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| 22 minutes read

CMO Series EP135: Vicky Cunningham of Efficio Consulting on Aligning Content with the Client Journey

Mapping the clients’ buying journey is key to successfully aligning content to meet their needs. 

Someone with extensive experience across multiple industries in doing just that is Vicky Cunningham, Marketing Director at Efficio Consulting. Vicky joins the CMO Series Podcast today to discuss her approach to aligning content strategy with the client buying journey to drive business growth.

Vicky and Will discuss: 

  • The importance of mapping the client buying journey to content strategy 
  • How Vicky approaches this at Efficio Consulting 
  • The barriers to success and how to overcome these 
  • The key components of driving your content strategy and examples of success
  • Advice for others looking to align their content with their client’s buying journey



Will: Welcome to the Passle CMO series podcast where we discuss all things marketing and business development. My name's Will Eke and today we are going to be talking about aligning content with the client journey. Mapping the client's buying journey is really key to successfully aligning content to meet client needs. Someone with extensive experience across multiple industries including law, consulting, and various other areas, is doing just that. And I'm really really happy to have Vicky Cunningham, who's the marketing director at Efficio Consulting, join us today. Vicky is going to discuss her approach and Efficio’s approach to aligning content strategy with the client buying journey to drive business growth. Welcome Vicky, how are we doing?


Vicky: Hi, Will. Thanks for having me. I'm doing very well, happy to be here.


Will: Good stuff. Some people will recognise you and your voice. We were just talking about that from your Freshfield days, but we'll come on to maybe how you got to where you got to on one of the questions today. To start off with- be good to set the scene in terms of your career. What- at what point did you realise the importance of mapping the client buying journey and, and aligning it with you know, a really robust content strategy?


Vicky: Well, I think the seeds of that come from the fact that I started out in a sales route and if you get closer to the coal face, it, you know, it focuses the mind. It's always- I've always had to stop and say, you know, what's a customer or client need first? What is it that, what is it that they want? How do you put yourself in their shoes? I also spent a number of years as a journalist, so you, you know, you get the understanding of storytelling, the importance of storytelling for different audiences and that, you know, takes you right into what do you- what stories do you need to be telling to your potential clients and your existing clients to, you know, to keep them focused, to sort of help them along their buying journey or to, you know, nurture them once they have bought. So it's sort of- it's kind of in my professional DNA, I think from the, you know, the background that I've come up through.


Will: Makes perfect sense, especially, yeah with the journalist background as well-


Vicky: -and part of, you know, part of that route from a marketing point of view, i've also spent time in consumer marketing, and that's very very different clearly to B2B and professional services. So, consumer marketing, you're getting much much closer to your potential customer and again, that teaches you to think customer first, maybe doing much more sort of persona based marketing and B2B tends to approach that differently.


Will: Yeah, and I suppose you- with that you're used to actually having this tangible outcome often with a consumer as well. You can actually link it back sometimes to a transaction type.


Vicky: Yeah, and you know, in professional services, I think people still- marketeers and I've been guilty of this too, still often think of their clients as job titles and the practitioners think of their clients sometimes as job titles and not as humans, which is crazy because, you know, we're in a professional services, it's a people led business, your clients are, you know, they, they are also humans. What are they going through on their journey, you know, in a law firm, and what's the general counsel thinking about? Not, what for us, what's the Chief Procurement Officer thinking about? 


Will: You mentioned it there, you know, different target audience, as I said at the start. People that are listening, you know, we often have marketing directors, CMOs, heads of BD, that are currently at law firms. You're not. However, you have been at them in the past and you're quite right, most are targeting in- house counsel. Can you tell us a bit, before I ask the full question, about Efficio Consulting, you did say that you're trying to target procurement, which probably gives us a bit of a hint as to what you guys do.


Vicky: Yeah, we're a specialist consultancy. So all we do, and all we ever have done is procurement and supply chain management and you know, consulting services around that. So that's helping our client organisations to optimise their cost base, maybe improve their internal procurement and supply chain processes, upskill their teams bake in sustainability, and be able to track sustainability through their supply chains. So- but it's all about procurement and supply chain and the human aspects of that as well as the sort of process and technological aspects of that and the sort of hard numbers around that as well.


Will: And with that in mind, I mean, you've alluded to a bit already, how are you approaching, you know, the content strategy at Efficio and how do you define, you know, the client challenges? And I think you, you guys, you work on looking at the website, you've got some nice built out pillars that you might want to talk through if possible.


Vicky: Yeah, so when I joined the business about 2.5 years ago, I think every marketing director at some point likes to sort of do a brand refresh, or a web rebuild. Partly because you come in with a fresh set of eyes and you start taking things to pieces and going is this fit for purpose? Is this doing the job we want it to do? And so, you know, obviously I sort of began that process and we took a look at, you know, we took a look at who we are as a business. And, you know, workshops around where do we sit in terms of how we think our clients see us and what they think, you know, what problems they would look to us to solve for them. But then we did a deep dive and said, okay, if we want to build a good user journey through our website and we want to make sure that we are putting together content which is gonna resonate for our various clients, you know, what's the journey that the client goes through when they have a problem? What is their buying journey? We did a really deep dive in partnership with a number of the consultants in the business and we did a deep dive into the problems that come up most often for our clients around procurement and supply chain. And we, you know, we went right the way down into so what's the conversation that happens in the client organisation when, you know, they realise they don't have the right skills to or the, well they can't have the team size, they want to, you know, deliver an efficient, effective procurement operation or, you know, what are the questions they're asking themselves if they need to reduce their costs of some of the sort of categories that they're buying for their business. And so you go, okay, so if they ask these questions, then what happens next when they've got the answer to that question? And then when they've, you know, what, at what stage might they start to look for some external help to solve that problem and if they do, how do they approach it? And we just went through step by step by step to understand, you know, before they even would look at our website or start having a conversation with us or consume any of our content necessarily, what's happening for them? And so we mapped it in really really solid detail and then we used that as the basis for creating the, you referred before to, the pillars that we have on our website. So we realise that most of our clients challenges fall into five distinct areas and so we, you know, we headline those on our home page, but all of the user journeys through the website are built around those pillars. So if you know if your problem is to do with your, you know, your capability and capacity, you would follow this journey and you  would explore the website through that pillar. If you, if your challenges are around ESG or sustainability, you would explore the website through that pillar and so we plan the journey through those sort of- through that lens and through those pillars and then we think about our content in the same way, making sure that the content that gets served up along that journey is particularly relevant to that particular challenge set.


Will: It sounds- what you've achieved there does sound like the holy grail for a lot of marketeers, I suppose, especially at legal firms when they're looking to build their website. So it, and I've, yeah, the website looks great. So well done to you and the team on that. What would you say were the main barriers in terms of success and how have you guys overcome those?


Vicky: I think with any of these projects, look, content creation is an ongoing process. So, you know, we build a user journey through the website and match the content to it, but we have to make sure that we're continuing to stay focused on creating the right kind of content for, you know, for our potential clients and that we're continuing to address what those specific needs are and pain points are that they have. So for us, and you know, this is for every professional services organisation, the practitioners in the business are really really vital to your success. So as you, if you're changing your approach to how you create content and you know how you map that to you know, buying journey, you have to keep working closely with those practitioners who are, they're inputting on content. They might be writing first drafts of it, they might- you might be in, you know, they might be being interviewed to feed into reports, or whatever it might be, but it's, you know, it's a sort of change management process which is, it's never over. And that's to make sure you have to always work really hard to make sure that collaboration with the practitioners is fruitful and that you're talking the same language because for example, in our business, in Efficio, we all run around talking about content, but actually, when marketing is talking about content, we're talking about something different to the content that the consultants are talking about. So they're talking about sort of best practice and ‘know how’ that they gather through their projects and that they collaborate on to share, whereas we're talking about externally facing content. So, you know, there are some, that's just one small example, but when I say talk the same language, you know, make sure you're on the same page.  And when you're talking marketing speak, they understand what the purpose of it is and what it is you're trying to achieve. And so, you know, in terms of the barriers that not all consultants are going to be the best placed people to partner with. So you have to find the stakeholders, I think who are commercial and seek out the people who have the strongest understanding of their clients. And I think actually, something where we're probably all guilty of not doing enough of is client listening because we, you know, we sit there and we have these sort of ideation sessions and we will plan content and we'll bring our practitioners into those discussions to make sure that we're focusing in the right places, to make sure that we're aligning with what the business wants to achieve, but oftentimes in this, people don't ask the client, in a formalised way. And I, you know, I know we don't do enough of that and I know in previous roles, we've not done enough of that. But if you can find routes to do that and make sure that when it does happen, it's joined up so that marketing can take those client listening inputs and create actionable insights, you're gonna be onto a winner.


Will: Yeah and it links back to your point about it, it's never finished. There's an evolution isn't there that of a client relationship, which also means, you know, the content that you produce is always evolving as well to meet those needs which makes perfect sense. I mean, you, you've alluded to again, some of the tactics there, but are there any other sort of tactics, tools if you like, channels, that you're using to drive the content strategy, specifically, you know, to support the business development arm as well?


Vicky: Yeah, so we are trying to take a more structured and rigorous approach to the way we partner with our practitioners on  content and around the content strategy. So, we have, you know, clearly there's a sort of high level objectives of what it is you're trying to achieve, which is, you know, always gonna be supporting the business growth and the sort of firms, you know, BD priorities. But we need to try and instill some of that client focus thinking into our practitioners and so one of the tools and tactics we're rolling out now is, lawyers, consultants, they are all, they're, you know, they're very keen to share their knowledge and know how and I alluded to this before, it's you know, it's bringing the right people on board and trying to help them to understand what's the purpose of content, what's the job it has to do? And it's not just for you to show that you're really smart. So, we are now encouraging our consultants if they, if they would like to participate in content creation to sort of put forward a content proposal and we've structured it, it's like, think about these things, who it- it's training them in the way that we think about as marketeers and, you know, content marketers, the way we think about content creation, it's like, who's your target audience? What do you want them to take away from this? What's the key message? What's the, so what, and then, you know, the killer question- and it's interesting how often the answer might come back ‘oh, I hadn't thought about that’. If you create this piece of content, if we work with you to write this article or this report, what are you going to do with it as a BD tool? How are you going to activate it? Would you send the link, you know, or the social post to your client? Would you send them a link to the website? Would you use it as a conversation starter? Because if the answer to that is no, then there's no point creating this piece of content. So, that's an important one we're trying to roll out and that's when I talk about the change management being ongoing. That's a big process of, sort of reframing the thinking with the practitioners at the moment. The other thing that we are doing an awful lot of and are trying to sort of fine tune our approach as we go through is more ABM. And that is, you know, we're working very very closely with our BD team to understand where they're focusing, who are their priority verticals or very specific target accounts for both new business and for nurturing existing clients. I think, you know, sometimes you can start focusing too much, you can go too much in one direction or the other, you know, too much into new business or lead generation and forget about all the good people who continue to give you business or you can go too far to, we just care about our core clients and forget about, you know, needing to sort of feed the pipeline at the other end. So, yeah, working with BD to understand where they're trying to focus and create ABM campaigns to sort of facilitate their efforts. So the, you know, the ABM approach is a very important part of what we're doing and coming into that, actually, you asked about, you know, more of the tactics, I think, and it comes back to this client listening piece where we can, if you're not doing a formal client listening process, where we can talk to our consultants to understand more about the questions they're being asked by their clients, right? When you have a conversation, what are they asking you? How do they ask it? What is, how do they frame it? And that helps us sort of do a little bit of an ongoing gap analysis in terms of content because if they're asking questions and we haven't got a content which answers that question, then it's something we should be focusing on. And I almost feel like, yeah, we can't, nobody can do a podcast and talk about tools and tactics at the moment without mentioning AI. And we're not jumping on the bandwagon going ‘Yes! AI is going to write our content for us’, but we are seeing some useful use cases, you know, some judicious use of AI to help maybe speed up a little bit of the copy editing process or making sure that we're creating SEO optimised content briefs, we can use AI to help us with that a little bit. And there's also I think a use case where if you're asking your practitioners to write content, some people have a little bit of a sort of blank, you know, the blank page fear. So we can use AI to maybe give them a framework as a starting point to help them get some words on a page.


Will: A whole bunch of useful information there, I mean the thing that springs to mind quite a lot, but one of the key bits that you've mentioned there and we hear it a lot and we actually try and preach it ourselves is, you know, only write content if it does further a business relationship. And actually, that leads into your account based marketing there because it's like, you know, for your partners, for consultants, for lawyers, for, you know, who for any fee earner, don't be afraid to write content for a single client actually, because it's very very powerful and it's definitely worth doing. It doesn't need to be for the masses necessarily, so yeah, that's a very interesting way of looking at it.


Vicky: Yeah, absolutely agree. It’s that, yeah, when you, it does get down to the ABM I mean, you know, you've got the sort of one too many, the one too few and yes, you can get right down to one to one bespoke content if, you know, you can't be doing that across the board but in where there's a really important focus point, really important target, then absolutely, you can get very very nuanced.


Will: I think it helps then to your point about the blank bit of paper then as well because actually, you know your client really well, so what are their pain points? Let's write something that helps solve them, it works hand in hand. Have you got, on that note, any particular examples of success where those sort of tactics that you've mentioned, have worked well? 


Vicky: If I go back to what works really well, I have to go back to the remembering that your clients are people and not job titles and actually when you bring your client into your content creation, you know, we get the highest engagement of any of our content is always when we've got say a video case study or, you know, we interview a client or, you know, we have a podcast series and bringing in, you know, bringing in clients to talk about that. Sometimes it's about telling a general story, and it's sometimes it's a, you know, we might have an academic, but getting people on the podcast to talk about- like this one, right? What are the pain points that other marketeers might have? So, yeah, I can sort of share my insights, it's getting our clients on as podcast guests, talking about the sorts of things that their peers are dealing with. But actually, the podcast is a really great secret BD tool as well. It's not secret, here we are on a podcast, but it is a really effective BD tool. If it is a conversation starter and in somewhere who doesn't like, sort of sharing their insights, so we use it for furthering client conversations as well. So it's, yeah, when you bring people, your clients to life and give them a voice, I think is- we always get success off the back of that.


Will: I don't know what you mean Vicky, and you won't be allowed back on now, you know. the cat's out of the bag. Yeah, no, it's a very good point and clients obviously love talking about what they've done so, yeah, it makes perfect sense. 


Vicky: But it's actually about, you know, take that step back, it's about using content generally, proactively for BD, using it as a conversation starter, you know. So I think there's a tendency in professional services organisations for the practitioners to say, ‘oh yeah, it's on the website, that's done now’. No, that's where it starts in some ways. Now use it to talk to your clients, use it as a way to continue a conversation to show that you understand what their, you know, what their pain points are. 


Will: And it's also again, you must see this even when you're at a firm that is a bit more targeted in what you do, a niche consultancy as you call it, there's still massive need for collaboration as well, so content can help with that part as well, right? So, ‘oh, I didn't know Efficio did you know that, as well as this part’. You know, we often hear that ‘I didn't realise that you, you know, you do stuff for supply chain as well as you know, the procurement or the environment. 


Vicky: Yeah. and we used to, our previous iteration of our website didn't mention supply chain anywhere, even though it's a big chunk of our business. So if you don't tell people about it, how are they to know? But yeah, it's a little bit of, and I saw this in law firms all the time, that people connected with their clients on, you know, in their particular practice area and those clients had no idea about all the other good stuff that you did. Because if your website wasn't telling the story, they weren't sharing content, which they thought would perhaps help that client in other areas of the business.


Will: There's a whole bit of research now that came out just before Christmas from the Harvard Business Review around that in professional services, that’s all about, you know, what makes a rain maker, what makes the most successful consultants, lawyers, and it, they picked out this one profile, that's the activator profile. Actually, one big part of that is that they're proactive in their business development, that another big part is that they collaborate and they actually will push forward other areas of the business to their client. So, yeah, it's, it's the same thing really. 


Vicky: Yeah. Spot on.


Will: Just gonna do a quick fire round. What are you listening to, or are you actually going old school and reading at the moment?


Vicky: I am an old school reader. I've never got my head around audio books. I do listen to the odd podcast, so I am, well, I've just literally just finished a book called The Lost Future of Pepperharrow by Natasha Pulley. And it's a sort of second in a series of books. The first one was a Watchmaker of Filigree Street and it's really, it's a magical book and she writes these wonderful sort of fairly convoluted storylines that have, you know, you have to suspend disbelief that makes them a little bit magical. But I like a book that puts you in another time or another country and writers who can be, you know, really evoke those different scenes and she does it beautifully so I've been enjoying that!


Will: Sounds very interesting, I have to make a note of that one. I always try and write down ones I haven't heard of. Second question, what is the one piece of technology that you can't live without.


Vicky: It goes back to reading actually and whilst I'm- I don't think it's old school to read books rather than listen to them, but I couldn't live without my kindle, you know, on the train, travelling, you've got all your books there in one place. Couldn't be without it. 


Will: Environmentally friendly as well, my daughter’s loves hers and saves having to, you know, waste all that paper in the end.


Vicky: Yeah, and I'd like to, you know, I'd like to believe that I could live without my phone so I'm sure a lot of people might say their phone, but I'd like to believe I could survive. 


Will: Digital detox. What's the one thing that you look forward to every week?


Vicky: Do you know, right now, specifically, this time of year, I would have to say, I look forward to the prospect of it still being light in the evenings and getting home and feeling like you've still got some runway in the day rather than getting in and hunkering down and that’s very seasonal, but that's where I am right now. 


Will: Looking forward to Spring. Where is, where's your favourite place to visit and why?


Vicky: I have to say Portugal and because it has, you can tell, I like light, I just talked about having light in the evenings, Portugal has fantastic light and I work from there sometimes and it's great just to be able to sort of look out, see something different to the sort of low gray clouds of the UK, got beautiful countryside and a lot of lovely lovely coastline and great beaches for water sports. I like a little bit of surfing and paddle boarding and kayaking and it's, you’re surrounded by great great water to do that. 


Will: And great food as well of course and I didn't expect you to say somewhere in the winter that you'd go, I did expect a summer destination from your- 


Vicky: -yeah, I go to Portugal in the winter too because it's still, you know, you get the, you get a milder climate and lighter in the evenings.


Will: Yeah, the light, you see. What's the one habit you have that you think would help others?


Vicky: I would say, and I have to remind myself to do this often, is carve out thinking time. Now we're all very very busy and you're running from meeting to meeting and project to project and deliverable, to deliverable and, you know, if you don't give yourself the headspace and actually put it in your calendar, just a block of time where you can just think, let your thoughts wander, problem solve, you, if you don't do that, you're just gonna, you know, squash your creativity and your problem solving ability. So, that would be my top tip.


Will: Great tip, yeah, bit of reflection, always good. We're at the end of our client journey in terms of the podcast amazingly. What's your sort of one piece of advice? I know it's hard to whittle it down to one but what would you say to other marketers, your peers looking to align their content with clients buying journeys?


Vicky: It comes back to you know, mapping the journey a little bit. It's understanding that for any professional services buying process, there are multiple audiences. You've got, there's gonna be one person who signs off on the piece of work, signs off on the project, but that person is not necessarily the person who's executing on the work. And there are going to be a whole slew of influencers in that buying journey as well. So it's understanding that you've got multiple audiences with all very, you know, they might say in totally different functions, they've got very different interests and you need to keep communicating with them. And it's, you know, on that basis, it's that B2B buying journey is not linear, right? You, there are all these sort of, you know, the old diagrams of your really, you know, here's a sales funnel ABCD and something I saw a few years ago, which I'm sure lots of lots of your listeners will be familiar with, Gartner published something called the asynchronous buyer journey and it is a very convoluted diagram of all the different people that might get involved in a buying decision and what you know, what are the problems they're solving at any particular time. And yeah, Gartner call it a long hard slog and it is so when you're creating content and you're creating a content strategy, you need to bear in mind that it's not linear. You have a lot of different stakeholders in that buying decision and your content needs to be speaking to them.


Will: Brilliant, really useful. Vicky, thank you so much for giving us your time and talking through how you guys have done it so successfully in terms of aligning that content with the client journey, some really useful tips there for our listeners. Thank you so much. 


Vicky: Thanks Will. Thanks for having me. It's been a pleasure.


cmoseries, passlepod, e2e, marketing, professional services