How much do we really know about the CFO? Do they have pet peeves we should be aware of? Understanding their motivations and how they respond to other departments within a business is vital to a better relationship.

In this open dialogue episode we speak with Oliver Bell, CFO at Terminus, about the finer details of the CFO role, dispelling the “dull CFO” stereotype, and their relationship with marketing.

Oliver covers:

  • A CFO’s take on marketing
  • CFO pet peeves of marketers
  • Understanding budgeting w/ marketing
  • Money into marketing when sales are down

A CFO’s take on marketing

Most people can think of a time when they could’ve handled a negative situation at work with a little more grace — a co-worker derailing a project you’ve worked on for weeks or an employee you oversee makes the same mistake for the fifth time.

Everyone is human and prone to error; but, how a CFO responds to a situation can make all the difference. If the goal is to build a relationship with the marketing team, the CFO needs to understand that marketing is not as black and white. They need to take the time to gain a deeper understanding of marketing so that they understand why certains outcomes take place.

Trusting the marketing team to make decisions and supporting them when the occasional failure happens means that you can pivot much faster. Don’t make it a blame game and waste time.

Who takes the lead?

If a CFO wants a better understanding of the marketer role, is it their sole responsibility to build that relationship? Our panel of CFOs say no. Both sides of the relationship will benefit from the teachings from each other; as such, both sides should be expected to contribute. The company’s employees, whether they be CFO or marketer, are all on the same team; collaboration should always be a priority.

There has to be a common framework; an understanding of how we work together. And sometimes there is an inherent challenge in that.” — Oliver Bell

CFO pet peeves of marketers

In an effort to remove friction between CFOs and marketers, the panel was asked to mention any annoyances from marketers that they may not be aware of. Otherwise, the following may remain neglected.

  • Manipulated metrics: Your CFO wants to know what’s real. The quickest way to burn a bridge is to manipulate metrics and break trust. Especially if the CFO understands marketing, it can be a real blow to the relationship. If the CFO doesn’t understand everything, help them — they need to understand what success is to a marketer.
  • Don’t hide situations: If you’re struggling to meet objectives with the budget, let the CFO know so they can help. When a CFO is approached with a roadblock like this, they can look at the numbers, calculate the risk of reallocating funds, and talk with the appropriate parties to make it happen.

It is the responsibility of both parties to communicate struggles. If a department feels isolated and unwilling to ask for help, it can lead to company-wide disruption.

Understanding budgeting w/ marketing

Despite Oliver’s experience as a CFO, he still has trouble wrapping his head around increases in the marketing budget. However, there are ways of guiding budgeting around this CFO setback.

There’s always benchmarks. A CFO can look at what a typical marketing budget looks like, even if that budget needs to be split out to multiple departments. Having this guiding historical spend data gives the baseline, but to come to the actual number requires the specifics of the project — it might mean the baseline is still too low. If trust is established between the CFO and the marketing team, the spending can be more dynamic.

”I empathize with marketers, because I do feel like they’re always fighting the uphill battle of why they need to spend the extra dollar.” — Oliver Bell

Money into marketing when sales are down

The COVID-19 pandemic saw many businesses pull money from marketing as sales went down. The crucial lesson: If the business has the marketing budget to survive, leave marketing alone. As fortune favors the bold, keeping your head in a landscape where most are scared provides an incredible opportunity to get a competitive advantage. In the end, the strategy found those businesses recovering much quicker than others.

Overlooking your CFO and not building that alliance puts you at a disadvantage — such as no increase in budget if needed. Because a CFO and marketer can look so different, the first impression is that there will always be friction; but if the two make the effort, they can both come out with a deeper understanding of the other’s role.