Over the past several years, with the growing digital channel options for consumers and the availability and affordability of big data and data analytics technologies, like it or not, marketing and finance are being irreversibly driven together.
As healthcare and technology CFO John Reidy explains, in the past there was a mutual reluctance for CFOs and CMOs to talk to each other because they spoke different languages.
“The accountants say, ‘These are the numbers,’ and if it didn’t show up in a quarter or a year, it was a wasted investment,” Reidy said. “Whereas the marketing folks would try to explain that the investment could take two or three years to materialize.”
Essentially there was always a lack of agreement on what the KPIs were, he said. However, big data and data analytics have changed all that. “It’s allowed finance and marketing to start to speak the same language,” he said.
Now companies can put a new brand up on their website and get quantitative data. “They can now see a clear link between what marketing is doing, the money they're spending and the results they're getting, and this has only been true over the last five years,” he said.
Closing the gap
CMOs and CFOs have come to realize the co-dependent nature of their relationship. According to the 2019 EY CMO-CFO Connection Report, based on a survey of more than 300 marketing and finance leaders, 90% believed that marketing and finance need to work more closely as their businesses pursue digital transformation.
There are also mutual benefits in a stronger CMO-CFO connection, particularly for other stakeholders, including investors. “As an organization’s ability to attract and retain customer’s supports business growth, a CFO can draw on the CMO’s knowledge and insight when communicating their growth and investment story to investors and the board,” the EY survey concludes.
In terms of how this translates into their mutual goals and priorities, CMOs and CFOs are of similar minds when it comes to the importance of serving customers, creating brand awareness, building the right talent, and driving insights from data.
It’s still about the numbers
While CMOs and CFOs are on the same page in terms of bigger picture priorities, executive search is how they are combining forces to predict sales and evaluate the investments needed to capitalize on growth opportunities from various channels, says Judy Munro, senior managing director at Robert Half.
This is particularly true in retail, she says, where technology has allowed the CMO to identify channel and brand opportunities through predictive analytics and provide hard data to finance to evaluate potential benefits of alternative investments.
Keith Anderson, CFO at Amwell, a U.S.-based tele-health service provider, tends to agree. Amwell manages three funnels: 1) patients seeing doctors remotely, 2) health care providers and 3) business leads who are healthcare plan sponsors and insurers.
“If I boil down how we work together, marketing is driving and educating the customers landing on our platform, as well as identifying opportunities for new or expanding programs and modules,” he said. “These are key inputs and story elements of our financials and operations.”
When COVID hit, Amwell had to accelerate its product investment while supporting its customers under ever-changing circumstances.
“Finance dedicated a lot more time to work with marketing over the last year,” said Jessica Allen, vice president of financial planning and analysis at Amwell. “We had to make sure we had a base forecasting model that was in alignment with the volume data our marketing team was seeing and expecting. This was critical in getting the investments right to meet the surge in demand during the pandemic and to ensure that we could support our customers and doctors delivering care. In addition to our business, we have an ethical obligation to make sure the platform is supporting our doctors delivering care to their patients.”
Out with the old
In many business-to-consumer companies, the relationship between the CFO and CMO has become mutually symbiotic over time, changing the way organizational structures and functional silos are thought about.
While marketing and finance are still distinct functions, Amwell’s Chief Marketing Officer Mary Modahl notes, “the way we work together flies in the face of traditional siloed thinking.”
At Amwell, the concept that finance is an internal customer of marketing, or vice versa, is outdated, she said.
“A customer relationship implies that we are meeting an internal demand, simply supplying data as a product for consumption,” she said. “In fact, we jointly interpret the data and the information pipeline goes both ways.”
This has been particularly important as Amwell completed its IPO earlier this year and is now required to publicly report quarterly results.
“As a publicly listed company we have different reporting obligations,” Amwell’s CFO Keith Andersen says, “that requires I work even more closely with Mary [Modahl] and the marketing team to make sure our message is expressed clearly. When we drafted the documents required for our IPO, it was important to tell our business story in addition to simply providing the financial statements and this ‘story behind the numbers’ partnership with the finance and marketing teams continues to this day.”
A meeting of minds
At the end of the day, finance and marketing needs to work from the same core source of truth, from both an operational and a financial perspective. Jessica Allen of Amwell comments: “Even though we perform different functions within the company and look at things through different lenses, at the end of the day we're both working to deliver on the same vision and purpose.”
And according to John Reidy, it’s this ability to work from the same data that has made all the difference in the relationship between the CMO and CFO. “For good or evil, now that CMOs and CFOs have a common data set, they’ve gotten somewhere. They can agree on the interpretation. Suddenly they're in the same place, they’re in the same room, speaking the same language.”
Meanwhile the skill sets of the two functions are merging, Judy Munro comments. “Companies are looking for CMOs who understand the financial metrics behind their strategies, and CFOs are benefiting from the deeper business insights marketing analytics can provide."