CFO & Marketing: A Profitable Partnership


The Gist

  • CFO and marketing alignment. Understanding the CFO’s perspective enhances marketing strategies, aligning both for optimal company value creation.
  • Investment perspective shift. Viewing marketing budgets through an investment lens helps in navigating uncertain markets and predicting outcomes.
  • Aligning diverse goals. Recognizing and reconciling the different priorities of CFOs and marketers strengthens company strategy and financial health.

An excellent resolution for marketers in 2024 would be to make friends with your CFO (chief financial officer). Early in my marketing career I reported to the CFO (a little weird, I know). But in retrospect, this unusual setup has served me well. The CFO can be a solid partner and a wellspring of free financial advice on how to navigate market currents.

Let’s take a look at CFO and marketing alignment.

Two kids wearing T-shirts and one wearing a backpack stand together with their arms on each others' shoulders in front of a red and yellow painted rail with trees in the background in piece about CFO and marketing alignment.
The CFO can be a solid partner and a wellspring of free financial advice on how to navigate market currents. Let’s take a look at CFO and marketing alignment.Pavla Zakova on Adobe Stock Photos

In 2024, with fears of a big recession receding, companies will need their marketing budget to fuel growth ambitions. An Ernst and Young survey found that 81% of financial professionals and 88% of marketers believe that collaboration between the two groups would improve marketing budget performance. To make this partnership work, marketers must understand more about the CFO’s world.

I thought I’d share insights I learned while working for my CFO boss and later reinforced by CFOs with whom I worked. 

CFO and Marketing Alignment Lesson 1: CFOs DO Believe That Marketing Is Essential 

But CFOs don’t see marketing in the same way marketers do.

CFOs view marketing as a primary lever of value creation, whose purpose is to generate profitable opportunities, so the company can earn profits. While I think most marketing leaders would recognize this perspective; I don’t recall ever having heard a CMO describe their job this way.

I came to work for the CFO in one of my first jobs managing marketing for a technology reseller. In that company, much of the marketing budget came from our vendors’ market development funds. Making good use of these funds — using them entirely and productively — was essential for company profitability as well as business development. Therefore, the CEO felt that the company was best served by having marketing supervised by the money guy.

As you would expect, as a direct report of the CFO, my one-on-ones focused a lot on money. I discussed typical marketing topics like awareness, messaging and events. Then, my CFO boss would ask me to translate the conversation into financial language and explain how they benefited the business strategy. He supported me getting an MBA, which further bolstered my business acumen.

I learned that the CFO doesn’t want to know everything about marketing, but they want to know anything about marketing that matters to company value. Dashboards for the CFO should answer two questions:

  1. How are you measuring the impact of your budget on outcomes that count?
  2. Are you a good steward of the resources the company has entrusted to you (i.e., money, people, data, technology)?

Keep detailed activity metrics within marketing for performance diagnostics and improvement and check with the CFO to gauge their interest before sharing creative.

Related Article: CFO Buy-In: Making It a Marketer’s Advantage


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