The Gist

  • Financial fluency. Speak the CFO's language by emphasizing marketing plans' impact on financial metrics like ROI, revenue growth and profit margins.
  • Data-driven support. Provide data-driven evidence to show expected ROI and alignment with company financial goals when presenting marketing proposals.
  • Risk Management. Demonstrate CEO-level thinking by understanding, formulating and communicating de-risking contingencies in marketing plans to strengthen relationships with CFOs.

Getting buy-in from a CFO is crucial for marketers. Chief financial officers (CFOs) influence budget allocations and discretionary spending, but they are navigating business priorities and long-term resiliency plans. They also have a unique cross-section of valuable perspectives on the business and board priorities.

Working with nearly a dozen CFOs from late ‘22 through Q1 ‘23, I learned they face an unusual set of intersecting challenges and priorities. According to KPMG, over 80% of the total priorities included digital, workforce, resilience, restructuring and macroeconomic issues.  

With an expanded scope and more overlapping priorities, modern marketing leaders have an opportunity to build a strong rapport with CFOs. Let’s detail some of the more common relationship areas to develop synergies between CFO and Marketing:

Speak the CFO's Language

CFOs are concerned with financial metrics like ROI, revenue growth and profit margins. While customer acquisition cost (CAC) and customer lifetime value (CLV) are valued metrics, growth and margins impact budgets. When pitching a marketing plan, emphasize how it will impact these metrics. Be transparent about investment and return timelines. Marketers may defer allocations. Being openly on the same page guides leadership and boards.

Also, listen carefully to how the CFO describes the priorities for the company. Adjust your narrative to resonate with these business and financial priorities. As a bonus, consider learning some accounting and finance.

Related Article: In Turbulent Economic Times, 4 Ways CMOs Can Work Better With CFOs

Provide Data-Driven Evidence

Perhaps overstating my case, CFOs want to see "move the business needle" data to support marketing proposals. Still, too often, CMOs are unaware or unwilling to dive into meaningful metrics to grow or retain business.

Use analytics and data to show the expected return on investment and demonstrate how the proposed plan aligns with the company's financial goals. Most successful marketing executives have built integrated teams with a marketing finance function.

Related Article: Lighting the Way: Rethinking CX Leadership

Show the Competitive Advantage

Market share is one of the best metrics for an increase in competitive advantage. This means marketing executives must have available industry benchmarks, perceived value and the competitive landscape (direct, indirect and replacement). Use partners, analysts and cross-platform industry insiders to gain more perspectives. 

Learning Opportunities

In addition to sound plans, CFOs are looking for the ability to execute on capturing or sustaining market share in collaboration with sales and product. Prepare to address any execution or capability gap in your plans. CFOs look for and will invest in the potential long-term benefits of these proposals.

Build Trust Between Marketing and Financial Leadership

Building a strong relationship with the CFO can help ensure buy-in. Schedule regular check-ins and keep them informed of the progress of the marketing plan. Also, regularly track the money spent on marketing activities to demonstrate effective and efficient use of the budget. Your CFO may need to gain experience or insights into marketing cadences, performance metrics and categories of spend and returns, so it would be good to inform them of these nuisances. Again from a business perspective. 

Be transparent with the CFO about the costs associated with the marketing plan and the expected outcomes. The CFO will appreciate honesty and a well-thought-out plan.

Demonstrate Risk Management

Risk management is seldom yet one of the most vital areas to partner with CFOs for solid relationships. Understanding and formulating de-risking contingencies in your plans is one of the most "CEO-level" thinking I encourage and advise the most rapidly rising marketing and growth leaders to engage. With the multifaceted issues CFOs are navigating today, addressing this area is a fantastic way considering the community is one of the most valued brand and business assets.

Because it is that important, I’ll dive a bit deeper:

  1. Identify and assess risks: Marketers should determine the potential risks in their marketing campaigns and operations. Examples include compliance, brand reputation, talent, competitive, financial and customer privacy.
  2. Develop a risk management plan: Based on the assessment, leaders should develop risk management plan(s) that outlines the potential risks, their likelihood and the mitigation strategies. The plan should also include a crisis management plan if any risks materialize.
  3. Monitor and update the plan: Set up signals to monitor any risk areas. Also, update the plan to include any new risks that emerge.
  4. Talent training: Set up scheduled and unscheduled education and discussion sessions around potential risks involved in upcoming campaigns or operational changes and how to mitigate them. Training and communication help prepare everyone to be aware of the risks and can respond in an urgent situation.
  5. Partner with legal and compliance teams: You may already do this regarding privacy and security matters. However, consider extending those relationships into assessing financial ramifications. Leveraging these numbers can justify more investment toward risk-mitigating efforts.

Successful marketing, sales, product and operations leaders have developed strong relationships with CFOs to block and tackle their teams and make headway in their careers. In a period when marketing and go-to-market (GTM) efforts demand increased efficiency in terms of capital and talent, it's essential to build resilience and momentum. This approach positions the company to benefit from significant tailwinds when the market stabilizes.

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