The Difference Between a Customer Journey and a Buyer Journey


April 8, 2021

I hear B2b marketers use the terms customer journey and buyer journey interchangeably. While it’s not only incorrect, this misunderstanding creates lost opportunities to build early relationships with customers (or potential customers), create a more efficient buyer journey, and develop stronger conversations when it comes time to connect with a sales person.

Let’s start with the basics…

The customer journey

The Customer Journey is the journey a customer (may or may not be a customer of your company) takes. It spans the time from before they enter the buyer journey (a traditional sales funnel, the Loyalty Loop, etc.) and continues after they’ve become a tried and true customer. However, a person doesn’t have to actually become a customer of your brand for them to be on their customer journey. The term ‘customer’ refers to someone who fits into an identified and targeted persona of what you sell. ‘Journey’ means the path they take to do their job. If, while on that path, they figure out that they may have a need for something you sell, that triggers the buyer journey.

Once they’ve completed the buyer journey, ideally they’ve converted to a customer. You now have the opportunity to remain in their world as a valuable resource beyond just maintaining the quality of the product you’ve sold. This is where we see brands expanding their reach into a customer’s organization. The more they’re able to understand the world (and work) of their customer, the more insights they have into what mattes most to them.

For example, years ago I worked for an architecture firm that specialized in healthcare facilities. For many years, we focused specifically on the buyer journey. Naturally, this means we paid close attention to facility managers, capital expenditure budgets and so forth. Things that directly impacted the buyer journey.

However, one day we realized that we had a bigger opportunity by focusing on the customer journey. This is the time before someone entered a traditional buyer journey but they were still an identified persona. By researching and better understanding the customer journey, we were able to launch a new line of revenue. One of the things that healthcare systems faced at the time was the challenge of how to effectively integrate facilities planning (architecture), with clinical care (how the medical staff actually does their job) and technology.

By digging into the bigger customer journey, we were able to launch a consulting division that helped healthcare executives proactively work through these problems. It positioned our firm as a strategic partner with high-level people who were decisions makers we struggled to connect with during the typical proposal phase of a facilities project. After serving them earlier in their customer journey, we were able to create millions of dollars in new revenue, have stronger relationships with the ultimate decision makers during a facilities project and entrench our firm as a strategic advisor.

We found the earlier we could insert ourselves into the customer journey, the greater our chances of converting someone into a customer during their buyer journey.

The next phase was to understand our customers journeys before they they dropped into what was now a buyer journey for our consulting services.

The buyer journey

The buyer journey is a subset of the customer journey. It’s when a customer (or prospective customer) understand they have a pain they need to address or there’s an opportunity for a gain. They’ve begun to do their research to understand if what they’re experience is a legitimate ‘thing’. Then, as they continue on their journey and move through the buyer/sales funnel, they look to better understand what their situation is, who can help them address it and what, specifically, they need to buy. The buyer journey concludes when a has either dropped out of the buying process (decided not to make a change or chose another provider) or has converted to a customer.

The gap between the buyer journey and the customer journey is the reason that content marketing has become such a powerful approach to business in the last 10 years. Content is how brands build relationships with customers (or potential ones) during their journey and before they enter the phase that is the buyer journey.

Let’s take a look at how this plays out in the real world…

Case Study: Deloitte Business Chemistry®

Professional services provider Deloitte is a major industry name when it comes to research as well as services like taxes, consulting and audit support. It’s not surprise, then, that talking directly to upper-level executives is their main strategy for bringing in new business.

However, waiting until someone has entered the buyer journey is often too late to stand out against, much less effectively compete with, others in their space.

That’s why they created the Business Chemistry® system, a highly sophisticated and research-backed assessment that gauges your leadership style and gives you resources to develop and expand your skill set.


Deloitte’s Business Chemistry is the perfect way to create a relationship during the customer journey and before the buyer journey. By creating highly personalized content, they’re able to help executives see themselves in another light that can help them with their actual role as an executive.

Do they need consulting services yet? Probably not.

But by creating content that adds value to them as executives, Deloitte has created an opportunity for an earlier relationship. One that’s important before anyone actually enters the buyer journey.

Like my experience with the consulting division at the architecture firm I worked at, Deloitte has also generated enviable results from the Business Chemistry program:

– Revenue: $21.9 billion
– Past year revenue growth: $2 billion (+10%)
– Monthly website visits: 7.7 million

Your opportunity

As you build content that expands beyond the buyer journey, you have the opportunity to capture and keep your audience’s attention in new ways. B2B marketers have the urge to tell how the story plays out up front. To show how amazing their product or brand is.

That’s a terrible way to tell a story.

Have you ever read the last page of a thriller novel up front? How interested were you to read the rest of the book? Exactly! The same thing happens in your content when you give your audience resolution up front. Create tension along the customer journey and you’ll keep them coming back for more.

The more interest and intrigue you can create along the customer journey through valuable content, the more they’ll keep coming back to find out what happens next.

Photo credit: langll via Pixabay

About Carla

Carla Johnson Innovation Creativity Speaker Author

Carla Johnson helps leaders who are often paralyzed by traditional thinking. They suffer from slow growth, an eroding competitive advantage, low employee engagement, and depleted investor confidence. Their teams lack purpose and progress and constantly battle a resistance to change and new ideas.

As the world’s leading innovation architect, Carla’s spent 20 years helping leaders shatter limits and discover undiscovered possibilities. Through years of research, she’s developed a simple, scalable 5-step process that teaches people how to consistently produce inspired ideas that lead to uncommon outcomes.