Home Business Meeting of the minds: achieving collaboration between CMOs and CFOs

Meeting of the minds: achieving collaboration between CMOs and CFOs

by gbaf mag

Chris Fiorillo, Chief Marketing Officer, Infosys Consulting


Communications – both internal and external – have become more critical than ever. Perception and reputation amongst stakeholders and colleagues have flown up the agenda, as leaders continue to grapple with tighter budgets and the disruption of business plans under the strain of the pandemic. Going forward, nurturing internal stakeholder relationships will be essential for CMO success, especially with those who hold the key to enabling marketing activities – namely, the CFO.

The relationship between the CFO and the CMO is a prime example of the stereotypical left-brain, right-brain interaction. Whilst the finance function exists off of concrete facts, marketing and communications are, in many ways, intangible and objective. This makes effective collaboration between the two a complex task, and one that many struggle to get quite right.

However, with the CMO increasingly taking a seat at the C-suite table, building a mutually beneficial relationship between these business functions is essential to secure communications investments and to prove marketing is an ROI engine for the wider company. To build strong, valuable relationships with finance leadership, there are a few key steps marketers can take:

Speak their language

Any effective relationship starts with good communication. Whilst this may seem like a walk in the park for marketers, who are valued on their ability to communicate, it’s surprising how often CMOs fall at this primary hurdle. For example, whilst other business functions such as R&D, HR and even sales to some extent, may be receptive to glossy and out-of-the-box marketing ideas, this simply isn’t what drives the finance process. Conveying your success in a way that’s appreciated and easily digested is key to rallying appreciation and perceived value for your team.

In particular, CMOs must show that their current resources are used effectively, using relevant KPIs and analytics to measure success to prove that the age-old “50% of your marketing spend is a waste” doesn’t have to be true. Whilst “brand awareness” and “positioning campaigns” may well be valuable, their subjectivity can be a red flag to finance leaders. A smart marketer can often reshape these generic topics and link them directly to tangible commercial activities by repositioning them. For example, instead of a “brand-building campaign”, present a “lead generation initiative, forecast to produce X”. This linking of communications back to physical, measurable success such as “leads generated” or “% growth in sales” is what will justify marketing investment in the eyes of the CFO.

Make the most of what you’ve got

There is a lot of pent-up demand for companies to start reinvesting internally. An astute CMO will recognise this opportunity and can create visibility for themselves and their teams by proactively sharing marketing investment ideas and strategies. This helps to propel the entire organisation forward.

In particular, creative approaches to spending and use of resources are increasingly sought after. Gone are the days of open budgets and unlimited funds, as many companies have rightfully entered a defensive economic model. In this way, budget management is more relevant than ever for a marketing leader’s skillset, and for them to become a genuine ally of the finance team. The CFO’s office will be under extreme pressure to streamline costs as we enter recovery mode, so having a communications team that understands budget management and can convey real ROI as a valuable collaborator will benefit the marketing/finance alliance.

In particular, the growing gig economy poses a great opportunity for CMOs to make their available resources go further. Paying talent can account for up to 70% of total business costs, so taking a creative approach to team structures, and achieving the best mix of in-house team members and freelancers or third-party services, will resonate with the CFO. It’s important to remember that the use of agencies and freelancers isn’t simply a cost-cutting exercise – it can improve your company’s efficiency and scalability. Tapping into as much of the gig economy as possible is a great way to scale teams up and down during dynamic times, but also around seasonal phases where workloads and resource demands can fluctuate greatly. 

Remember the shared goal

It’s often a misconception that marketing teams want to throw money in all directions, whilst finance grasp the purse-strings with an iron fist. In reality, the CFO and CMO have the same end-goal in mind – they both want to drive growth. Therefore, CFOs will want to invest where necessary, to grow the brand and create customer value through all the great things a top-notch marketing team can do. The CFO needs a visionary partner in the CMO to provide the kind of creative and effective communications that they can get behind. This is why great CMOs stay focused on how their marketing organisation is contributing to overall business goals – rather than getting department tunnel-vision.

The past year has proved the value of collaboration, especially between unlikely and contrasting parties. Moving forward into a state of economic recovery, the CFO will be the most important member of the c-suite for marketing managers to build an alliance with, to drive business growth.

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