Sometimes, when it comes to budget, marketers and their colleagues in the finance can find themselves on different pages. If you've ever asked to move budget from one budget to another, or requested more money to support an idea that wasn't part of the yearly planning process, then you know what I mean. The back-and-forth can be frustrating for Marketing and Finance alike.
If this sounds a little like the relationship you have with your finance department, then you're not alone. Marketers love when our finance colleagues give us the money we need to market our company in the best way possible -- but the going gets tough when they don’t buy in to our vision and ideas. Or worse, when they cut our budgets.
How can we change this seesaw dynamic?
Think of your CFO like you would a buyer persona.
It's all too easy to get wrapped up in our own responsibilities and forget to walk a mile in their shoes. But the more alien their perspective, the harder it is to see situations from their perspective. All of a sudden, we might find ourselves talking exclusively in terms of what we need.
When it comes to CFOs, that can sometimes mean you're treating them like a piggy bank or an ATM, instead of as a person. You may find the majority of your conversations centering around how much more money you need to deliver X result, or why you need to reallocate funds.
It's OK to have these kinds of conversations with your CFO, but before you jump right into your ask, consider her concerns and goals. CFOs are always thinking about profit, for example, because they’re held accountable for shareholder value. That’s why the C-suite at public companies keep an eye on their stock prices. The Board of Directors also expects the CFO to manage the company’s money. So when profits aren’t what they expect, guess whose door they go knocking on? Guess where the buck stops? (That’s not to say the CEO isn’t accountable too, only that the CFO is the first person they all turn to.) That’s a tremendous amount of pressure.
For CFOs working at privately held companies, company value is just as important because the leadership team is usually similarly focused on profit -- sometimes even more so. Why? Because without showing a profit, no firm stays in business for very long.
So, here's my advice: Think of your CFO like you would think about a buyer persona. The reason we create personas is because we are marketing to humans, not just a list of demographic attributes -- and personas can help us bring that to life. As a marketer, you're probably an expert at mapping out buyer personas, their journeys, and motivations. (And if not, here's some help.)
You can use that same line of thinking to better understand your CFO. What keeps your CFO up at night? What problems does she face on a regular basis? What is she held accountable for? Whom does she trust? Whom doesn't she trust? Why? What are her goals for this year? How does she like to make decisions?
There are a lot of other things on your CFO’s mind, so keep asking questions and learning more about her process. This will help you understand her world far better than you do now.
Learn to speak the same language.
Part of the problem is that Marketing and Finance speak different languages -- so sometimes even our best intentions get lost in translation. That can improve when we learn to describe marketing in financial terms.
Most CFOs are data junkies. They love numbers, and they think in numbers. Heck, they probably even dream in numbers. Why? Because numbers represent the concrete world, which is where they like to live. Concepts that seem more abstract to them, like branding, impact, and reach, might make them uneasy.
That's why it's so important to speak in specific terms, rather than general terms. This means data and results, not the tactical execution or process. CFOs are big on “attribution.” They think in terms of cause and effect. For example, “If I spend X dollars on this, I will get X dollars in revenue.”
Salespeople are great at this. They’re comfortable with numbers -- they live and die by their quotas, after all. A sales manager could say to a CFO, “If I add Q sales reps this quarter, at a cost of X, they will be generating Y dollars by Z date.” Sales tracks its performance and will have statistics to back up claims; e.g. it takes # of touches (phone, email, in person) to get $X in deals, and so on. CFOs can relate to this because it’s clear what results they'll get when they invest in such a proposal.
Each time marketers put our programs into language that uses numbers and data, we build on a trusting relationship with our colleagues in the financial department. Doing that well means leveraging the data and hard numbers your inbound marketing campaigns provide around return on investment -- and that’s exactly the kind of cause and effect data financial experts get excited about.
Focus on the results, not the campaign plan.
If you're talking about campaign plan details in a meeting with your CFO, something is wrong. That isn't the place to debate which publications you want to printed in, what your ebooks should look like, or how many events you should run this year.
Instead, focus on the goals. Your CFO is focused on safeguarding the company’s future. She probably cares about high level metrics like ROI, number of leads generated, cost of generating those leads, opportunities, and revenue. She also probably cares a lot about the same six metrics your CEO cares about: customer acquisition cost (CAC), marketing percentage of CAC, ratio of lifetime value to CAC, time to payback CAC, and marketing originated customer percentage.
As you educate your financial counterparts about the results your inbound marketing campaigns are delivering, and do it in language they understand, the barriers start to come down on both sides. They might even surprise you and start to offer ideas and suggestions that can help you do better marketing.
And hey, they may really shock you with extra budget knowing that you will find a way to produce a strong return on investment. Now wouldn’t that be cool?