CMO and CFO collaboration: A dynamic partnership for marketing effectiveness
When these two roles come together, they can be a formidable force — even a power couple
At face value they might seem like an odd and unlikely pair. One is perceived to be a creative who will spare no expense to bring their ideas to life, with a perception that return on investment will only be realised in the long term, while the other seems to be concerned only about the budget, the bottom line and the story behind the numbers. But through deepening their understanding of each other’s roles in driving growth and value creation, and by leveraging their collective expertise, they can be masters at identifying how to use marketing spend for sustainable profitable growth better.
The two of us have learnt that having a detailed understanding of what makes the businesses we work in tick is the secret sauce to being successful marketers. Business acumen is essential to convey creative marketing strategies in a language that is compelling and convincing to even the most committed “bean counter”. To achieve objectives and earn a seat at the table where decisions are made, one must have earned the confidence of the CFO, the CEO, executive counterparts and the board.
The foundations of achieving this lie in cultivating and prioritising strong working relationships between marketing and finance executives based on a clear understanding of the value chain, the bottom line and how the marketing funnel operates. Modern-day finance executives agree, and say they benefit greatly from deepening their understanding of what marketing can contribute to the bottom line, beyond just being a cost item.
Unilever, where we both cut our teeth early in our careers, provided one of the most comprehensive groundings possible. As a brand manager there, you are responsible for the research, R&D budget, product development, supply chain management, data-led forecasting and, of course, making integrated marketing plans.
Unilever’s marketers are trained to run the business and drive growth. Obviously, this is predicated on a keen grasp of the nuts and bolts of the business. This has underpinned our approach in successive marketing roles across the sectors of consumer goods, telecommunications and financial services, and has helped us to anticipate the motivations behind budgetary and other financial considerations and indeed influence the decisions made, wherever we have worked. This competency of marketers has become more critical — marketers need to own and drive the strategies and plans that are so sorely needed when navigating increased uncertainty in the market and the pressures faced by consumers.
Subjecting one’s marketing strategies to the rigour with which they will be interrogated before taking them to board and executive committee level is essential to obtaining the buy-in of finance executives and other key decisionmakers. Knowing what they are looking for in your marketing strategy and the way it links to the issues and opportunities of the business, and ensuring that you address these beforehand, presupposes that you already know what they want. This is where nurturing strong collegial bonds and ways of collaborating with finance executives come in.
In our careers we have valued and prioritised growing an affinity with our finance peers, including comprehensively understanding what the business needs to drive growth and market share and the role brand equity plays in brand growth for business results. Predicated on mutual interest, the astute marketing professional sustains interest in the marketing initiatives they lead and always shows how these initiatives support the bottom line.
If we want a seat at the executive committee table as marketers, we need to drive sustainable, profitable business growth and show how marketing adds to this. As marketing executives, we expect our marketing teams to understand the value chain and the numbers, and to translate a business challenge or opportunity into creative, product, pack, promotion and pricing strategies and concepts. They have to be able to show the CFOs why they need what they need, and ultimately drive commercial objectives.
The astute marketing professional sustains interest in the marketing initiatives they lead
CFOs say what convinces them to support marketing spend from a limited pool with competing interests — be it human resources or tech — is the ability to communicate how both long-term value creation and short-term delivery will result from the initiatives being discussed. Marketers must be able to draw a very tangible line between spend or investment and long- and short-term value creation that makes sense to the finance teams one needs buy-in from. To achieve this, you need to teach your marketing teams to understand the matrix that drives and motivates business so that they too can demonstrate how our work supports the bottom line. Simultaneously, you are constantly ensuring that the board and executive committee always grasp how the marketing funnel works and what levers we use to grow the leads and sales that excite them.
Demonstrating brand value as a long-term financial asset to your business’s CFO pays dividends. Deloitte has written about the correlation between companies where C-suite leaders agreed on marketing metrics and the higher growth these companies achieve and companies where this is not the case. With the increased availability of marketing data and proof points, drawing the tangible line between marketing spend and profit growth is easier than it used to be. We should take full advantage of these metrics and not shy away from showing the immense value we can, and do already, create.
Khensani Nobanda is Nedbank’s group executive of marketing and corporate affairs while Zayd Abrahams is Tiger Brands’ chief marketing and strategy officer. They are both Effie Awards SA committee members
The big take-out:
CFOs say what convinces them to support marketing spend from a limited pool with competing interests is the ability to communicate how both long-term value creation and short-term delivery will result.
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