One of the most crucial question today’s B2B sales and marketing teams have to answer is how to effectively manage their customers’ buying journeys: from first customer contact to final purchase - and ideally beyond to long-lasting relationships. The customer journey methodology challenges traditional sales funnel thinking as it detaches itself from internal processes and requires us to rethink the entire buying process from the customer’s perspective.
We asked Patrick Marous, CEO of thyssenkrupp Aerospace, what role the customer journey approach plays within the aerospace industry and how it can help to unleash customer-centric transformations.
The customer journey methodology was first developed and applied in B2C settings and reached its peak with the advent of e-commerce business models. How do you transfer such a “consumer concept” to a more traditional B2B industry setting?
Patrick Marous: The concept is definitely transferable to the B2B environment because all purchasing decisions are ultimately made by people. In today’s digital world, private consumers and professional buyers alike make well-informed purchase decisions. Before contacting potential vendors or suppliers in the physical world, they first gather information on the internet, on homepages, social media or special product platforms. This explains why B2B companies, just like B2C companies, have to invest time to think about their “digital presence” and the touchpoints they have with their (potential) customers.
As supplier to the global aerospace industry, you interact with multiple different players along the value chain, from raw-material producers to large-scale system suppliers and OEMs. Do you feel that the customer journey approach is already an integral part of strategic sales and marketing in the aerospace industry?
Patrick Marous: In the airline sector with its B2C focus the customer journey approach is very well established. In the aerospace manufacturing industry, however, we have a different picture. It is a niche industry and for the past decades, people were largely relying on their network of personal relationships. Everybody knew everybody. Over the last decades, however, the industry has undergone rapid growth and globalization with many new players entering the market. This also led to the emergence of complex buying centers with multiple stakeholders involved in decision-making processes. These developments require B2B aerospace companies to re-think their traditional approach and to develop end-to-end customer experiences.
How did you and thyssenkrupp Aerospace integrate the customer journey approach into your business processes? What are your key learnings so far, both in terms of challenges and opportunities?
Patrick Marous: We have just started our own journey to integrate this approach and it is indeed very exciting! As part of this journey, we are reworking our marketing and communication strategy and have started to ask ourselves how we can provide the right content to the right stakeholders through the right channels. It goes without saying that in today’s digitalized world, this strategy covers digital channels and B2B business platforms such as LinkedIn.
By the way: as we are always looking to hire top talent for our organization, we are employing the same approach for potential new recruits. In fact, they also undergo a “journey” before they apply or have an interview with us. Most of the candidates I have interviewed in recent months, for instance, had a look at my LinkedIn profile and knew something personal about me - like where I studied or what I recently posted. This was a big learning for me personally.
Can you give us a feeling for the customer touchpoints within the aerospace supplier industry? Which touchpoints are most crucial for you and why?
Patrick Marous: We obviously have many touch points with our customers during our daily business such as physical meetings, phone calls, and email exchange. Traditionally, air shows, trade shows, and conferences have always played a very important role in our industry and they will continue to do so. However, in our most recent customer survey, we have asked our customers to tell us about other sources of information and not surprisingly, homepages, social media, and B2B platforms were named very frequently.
What role do digital channels such as social media play in designing powerful customer experiences? How do you ensure a seamless integration of channels across the buying journey?
Patrick Marous: Digital channels definitely play an ever-growing role in the customer journey, though it might be less pronounced as in B2C since the conversion typically does not take place on these channels – at least not in Aerospace. The relationship in the real world is still the decisive factor in the decision-making process, but as mentioned above: customers do inform themselves much earlier in the process and initial awareness is mostly created in the digital world.
To conclude: We recently conducted a customer journey sprint together with you and your team. Is there anything you would like to highlight for our partners and other customers?
Patrick Marous: Getting deeper insights into the concept of the customer journey and the possibilities offered by digital channels was a fantastic experience. We definitely learned a lot of new things and were challenged to re-think our “traditional” approach. While the representatives of our global sales force that took part in the workshops were initially sceptical, in the end they have all been fascinated by the opportunities shown to us. This was in large parts due to the very well-prepared and moderated workshops, which were not only informative, but also a lot of fun!
Thank you for the interview and the valuable insights into the customer journey within the aerospace industry!
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