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Marketing to the CFO

a challenge or an opportunity for CMOs?

Is marketing to the CFO a challenge or an opportunity for CMOs? The Marketing Society hosted a discussion on this at Soho House, Hong Kong and we asked Fellow of The Marketing Society Ruth Saunders, author of 'Marketing in the Boardroom: Winning the Hearts and Minds of the Board' for her perspective and top tips.

Marketing to the CFO

Building strong senior-level relationships across the business is critical to the success of any marketer. Marketers need to find ways to better meet customer needs profitably and then convince the senior team including CFOs to action them. So, what can marketers do to engage CFOs to get them on board?

Two of the primary CFO responsibilities are to ensure that

  • Any profit targets that have been promised to the shareholders are delivered. If a project underdelivers in its first year, confidence can quickly be dented and investment in other projects curtailed.  Those in the finance team often see their role as the ‘conscience’ of the company, quick to identify holes in the business case, especially when reviewing the more creative projects.
  • The company is investing in a balanced risk profile, with some projects that are riskier and others less so. Asking CFOs to invest in riskier projects is, in itself, not a problem.  It’s acceptable for some projects to be riskier than others, provided the CFO is comfortable with the higher level of risk.

So, to get the CFO on-board, my biggest advice to marketers is to sit down with the CFO at the start of a business recommendation to understand the company context and goals, and if / where your project fits in with this. For example, there are times when CFOs have a lot of ‘low risk’ projects on the table and are looking for a project with ‘higher risk / higher return’ profile to boost future growth. At other times, the company may need to be battening down the hatches and so be averse to higher-risk projects.

If your project makes sense in the current company context, then any recommendation needs to be

  • Financially rigorous, demonstrating how the investment will generate healthy returns.
  • Financially responsible, showing what is being done to manage the risk of failure.
  • Short-term as well as long-term focused, showing how it will deliver quick wins alongside big breakthroughs.

So, marketers need to succinctly show CFOs:

  • How their marketing strategies will build shareholder value – by creating clear, compelling business cases that the CFO will buy into as well as tight presentations that bring the recommendations to life.
  • What the short-term cost, the likely risk of the project not delivering and what is being done during the launch phase to mitigate the risk.

In many recommendations, marketers will also need to pull together a robust business case that sets out the data and facts to support the recommendation. Ideally, it should show a size of prize that is large enough to excite the CFO and will be a compelling case to others in the company, as well as be worth the risk.  But it’s important to also ‘tell CFOs like it is’ rather than ‘selling the ad-man dream’ by showing ‘truths’ rather than ‘carefully selected statistics’ and ‘telling the whole story’ rather than ‘tempting sound bites’.

5 Key Components

When building a robust business case, the CFO will typically want to see five components:

  1. What the project will most likely deliver, and why.
  2. What the project will cost.
  3. Over what time frame.
  4. Fact-based proof on why we can expect the project to be successful.
  5. The risk of the project not delivering.

The CFO will then typically use this data to compare this project’s likely commercial return and risk versus other projects the company is considering for investment – with the aim of optimising return, whilst ensuring that the company as a whole doesn’t risk too much capital investment. They will also expect marketers to evaluate it as if it were your own money.  If you wouldn’t invest your own hard cash in this project, nor invest in a staged way that minimises business risk, why should you expect them to invest?


Ruth Saunders uses her 30 years of experience as a strategy consultant at McKinsey, marketer at P&G, advertising planner at Saatchi & Saatchi and market researcher at Mars Inc, to help clients be ‘On Point’. She is a marketing and branding consultant, trainer, speaker and coach – and author of 2 books:

  • “Marketing in the Boardroom: Winning the Hearts and Minds of the Board”
  • “Female Entrepreneurs – The Secrets of Their Success”.

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