How to Talk Relate   to Your CFO: The Marketing and Finance Connection

Nothing quickens my pulse and ignites my “impostor syndrome” more than being thrown into a conversation about numbers with a numbers person. It is not that I hate numbers; it is just that I was trained from a very young age to think of them as irreconcilable to my right-brained talents. I can remember sitting in math class, where my brain would silently scream in torment behind my glossed-over eyes, “what is a useful real-life context for this god-forsaken formula?” Thankfully, I am not alone in my number phobia. Which is why I enthusiastically registered for Austin AMA’s July luncheon entitled: How to Talk to a CFO – If You Really Have To!? I wanted to learn from Liz Matthews, Dell’s Executive Director for Brand and Purpose; I wanted an expert to show me how, step-by-step. Use these words! Talk about these metrics! Here’s a handy script!

At least, that is what I thought I wanted.

The thing that struck me most about Liz’s presentation is that both her advice – and indeed, her success at Dell – centers around really applying those soft, relationship-building and storytelling skills that we marketers pride ourselves on. It involves relating to, and on-boarding, our internal stakeholders as we do our clients and partners.

Now that, I can do!

My key takeaways from Liz’s excellent presentation:

Find Common Ground

Just like our jobs as marketers are changing rapidly, your CFO’s job is changing too. As we evolve from a principle-based, best practices model to a more programmatic, metric-based model, your CFO is being asked to think not only about the bottom line, but also the big-picture. Now that marketers have tools to quantify what it is we do, we are being required to do so at every stage. Your CFO is now being asked to think more strategically and long-term. You have more in common than you think, so find your common ground. If we stop thinking of our CFO as an adversary or gatekeeper, then we’ll be able to approach them as a compatriot.

Build Cross-Functional Communities

It is important to build cross-functional communities within your company. Liz showed a great slide that illustrated how customers have changed the way they interact with brands. Over 90% of your customers trust recommendations and word-of-mouth. The question we should ask ourselves is: How can we sell our brand to a customer that is community-based, if we are not relating to each other internally as communities? A big part of this involves simply inviting internal stakeholders, such as the CFO, to your strategy meetings, getting them involved early in the process, and asking for feedback.

Tell Them a Story and Bring Them Along for the Ride

You’ve managed to find common ground and the CFO has accepted an invitation to your strategy meeting. Now what? The key to selling anything, as marketers know, is storytelling. So tell your internal stakeholders a story and bring them along on your journey. If you engage your CFO from the beginning, inform them of your destination and offer them a platform for giving feedback, then future conversations about reporting what is working and what is not are easier to broach. Storytelling has become paramount in trying to create that emotional connection with our customers; we need to think of our internal stakeholders as our “first” customers. As Dell evolves from its identity as a product company to a company that “enables human potential,” this pivot requires broad buy-in internally. Because Dell’s metrics are evolving, and brand affinity is important in addition to ROI, the synergy between the marketing and finance teams has to be in place to see this through the long-term. With the CFO understanding why this pivot is important from the brand perspective, and buying into the new strategy, a foundation for future conversations has been built.

“Marketing today is the perfect combination of art and science.
Understanding and being able to express the creative as well as the data side of marketing is fundamental to success. Being able to communicate business impact is essential.”
– Liz Matthews

The strategies Liz presented have something in common: marketers are already adept at finding common ground, building communities and telling stories. We do these things every day with our customers. Learning how to relate to your CFO in order to communicate the full business impact of your data, will require a little right-brained ingenuity. I don’t know about you, but that is music to my ears.


Kim_main_linkedin Kim Tidwell has more than 15 years of experience in marketing, content, and brand development, with a focus on helping companies create and nurture their brand voice. Kim currently helps companies navigate the evolving inbound and content marketing universe on a freelance basis. A steadfast generalist, she has made peace with the occasional use of her left-brain. Kim is an enthusiastic volunteer for Austin AMA; currently, she directs email marketing for the chapter as part of the Communications team. Connect with Kim on LinkedIn or Twitter.