Marketing, Are You & Finance Aligned? Five Evergreen Tips for Getting in Sync

Shannon Fitzgerald-Lussier
November 2, 2022

We’ve talked a lot about how creating the most effective marketing plan is a team sport involving departmental input across your organization, especially between marketing and sales—but collaboration between marketing and finance is certainly no exception. While your marketing plans must be aligned with sales so that both teams fully understand what they’re expected to accomplish, your marketing plans must also be aligned with finance so that they can be properly budgeted and then resourced (or you’ll have a lot more trouble bringing your plans to fruition).

However, according to a SiriusDecisions study on marketing planning maturity, finance—as well as other departments, for that matter—actually isn’t as involved as you might think when it comes to participation in marketing planning. 

Luckily, there are plenty of strategies you can deploy to combat this problem and enable successful collaboration between your marketing and finance leaders (with the help of the right technology!). For example, a Forrester blog, aptly titled “Five Strategies Successful CMOs Use to Engage Their CFO,” lays out five effective ways to tackle the alignment issue. Written a few years ago, Alan Gonsenhauser’s blog offers evergreen insights that absolutely still ring true today.

1. “Change the perception of marketing.”

Gonsenhauser stresses the importance of establishing marketing as a driving force in making “measurable contributions to business objectives.” As a marketing leader, you must not only shift to a “data-driven, results-oriented approach” but also effectively communicate this agenda with the CFO and make them an ally in the pursuit of reaching these business objectives.

Technology can certainly play a big role in establishing this agenda, beginning with the planning process. Marketing leaders need to adopt, for example, technology where they can collaboratively build their plans in one place, easily enter planned costs, and have visibility into aggregated plans to see how they align with budgets, goals and strategies – things the CFO also cares about. Make CFOs and marketing leaders allies right from the start, beginning with the planning process.

2. “Establish a common language.”

You want finance and marketing to be on the same page, of course, but they’re in different departments for a reason; they have different functions within the organization, so obviously they’re not going to do their jobs in the same way.

Explaining that CFOs are not very concerned with “marketing tactics or how busy marketing is” but, rather, “outputs and real impacts to the business” (e.g., revenue and expenses), Gonsenhauser suggests that marketing leaders should “learn the language of business and be well versed in communicating how marketing investments and processes are tied to producing real business impacts.”

As a marketing leader, you need to be able to project-manage your budget the way you go to market: top-down and bottom-up, usually according to some established campaign framework and hierarchy. Your CFO and their team want to build out your budget based on a general ledger hierarchy: the way they report to you. However, each leader needs to be sure they’re seeing the same data and that everything adds up as it should, even through different points of view.

After marketing has built a budget, entered planned costs, and seen how it all lines up with goals and strategies, they need to associate the tactical elements of the plan to the budget hierarchy prescribed by finance, enabling them to stay in line with how the CFO needs to see the information. Marketing technology should be able to establish this common language between the two executives.

3. “Create a marketing executive dashboard.”

Once this common language is in place, the CMO and CFO need to adopt a “marketing dashboard that aligns with key corporate objectives,” the blog says. Tips for creating this dashboard include, for instance, enabling visibility into marketing’s “successes and challenges”; using storytelling, data visualization and “customer-focused metrics”; and identifying the most illuminating KPIs.

Importantly, this also includes “providing context to link what marketing is doing today with the outputs and impacts of the future,” says Gonsenhauser. As we’ve talked about, context – not content – is king when it comes to sharing insights: Aligning the CMO and CFO through your tech stack is critical, but you need to do so in the context of your overall plan: i.e., those “outputs and impacts of the future.”

After all, the performance is relative to the plan; the plan is the construct under which all alignment takes shape. You need to examine the data in your marketing dashboard to gauge the success of marketing and finance – but only if you first establish what success even looks like to your organization.

4. “Design ongoing collaboration.”

The SiriusDecisions blog suggests the CMO and CFO should hold regularly scheduled meetings to get on the same page about everything from corporate goals and growth strategies to changing budgets. Further, staff from both sides should come together to “model and monitor the performance of key short- and long-term marketing campaigns and initiatives.”

However, there’s a whole lot going on in the everyday jobs of these C-level executives, so having an organized calendar fit for your needs can help you communicate with each other more effectively.

As the CMO, your marketing technology should enable you to filter out superfluous information from your calendar that won’t be relevant to what you want to communicate with finance. Finance doesn’t need to see your entire marketing calendar; rather, you should be able to publish just one slice, depending on what you want to discuss.

What’s more, to send this slice, you need to be able to send it exactly where the CFO lives: e.g., Google or Outlook calendar (in most cases). If the information from the marketing calendar slice isn’t able to overlay with the CFO’s calendar, you’re probably going to have trouble getting on the same page. Regularly scheduled, productive meetings can only happen if you both know what you’re meeting about and when.

5. “Act as a general manager.”

Lastly, Gonsenhauser advises CMOs to focus on adopting the mindset of a general manager: i.e., “applying strategic analysis, metrics and a process-based view to the marketing function’s priorities and initiatives.” For example, the CMO can’t exactly go to the CFO to ask for a higher budget if the CMO hasn’t established “facile corporate stewardship” of the money in the first place. Instead, the CMO needs to track the ROI of the marketing budget and keep the CFO in the loop, letting them know the money is in good hands.

On the technology side, this goes back to establishing a common language between the two departments. Again, marketing needs to be able to associate the tactical elements of their plan to the budget hierarchy prescribed by finance. Think of the CFO as holding buckets of money. The CMO will withdraw money from the different buckets to create plans that are designed to meet their needs. They want to measure success by the performance of their plans, while the CFO wants to look at the performance of the buckets.

Marketing and finance should be able to view the financial performance and condition of marketing from their own perspectives, confident that they are seeing the same data, and that it all adds up. In the end, the CFO knows the CMO has been a good steward of the money (or not…).

At Uptempo, we aim to make CFOs and CMOs BFFs. Our marketing and budget management solution helps CMOs justify their spending, highlights areas of concern, and lays the foundation for real marketing ROI. Book a demo anytime!

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