varies from customer to customer. B2B buyers now engage with an average of 27 touchpoints during their purchasing journey. This underscores the importance of detail mapping the customer journey, identifying key touchpoints, and understanding how stakeholders interact with your brand.
  2. Personalization: Tailor your marketing efforts to individual customers’ needs and challenges rather than relying on a one-size-fits-all approach. By leveraging data and insights, marketers can create customized content and targeted campaigns that resonate with each customer’s unique pain points and priorities.
  3. Flexibility and Adaptability: Be prepared to adapt your marketing strategies in real-time based on customer feedback, changing business priorities, and market trends. Agile marketing methodologies, which emphasize iterative planning and responsive execution, can help marketers stay nimble and responsive to their customers’ evolving needs.
  4. Holistic View: Consider the entire customer experience, from initial awareness to post-purchase support, and look for opportunities to engage customers at every stage. According to a report by Salesforce, 76% of B2B buyers expect consistent interactions across departments. This means breaking down silos within your organization and ensuring a seamless, cohesive experience across all touchpoints, from marketing and sales to customer service and support. This customer expectation once again shows just how important effective marketing orchestration is.
  5. Data-Driven Insights: Leveraging data analytics better to understand customer behavior, preferences, and pain points allows you to create more targeted and effective marketing campaigns. Predictive analytics, for example, can help identify potential churn risks and uncover hidden opportunities, enabling proactive engagement and personalized outreach.

Breaking free from the linear trap is essential for B2B marketers who want to create meaningful, long-lasting customer relationships. By embracing the complexity of the B2B customer journey and adopting a more flexible, personalized approach, marketers can unlock new opportunities for growth and success. Remember, the customer journey is not a straight line but a winding path filled with twists, turns, and endless possibilities. By understanding and adapting to this reality, marketers can better meet the needs of their customers and drive more impactful business outcomes.

We’d be happy to have a free brainstorm call to talk about your approach.