How to Break Down the Walls Between Marketing and Finance

By Rowan Tonkin, Chief Marketing Officer at Planful

Marketing and finance are an untraditional business pairing. While both are fundamental to organizational success, and therefore cannot exist without the other, the methods and practices of these essential functions are not always in sync.

Marketing plans are built and measured against a completely different paradigm of activity than finance. Marketing thinks and plans out over periods that will span fiscal periods, and are often collated into campaigns, programs, and initiatives. Meanwhile finance teams are thinking in defined fiscal periods and often planning at a level of granularity that marketing don’t actually care about, most frequently the mis-used GL account.

The Chief Financial Officer (CFO) has a huge influence over marketing spend, but often doesn’t know the finer points of how marketing works. Marketers often see finance as a black box where only numbers matter.

Because marketers typically have the largest discretionary spend in a company, there is a huge expectation for a demonstrable ROI from every item in a budget, and the expectation in our ‘now’ world is that the results are immediate. When that return isn’t clear, or fast enough, marketers might be asked to do more with less next time around. A common sentiment from marketing teams is that budget constraints are imposed arbitrarily—and sometimes without warning.

Without a way to bridge the gap between the marketing and financial functions in a business, friction abounds. Partnership, not alignment should the goal—and here’s how:

Collaborate with Finance.

In a recent survey, 39.5% of Chief Marketing Officers (CMOs) self-report that they build their marketing goals off of the business goals. That means over 60% of marketers are operating independently from the larger priorities of the organization. That is an astounding reality.

It’s important to collaborate up front to plan and budget around business goals that go beyond marketing. Don’t avoid the CFO; get together and partner in mapping out clear goals for next year and how you’re going to achieve them.

Be a Resource.

Another step is to become the authority on market conditions for the enterprise. The word “market” is in the job title—help your finance, product, and sales teams understand what’s happening outside your company and bring it back in, whether it’s economic, competitive, regulatory, or product-related. As a trusted resource for this information, you will help to shape your company’s decision-making on a much broader level.

Don’t Wait on Your Budget.

Budget cycles can become a chicken-and-egg situation where finance is waiting for marketing’s input, yet marketing wants a number to work from. No CFO wants to come up with a marketing budget. They often do it because it’s not created for them. If you’ve built out a plan and already worked with finance on both marketing and business goals, more than likely the finance team is going to rubber stamp it. They will hold you accountable for delivering it—but at least there is trust and a history of collaboration.

Find the Efficiencies.

If you want your budget to increase, treat it like it’s your own personal money. Ask for discounts from vendors–your CFO will love this. Focus your spending on things that actually achieve business goals; whether they be short or long term, and you have to be clear with the CFO what the time horizons of the return are for each major investment. When you test new marketing initiatives, bring finance along with you. When they see you run a test and establish ROI, they’ll be more willing to continue to fund your test and scale efforts.

Spend What You Get, Wisely.

Remarkably, most marketing teams don’t end up investing all the money that’s allocated to them. This sets up an unfortunate dynamic because if the team doesn’t achieve its sales targets, they’ll take the heat for not using everything that was allotted to them. It’s important to spend everything, and to utilize it wisely.

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Leverage Your Planning Tools.

Technology can be your friend in finding common ground with finance, along with mutually beneficial strategies for marketing success. For example, marketers typically follow KPIs like lead and pipeline growth; but planning software will allow you to translate those metrics into ROI, lifetime value, gross margin, and profit. These are terms that your finance colleagues can appreciate.

Tracking your spend against these common metrics will allow you to quickly make budgetary decisions that advance business goals. Planning platforms will help you easily move unspent money from underperforming campaigns to those that are outperforming. You can also use marketing performance management tools to set your sales funnel targets. Working backward from revenue goals, these tools will generate targets using specific numbers for revenue per outcome, gross margin, profit per deal, and so on.

When marketing and finance speak the same language, the entire business benefits. The CFO gets the control and accountability they’re looking for, while the CMO gets greater agility to plan and execute new ideas. Everyone can move faster and in the same direction.

Remember that simply being efficient with the resources finance gives you, isn’t the same as being a strategic partner. When budgets are aligned strategically with goals that everyone can agree on, the walls come down. Cooperation and support increase as well. With alignment comes harmony—an end result that everyone will appreciate, marketing and finance alike.

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