Finance and marketing

May 01, 2024 •

9 min reading

Where finance and marketing intersect - Building stronger partnerships

Written by

An effective partnership between the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) and Chief Financial Officer (CFO) is crucial, as research shows that finance and marketing are intrinsically linked. Therefore, aligning marketing initiatives with the broader financial strategy leads to better performance. CMOs are tasked with deploying budgets in ways that they believe will maximize business growth through strategic marketing efforts. Simultaneously, CFOs are responsible for overseeing the company's financial health, ensuring budgets are allocated wisely and costs are controlled to safeguard and enhance the organization's financial standing.

Historically, the different perspectives of CMOs and CFOs have led to tension. However, today's complex economic landscape requires them to collaborate closely, bridging their viewpoints to navigate uncertainties effectively. By fostering a partnership based on shared goals, data-driven insights, and open communication, CMOs and CFOs can work together to make informed decisions on areas such a resource allocation and campaigns to achieve optimal return on investment (ROI) and drive the organization forward. This article explores why close CMO-CFO alignment matters, strategies to overcome challenges, and key takeaways to strengthen this crucial C-Suite relationship.

Why the CMO-CFO relationship matters at the C-suite level

At the C-suite level, the CFO plays a vital role in strategic financial planning, directly influencing the budget allocation for marketing. The CMO's ability to execute strategic marketing initiatives, leverage data analytics, and scale marketing efforts is contingent on the CFO's support and financial investment. Without this collaboration, implementing broad-reaching marketing strategies and deploying resources effectively becomes challenging.

Marketing, when executed strategically, significantly impacts revenue growth, customer acquisition, and loyalty—areas of critical importance to the CFO. The synergy between CMOs and CFOs in understanding and leveraging marketing investments can lead to enhanced profitability and operational efficiency. It is essential for these executives to collaborate on defining the value of marketing investments in terms that resonate across the C-suite, linking marketing strategies directly to financial outcomes and business growth.

In today’s uncertain economic environment, aligning marketing plans with financial realities and guardrails is more important than ever. CFOs are keen on ensuring that marketing expenditures are not only optimized but also clearly connected to tangible business results. CMOs, for their part, strive to justify the necessary budgets to achieve growth targets through impactful marketing strategies.

By collaborating around factual data, shared goals and success metrics, marketing and finance leaders can work in tandem to make optimized, analytics-driven decisions on resource allocation. This enables them to maximize marketing ROI while exercising fiscal prudence.

According to an EY survey, 81% of finance professionals and 88% of those in marketing agree that marketing investments become more effective as a direct result of stronger collaboration between the two functions, indicating this alignment is increasingly valued by both roles.


Challenges in the CMO-CFO dynamic

While collaboration between CMOs and CFOs is increasingly valued in theory, practically bridging their different mindsets and strategic priorities poses inherent challenges that can hamper alignment if not addressed proactively. These challenges are magnified at the C-suite level, where decisions impact the entire organization:

Strategic alignment on investment vs. cost management

At the executive level, CFOs are inherently risk-averse, emphasizing cost efficiency and ROI across all investments. CMOs, with a focus on growth and market expansion, advocate for investments in brand and digital innovation, sometimes with longer-term paybacks. This fundamental difference in approach can lead to strategic friction, making it essential for C-suite discussions to balance investment in growth with financial prudence.

Disconnect in metrics and definitions of success

A key challenge at the leadership level is aligning on performance metrics that encapsulate both financial health and marketing effectiveness. CMOs champion metrics that demonstrate marketing's direct impact on business growth, such as customer lifetime value and brand equity. CFOs, however, measure success through financial outcomes like profit margins and shareholder value. Establishing common ground requires high-level discussions to agree on a balanced scorecard that reflects both marketing contributions and financial performance.

Language and terminology barriers

The divergence in language between finance and marketing can lead to misunderstandings at the executive table. CMOs speak in terms of customer engagement, conversion rates, and brand sentiment, while CFOs focus on financial ratios, cash flow, and cost structures. Bridging this gap necessitates a commitment from both parties to demystify jargon and foster a culture of clear, accessible communication.

Cultural barriers

The cultural divide between finance and marketing departments can be pronounced, with finance traditionally valuing precision and predictability and marketing driven by creativity and innovation. At the leadership level, fostering a culture that embraces both perspectives is crucial for driving organizational change and innovation. This involves championing cross-departmental initiatives that encourage creative risk-taking within financial guardrails.

Bridging these gaps starts with intentional collaboration to agree on shared definitions of success, commit to using common language, and taking time to appreciate each other's distinct personalities and priorities. With concerted effort, mutual understanding and effective partnership is achievable.

Brand building and customer service may not be in CFOs’ traditional job description, but as CFOs expand their role in setting strategy and driving its execution, it is paramount that they understand their organization’s brand and become brand champions themselves.


Pete Shimer, CFO for Deloitte LLP

Addressing C-suite Challenges Through Strategic Collaboration

To overcome these challenges, CMOs and CFOs must engage in strategic collaboration, recognizing that their joint leadership is vital for steering the company towards sustained growth and resilience. Strategies include:

  • Joint Strategic Planning: Involving both CMOs and CFOs in strategic planning sessions ensures that marketing strategies are aligned with financial objectives from the outset. 
  • High-Level Communication: Regular C-suite dialogues facilitate understanding of each department's contributions to strategic goals, enhancing mutual respect and collaboration. 
  • Education and Advocacy: Both CMOs and CFOs should take active roles in educating their peers on the strategic importance of their functions, highlighting how marketing investments drive financial outcomes and vice versa. 
  • Shared Success Metrics: Developing a set of shared KPIs that capture both marketing effectiveness and financial health can help to quantify the impact of marketing strategies in financial terms.

By addressing these strategic challenges through close collaboration and mutual understanding, CMOs and CFOs can enhance their contribution to the organization's strategic goals, leading to better-informed decisions, optimized investments, and a competitive edge in the market.


Strategies to improve the CMO-CFO dynamic

Strategic alignment and shared leadership

For CMOs and CFOs, aligning on financial and marketing strategies from a leadership perspective is paramount. This entails joint strategic planning, shared accountability for financial outcomes, and a unified approach to measuring marketing ROI. High-level discussions should focus on how marketing strategies align with the company’s financial goals and long-term vision, ensuring both departments contribute to the company's strategic direction.

Leadership in decision-making

CMOs and CFOs must lead their teams by example, demonstrating the importance of cross-departmental collaboration. By jointly making decisions on significant investments, resource allocations, and strategic initiatives, they set a precedent for cooperation across the organization. High-level decisions on market expansion, product launches, and customer acquisition strategies require both marketing creativity and financial rigor, showcasing the need for their united leadership.

Involve both roles in planning processes

Rather than creating plans in isolation, CMOs and CFOs should actively collaborate during annual budgeting, planning, and forecasting processes. Jointly building financial models, growth projections, and performance blueprints ensures alignment on priorities, resource needs, and goals upfront. Regular check-ins to review progress maintain transparency on what's working well versus challenged areas that require additional discussion.

Expert Advice

Julia Vargiu, founder and CEO of Sydney-based consultancy New Business Methodology, prescribes zero-based budgeting (ZBB) as one way for marketing and finance to achieve better understanding.

With zero-based budgeting, you start from a zero-dollar figure every year, and you have to use facts and figures to build the case for every dollar that marketing gets,” she told CMO by Adobe. “Just because you had $10 million last year doesn’t mean you get it again. This makes marketers commercially savvy, and it helps persuade CFOs and CEOs to invest in innovative new initiatives.

Identify shared goals and metrics

Clearly defining 5-6 overarching key performance indicators tied to mutual objectives like revenue growth, customer acquisition costs, pipeline conversions, and customer lifetime value enables both marketing and finance leaders to assess impact and success consistently. Taking time to directly connect marketing activities, campaigns, and programs to downstream financial returns and outcomes provides a shared measurement framework.

Use consistent terminology

Proactively creating a glossary of definitions for important marketing, financial, and business terminology, requesting meeting prep packets to explain key acronyms, and committing to use understandable language between both teams dramatically improves comprehension. Never assume broad knowledge of niche terms.

Building a data-driven culture

A crucial aspect of CMO-CFO collaboration is the establishment of a data-driven culture within the C-suite. This involves leveraging data analytics making informed decisions, setting KPIs that reflect both financial and marketing goals, and using insights from data to guide strategic discussions. Leadership in adopting a data-centric approach enables both departments to evaluate the effectiveness of marketing strategies in real-time, adjust plans accordingly, and report on progress with a shared language that resonates with stakeholders.

Communicate marketing’s value and impact

Marketing leaders play an influential role in educating peers, executives, and the entire organization on marketing’s value and impact on corporate results. Quantifying how innovative campaigns, experiences, and platforms drive customer acquisition, satisfaction, retention, and advocacy over time is key.

It is essential that CFOs be absolutely passionate around understanding, building and maintaining one’s brand with customers and clients, and then being able to put all of that in the context of daily communications and interactions. CFOs who cultivate a passion for the brand and for alignment with the brand strategy can make a difference at the highest levels of their organization.


Pete Shimer, CFO for Deloitte LLP

Foster open communication and understanding

Proactively building rapport through regular status meetings, empathy exercises to walk in each other’s shoes, and expressing mutual respect and appreciation for both finance and marketing roles fosters effective collaboration. Healthy debate grounded in data-driven perspectives also fuels growth.


Elevating C-suite collaboration – Tips for CFOs and CMOs

Collaboration between the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) and the Chief Financial Officer (CFO) must transcend traditional role boundaries to focus on steering strategic direction and achieving overarching organizational goals. And it’s not merely about aligning on budgetary allocations or marketing strategies; it's about jointly shaping the company's future. As the strategic architects of growth and stability within their organizations, CMOs and CFOs must:

Value interdependency: Have a deep understanding of how marketing and financial strategies intertwine to propel the business forward. 

Develop a shared Vision: The partnership necessitates a shared leadership vision that embraces risk while anchoring decisions in data-driven insights to foster resilience and agility.

Practice co-creation: Their unique perspectives and expertise must be valued and utilized to co-create strategies that balance ambitious growth objectives with financial health.

Fix dual-focus objectives: High-level decisions such as entering new markets, launching innovative products, or adopting cutting-edge technologies must be made with a dual focus on enhancing customer value and ensuring robust financial returns.

These collaborative approaches not only amplify the impact of each department but also solidify the role of the C-suite as a catalyst for transformative change, ensuring the organization remains competitive and relevant in an ever-evolving global marketplace.


Key takeaways on strengthening the CMO-CFO partnership

In today's constantly evolving digital landscape, close partnership and alignment between CMOs and CFOs is more imperative than ever for corporate success. While their different perspectives can present challenges, proactive steps towards establishing shared goals, mutual understanding, and strategic alignment can lead to more informed and effective decision-making. Regular high-level communication, commitment to understanding each other’s domains, and a shared vision for the company’s success are fundamental.

By focusing on strategic collaboration, CMOs and CFOs can optimize marketing investments, drive sustainable growth, and lead their organizations to achieve competitive advantages in the marketplace. The future of successful companies lies in the hands of C-suite executives who embrace each other's strengths, learn from one another, and navigate the complexities of today’s business environment together. 


Designed to accommodate busy hospitality professionals, delivered 80% online

As a student of the MBA in hospitality, you will benefit from a holistic learning experience that combines online courses with three weeks of campus-based learning.