Business leaders are living in uncertain times. One survey found that 29% of B2B leaders are highly concerned about a recession, and even more are somewhat concerned. And a recent survey by BOL and B2B In The Black, a collection of marketing, finance, and operations leaders in the B2B space, found that general marketing expenditure has decreased by 6.2%.
It’s more important than ever for all departments to work together to chart a path forward – especially marketing and finance. BOL and B2B In The Black have long focused on the relationship between these two departments, so we got together to create a series on how marketing and finance can forecast and execute together to help recession-proof B2B marketing.
The Importance of Communication
Communication has always been key in Drew’s relationship with Hyland’s CFO. When he started at Hyland over 10 years ago, he sat down with then-CFO Chris Hyland almost immediately. He remembers: “In the course of our conversation, [Chris] said ‘You know Drew, we invest tens of millions of dollars in marketing every year and I honestly don’t know what we’re getting out of it,’ and alarm bells started going off in my head.”
Drew knew that if the CFO was questioning the marketing investment, more communication was needed. So he got on Chris’s calendar to start establishing a relationship and educating him on marketing’s impact on ROI and revenue, as well as how success is measured. Over time, the finance leadership team joined and eventually, the CIO, head of HR, Chief Risk Officer and more joined in, increasing communication even more.
The meetings were so successful that they continued with the current CFO, Nancy Person. But this level of alignment isn’t an easy thing to do – so how did Drew do it?
How to Build Communication Between Marketing and Finance
Drew was in luck that Hyland has a very open-door policy, which made it easier to unite departments. But even in less open cultures, you can learn how to speak the language of your counterparts and connect over the things that matter to them.
Start With What They Know
To build a relationship with finance, you need to relate your points to things they care about. Drew started by focusing on the demand gen and growth engine side of marketing: lead gen, pipeline, conversion rates, pipeline and revenue, campaign performance.
CFOs aren't marketing experts. Keep your complicated acronyms and lingo out of the conversation. Explain marketing in their terms. When your CFO or financial leadership understands how their investment in marketing today helps grow the company tomorrow, they’ll become an advocate for marketing.
Introduce More Abstract Concepts
The real benefits of marketing go way beyond revenue or quarterly EBITDA calculations. Done right, marketing has long-term implications for growth that can be more difficult to measure. As finance begins to see the direct value of marketing, you can open up the conversation to things like brand awareness and tech investments, which may not be a part of the current forecast. The goal is to get them thinking about marketing as a growth driver as opposed to a cost center and to educate them on new KPIs that go beyond SQLs and form fills.
Drew uses a fun analogy to help other departments understand the big picture: Bruce Springsteen. Seeing Springsteen by himself with a guitar is an amazing experience. But Bruce with the E Street Band is even more amazing. The marketing mix is similar – it’s not just one person, but a rock concert with many parts that contribute to the whole.
Ultimately, the goal of aligning marketing and finance is to be able to create more accurate forecasts and build a relationship in which you go to bat for each other. Want to spend more than your forecast? You need the financial planning and analysis team on your side. That takes trust – and trust takes time to build. So be willing to listen. Learn the finance team’s fears and work to allay them.
The marketing and finance relationship requires a lot of care and maintenance because the marketing mix is changing. “It’s a constant journey of partnership, education, and sharing with each other what’s important,” says Drew. It’s worth it: With trust, you’ll have advocates on your side if things go bad or the pressure is on to cut costs, even if you aren’t in the room.
Prove Your Value
Let’s be honest: Finance typically thinks in numbers. That means one of the best ways to earn their trust and build your relationship is to prove marketing’s value with cold, hard facts. Show the value of your campaigns. Connect marketing-driven metrics to new bookings and revenue growth. Evolve how you measure ROI to include marketing influence, engagement within priority accounts and pipeline velocity.
The way buyers buy is changing: They have the power to direct their journey and engage on their terms. Your methods and metrics need to adjust to that. Throughout this process, be open and transparent about results – talk about what worked and what didn’t. Hold marketing accountable. Using tools like 6sense can help you make the case for a shift to digital and ensure marketing is having a valuable impact.
Introduce New Strategies
Change is hard. It creates friction. Or as Drew puts it, “Nothing fails like success.” Yet businesses have to be willing to evolve. They need to be more agile than ever before. Efficiency is key – yet so many B2B organizations are still operating on outdated systems and processes. Once you’ve built trust, your CFO and other teams will be more open to hearing about how you can change that.
First, you may need to make investments in technology that allows you to gain insights on user intent so you can meet buyers where they are, when they’re most likely to buy, with content they’ll find useful. Make the shift toward digital channels and optimize your digital properties. Consider account-based marketing (ABM), which drives more efficiency and better customer engagement.
ABM helps align sales and marketing by creating a common language around target accounts and providing a way to prove marketing’s impact. Sales and marketing work hand in hand to identify target accounts, execute campaigns, drive engagement and follow up. It’s a more integrated approach that also helps forge a strong relationship.
Communication Pays Off During Tough Times
Marketers are facing new challenges, and it’s essential that finance understands that whatever we do today has long-term implications for growth. We must figure out how to balance the needs of EBITDA against long-term needs. We must shift the conversation from marketing being a lever that finance can pull to cut expenses, to one that they can pull to accelerate revenue.
Drew has seen his hard work pay off: During COVID, when everyone else was pulling back, Hyland actually reinvested in digital marketing and digital infrastructure. He credits this to the trust that marketing had built with finance. The relationship is strong enough to go both ways: When finance says there is absolutely no wiggle room in the forecast or budget, marketing commits to making it work. All decisions are made after a conversation between marketing and finance.
Drew’s best advice to CMOs is, “Invest time in that relationship, and it pays off in the long run.” In times of critical uncertainty, focus on relationships
At BOL, we’ve always believed that this is a journey we’re all on together. We offer services from reporting and analytics to full-service ABM that can help marketers like you prove your value and improve your communication. Take a look around our site or contact us to learn more.