How the non-linear customer journey impacted B2B marketing automation

Discover what a non – linear customer journey is and how one can adapt in this customer journey evolution.

There are not that many marketing tactics that are as helpful as customer journey mapping.

Creating the journey stages, tracking the steps our buyers pass through, pushing them from one phase to another – it brings calm into a hectic marketing world.

Customer journey mapping is a practical method for businesses of any type. It’s commonly used to visualise and guide our buyers and ourselves with them.

The process of customer journey mapping involves connecting and mapping customer interactions, across multiple touchpoints, to influence the end-to-end experience.

But it doesn’t always work in the order we expect it.

Even though an ideal customer journey will start from an awareness stage and hopefully end with the purchase, more often than not – it is more complicated than that.

Because of the fact the journey gets more complex, we introduced a non-linear customer journey into marketing vocabulary.

And now, we are interested in the customer journey evolution.

Moreover, how the non-linear customer journey affected B2B marketing automation, and how they work together.


What is a non-linear customer journey


Non-linear customer journey is the journey where buyers hop from one stage to another in no particular order.

They move forwards and backwards through stages randomly. Customers are speeding, slowing down, and finally, sometimes, against all the odds – they drop the purchase.

In the words of Spredfast’s VP of Marketing, Sarah Moore:

“The only person who owns the customer journey is the customer. The customer has more power than ever to decide when, how, and where to interact with brands on their own time — on their own terms.” 

Marketers are aware of how the customer is leading the conversation today, and they are adapting.

Even though the non-linear customer journey has existed for a long time – it’s becoming more evident and more pressing these days.

To get an idea, the classic customer journey looks something like this:

While the non-linear customer journey looks something like this:

Additionally, the non-linear customer journey is more evident in the B2B sector. In this world, purchases require extensive research and are usually made by groups of decision-makers with different priorities.

Naturally, the marketing automation process has to adapt to the matter at hand.

By implementing marketing methods which anticipate the irregular customer journey, marketing automation users have impacted the development of the B2B platforms.

Now B2B marketing automation vendors cater to the new needs of modern marketing. They are building functionalities that will not only satisfy its users today but also stand the test of time.

The B2B marketing automation and the non-linear journey

Most of us are familiar with the differences between B2B (business to business) and a B2C (business to customer) marketing automation.

For those of you who want more clarity on the matter, check out our article on the distinctions between the two systems here.

To summarize, when we consider B2B operational model, we notice a few connotations, such as:

  • Longer decision-making process
  • Research-driven purchase
  • Multiple decision-makers
  • Lead management

Because the journey is becoming more sophisticated and non-linear, B2B organisation and their teams are forced to be more adaptive.

They need to cater to the process of each customer individually instead of forcing each customer down a faulty journey.

How do they do that? By fitting the B2B marketing automation platform to their current needs.


Factors that influence B2B marketing automation

1. Departmental alignment

The line between marketing and sales department is blurring.

Firstly, customers don’t expect to talk to sales until they are satisfied with the information on the product or service.

Secondly, customers see their journey as a series of tasks that they have to complete to find a solution that will solve their problem.

Usually, this means, marketing has to start providing answers through content if they hope to pass the leads to sales.

Additionally, the availability of information has made it easier for leads to gather information independently.

Which results in sellers having less access and fewer opportunities to control customer decisions.

In fact‚ Gartner research finds that when B2B buyers are considering a purchase‚ they spend only 17% of that time meeting with potential suppliers.

Because of these changes in customers perspectives, we see B2B marketing automation adjusting its course to aligning the departments as a must.

We see lead nurturing and having a “single source of truth” as a step one of the future-proofing our marketing automation.

2. Lead nurturing

When speaking about B2B marketing automation – lead nurturing is probably the first thing that pops in our minds.

Lead nurturing is the process of following leads through the buyer’s journey while supporting them along the way until they are ready to buy.

The nurturing part refers to focusing on the buyer’s current customer journey stage and serving them with content that will help them move to the next stage.

Most B2B marketing automation platforms offer features that help demystify leads and where they are on their journey.

For example, when we look at Pardot, a B2B marketing automation platform, we discover more features that help us manage the non-linear journey customers go through.

In Pardot, by using the lead scoring and grading features, you can assign scores based on customers’ activities and engagement with your emails, website, and other content.

The lead scoring feature will allow you to translate prospects activities on your website into a clear image of their involvement with your product.

The default scoring model the platform provides lets you define critical activities your company finds important and score the prospects differently based on those activities.

To put it simply, you will measure their ‘interest’ which will determine their grade in the Pardot scoring panel.

Next move is on the lead grading feature, that helps us with identifying the prospects features which are most important to our business. Here we want to detect how interested are we in the prospect. This usually includes collecting data such as industry, title, country of residence etc.

By applying these methods, non-linear customer journey becomes simplified to a point where we can measure it.

It’s a perfect example of where the B2B marketing automation adjusted to the demand of the customer.

3. Multi-channel marketing

According to research from SiriusDecisions, 67% of the buyer’s journey happens digitally.

This means that it occurs on their terms, with actions taking place as they see fit.

Buyers don’t just pull information from one source; they research through social media, email, video and organic search.

As reported by McKinseybuyers now use an average of six different channels throughout the decision journey.

For organisations to deliver a seamless multi-channel experience, marketing automation is vital

And even though multi-channel has been predominantly a B2C requirement, B2B marketing is quickly adopting it as its own.

4. Single source of truth

In the examination of the non-linear journey where customers are randomly hopping from one stage to another, we must also take into account the data we collect.

And later on, we must consider how we use that data to optimise the journey.

For the data to make sense and to help marketers in they customer journey optimisation, it needs to be centralised in one system.

It can’t sit in silos.

A single source of truth is the number one ingredient of successful marketing.

With marketing departments becoming more varied and sales departments relying on marketing leads, single source of truth comes as a holy grail.

It’s the groundwork for any consistent and personalised messaging.

Additionally, non-linear journeys include customers coming in and out as they please, so naturally, we must know how to serve them on a moment’s notice.

There is no way of doing that without a central database or a single source of truth.

5. Social media and referral marketing

Today, business customers are presented to the same dynamics of peer-to-peer networks and opinions that in the same way influence individual consumers.

In other words – the equivalent of Facebook’s “like” button also applies to B2B sales.

Referrals and product reviews — they all impact the B2B buyer.

In the B2C world, consumers use ratings from previous buyers to confirm their interest in a product. In the B2B world, buying groups read reviews or consult colleagues before they narrow down the shopping list.

Additionally, bad reviews and unflattering social media posts can kill the deal, without any further questioning.

Today we can see an increase in B2B marketing automation integrations with social media. To keep up with the newest trends of the customer journey, B2B systems are adapting.

Platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are now becoming critical ingredients in the marketing mix of B2B organisations.

6. Real-time response

While the presumption stands – business buyers take longer time to purchase a product or a service, at the same time, they expect a fast response.

Empowered customers increasingly demand real-time digital interactions supported by tools such as chat-bots or price calculators.

As we stated previously, buyers now use an average of six different channels throughout the decision journey.

Basically, any channel that is presented to them, they will most probably use.

B2B marketing automation resolves this demand by tracking the prospects, by lead scoring, sales notifications and third-party integrations.

For instance, B2B marketing automation provides real-time notifications that alert a sales representative at the exact moment a prospective lead lands on a particular web page (pricing or demo page).

7. Personalisation

As discovered so far – modern customer journeys are seldom linear.

To ensure personalisation improves the B2B buyer journey, it must work across devices and channels. For this, we need technology to support our efforts.

In the B2C world, personalisation is a given.

There is no denying how personalisation affects customers. Ever since the e-commerce sector started using it for amazing benefits, we have been raving about it.

In the B2B world, personalisation is still at its early stage, mostly because the technology is not yet available, according to the recent study from Seismic and Demand Metric.

However, the B2B marketing automation such as Pardot or Marketo are leading the pack with advanced features that will satisfy business any size.

From web and campaign personalisation to email communication, B2B marketing automation is keeping up with the personalisation trends.

Want to know more about Customer Journey Optimisation?

Final words

The B2B “way of buying” is largely influenced by the way customer buy in the B2C world.

Many trends start as a B2C preference, such as multi-channel marketing and personalisation, but they get adopted by the B2B world. Same goes for B2B tactics that somehow find their way into the B2C arena (account-based marketing).

To stay on top of your game, it’s important to communicate to all departments in your organisation about how the non-linear journey is impacting your business and vice versa.

The transition between the approaches from the linear customer journey to a non-linear one will not happen overnight.

Instead, it takes time and patience to adjust according to the type of customer you serve and the way they buy.

Are you struggling to pin down the customer journey in your business? Are you looking for an expert advice? Get in touch with our team of experts today!

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