Dear CFO: Trust your marketer!

Thomas Barta TryThisBlog
By Thomas Barta
Last updated: October 29, 2016

You are a finance leader. You love numbers. You know what’s going on inside the company’s P&L. In a complex world, your CEO relies on you. Hand over heart: What do you think of marketers? Many CFOs think that marketers talk bollocks, don’t understand the company, and simply can’t be trusted. To be fair, they sometimes have a point. But most of their perceptions are wrong—there’s more common ground than they may think. In fact, marketing most likely determines the fortunes of your company. Let’s talk (from my Forbes column).

Profitable growth is crucial for your company–I think you’ll agree. Making it happen requires serving customer needs profitably better than your competitors do. Even critics admit it: Marketing matters. But why are marketers so difficult to work with? Three forces are at work, and you can help counter all of them:

Appreciate “Eros”

It’s true, marketers are different. In a recent global study, among over 8,600 executives, which I conducted together with London Business School’s Patrick Barwise when compared with other leaders, marketers came out as more open, creative, and innovative. They care about connections and can often “feel” what’s going on inside your customers. Marketers can be “okay” when things don’t add up to 100%, They are often ready to accommodate new ideas, even if another plan was already agreed upon at first.

Marketers often remind me of Eros, the Greek god. The youngest of the Olympian Greek gods, Eros had one irresistible skill: with one arrow he could make you love anyone he wished. The other gods usually tried – not always successfully – to be rational Logos leaders. They saw Eros as wild and unpredictable. So, despite his unique skills, they never considered him sufficiently responsible to play a full part in the ruling Olympian family. In many ways, marketers are the emotional Eros leaders in a rational Logos world.

Logos needs Eros. How come people can usually remember the lyrics of a song easily, but forget most Power Point slides? Creative work can be powerful. Your company desperately needs people who think outside of the box, passionately love customers, and innovate freely. There’s now clear evidence that a strong marketing department improves a company’s financial performance.

Don’t expect marketers to think and talk like you do. If anything, you should be worried if they did. Instead of fighting about their differences, finance professionals and marketers must say, “Let’s trust each other more, so that as a team we can be bigger than the sum of our parts.”

Agree On What Can Be Proven

Here’s one of the biggest success-barriers—even for the best marketers (I write about the other barriers here). The marketing job is all about the future. Future revenues, future profit, future products and services, future consumer behavior, and so on. Unfortunately, the future is notoriously hard to predict. As a result, next to you, a marketer will always seem a little less trustworthy. In internal meetings, then, a focus on the future can be a real disadvantage for marketers.

When it comes to securing future revenue sources, as a finance professional, you carry a large responsibility on your shoulders. If you demand full proof for all marketing ideas, your company will end up replicating the past. Innovation will dry up, and, in most businesses, you’ll become your competitors’ most loved leader.

So keep this in mind the next time you ruthlessly challenge a marketing plan. Your ideas may help—but don’t expect your marketers to prove the future. They (and you) simply can’t. Remember, you and marketers share the same agenda: You both want more customers to buy more products from you more often. That’s something you can trust.

Some of you might now say, “I would trust marketers more if they’d prove at least their past returns.” Point taken. ROI measurement may not be the marketer’s biggest passion. But most have heard the message. Nowadays, there’s more ROI measurement than ever before, and many marketing departments work hard to prove their worth.

But let’s be honest. When it comes to longer-term market effects, the’s a fine line between ROI and rubbish. And spending three days on measuring the returns of a $2,000 campaign may simply be bad business. Many CMOs feel trapped since in a digital world, everybody expects them to measure everything, even if it’s not sensible or possible. As a result, they still do some “hiding.”

Your company needs every finance professional to play an active role in cracking ROI measurement. Try this:

  • Help agree on what should be measured. Seek an open dialogue with your senior marketer about ROI measurement. Without prejudices, help assess which marketing measurement makes the most sense and how accurate it should be. Use your analytic experience and common sense to shape the measurement strategy together with your marketer, as a team.
  • Get involved in developing ROI measurement. Although the market is swamped with ROI measurement tools (and people who sell them), there’s still a lot to learn. Get involved in testing and developing new ROI tools jointly with your marketing colleagues. In the end, you’ll both win.

Here’s a dirty little secret: Because return measurement is tough and the pressure of proof is high, your marketer may be too embarrassed to take the first step. Go first. Offer to help fix the measurement challenge.

Get Translation

Here’s the real downside to marketers’ openness and creativity: Marketing language has gone haywire. Many CFOs would find it easier to learn Klingon than marketing speak. When your marketer talks about “more awareness” (potentially more revenue), “greater customer experience” (really more revenue), “advocacy“ (even more revenue), millennials” (younger customers), or “Pokemon Go” (don’t bother remembering), you may shake your internal head. The thing is, most marketing terms mean business—it’s just often hard to see at first. Of course, marketers’ use of buzzwords is simply poor internal marketing. It’s getting better, though, and you can play an important part in uniting the nations of finance and marketing:

  • Demand debuzzing! Next time your marketing colleague uses a seemingly funky term, instead of just rolling your eyes, ask what this means for the business. Tabling the language issue will help marketers connect better with other employees like you inside the company.
  • Help translate. You are often the middleman between the CEO and the CMO. As a finance leader, you can bridge the gaps—to the benefit of the company. We won’t expect you to train the CEO in marketing. But you can help your marketers—in a collegial way—to find language that scores well at the very top.

For success, your company needs marketing and finance professionals to work together as a tightly knit team. Marketers are a bit different, yes. But like you, they work hard to help the company grow as profitable as possible. Marketers do deserve your trust.

PS: In a future article, I’ll explore why marketers should trust you, the finance professional, more. I’d love to hear your thoughts.