Marketers, Meet Your New BFF: The CFO

The following is a preview of the topics discussed during the August 6, 2020 webinar. View on-demand replay here.

In an old Dilbert cartoon, a sign over the entrance to the marketing department reads “Two Drink Minimum.”

That sign perfectly captures the way many corporate decision makers see their marketing counterparts—and it highlights one of the reasons marketing budgets are often the first on the chopping block when it’s time to tighten belts. Unjustifiably, marketing often has a reputation as a cost center whose actual contribution to the business isn’t always measurable—or even essential. In fact, a recent study in the UK found that companies cut their marketing budgets by the biggest percentage on record in response to the COVID-19 pandemic—even more so than in the 2008 downturn.

But contrary to conventional wisdom, cutting the marketing budget during a downturn can be one of the most shortsighted things a CFO can do. Marketing may seem like an obvious cost-cutting target versus sales or manufacturing or customer service. But three months down the road, the leads stop coming in. The sales team has no air cover. The revenue stream runs dry. Targeting marketing in the first wave of budget cuts can trigger a vicious cycle that ultimately hurts the entire enterprise.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Marketers can do a lot to counter the misconception among CFOs and finance teams that their department is a budgetary black hole. And they can do it by using the skills they rely on every day to persuade and motivate prospects to take action. Here are a few tips:

  • Know your audience – It’s no surprise that finance and marketing teams speak different languages. You need to become fluent in the CFO’s language so you can translate what you do in terms they can appreciate. Put yourself in the CFO’s shoes. What do they need to see to understand your department’s value? Don’t expect the CFO to find that answer for themselves (they’re busy enough). Draw up a metrics-based business case for them—one that includes frank assessments of risks, opportunities, and threats.
  • Own the mistakes – A marketer’s first instinct is to highlight benefits and paint a rosy picture. But CFOs will see through the fluff and focus on the story the numbers tell them. Build trust by owning up to any mistakes in judgment, be accountable for underperforming programs, and help the CFO see why you made the choices you did. Marketing is an iterative process that builds on lessons learned, and not all CFOs know that changing tactics mid-stream is standard procedure.
  • No surprises – When it comes to your budget, don’t set it and forget it. Show your CFO metrics on how programs performed versus your original pitch—but don’t wait until the next budget cycle to do it. Be transparent on what works and what doesn’t, and keep the CFO in the loop throughout, so when you have to ask for more budget, the CFO knows why.
  • Don’t always have your hand open – And speaking of budget, don’t be the person who only asks for a meeting when you need funds. You want to build a relationship with your CFO, and relationships are a two-way street. Do what you can to help them be better at their job. And pick their brain about how you can be better at yours. They understand the big picture, and they can help you refine your messaging and strategy so they appeal to the CFOs and finance teams you target.

The CFO isn’t your adversary. In fact, they can be your advocate. CFOs always have a seat at the table in every discussion of vital importance to the business. Imagine how powerful it would be to have them make the case for marketing with the CEO, the board, and the investors. It’s on you to make that happen.

View on-demand replay here.

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