Marketing's Key Customer Is (Gasp!) The CFO

Thank you, Lyn Benton. I get it now.

Of course it took a CFO to get me to understand that measuring a brand's ROI is the same process as going through an annual performance review! That's all it is, and nothing more. And better done more often than once a year, naturally. But that'd be true about the performance review as well.

At Tuesday's session of the ANA Marketing Accountability Conference, Benton expanded on an earlier-mentioned idea of getting to know one's CFO. "Take him out to lunch," one speaker had suggested, perhaps setting in motion luncheon dates for CFOs into next year with assorted senior directors and managers.

Benton's remarks, "The CFO Perspective," gave us the nugget of wisdom we were searching for here in Palm Beach, Fla. The former VP/finance and corporate controller at Lotus Development Corp., former CFO at PerSeptive Biosystems, current principal of Benton Consulting Services and professor of business and mathematics at Dean College seemed to sum it up by saying, "CFOs need all the help we can get. If we have a partner similar to what we are in terms of discipline and numbers, we would love it."



In other words, the CFO is not the enemy; the CFO is your friend. Or have I drunk the Kool-Aid? But this is true: Marketers need to sell not only products, but themselves. They need to make sure marketing is represented at the highest levels, including the board of directors. At a time when shareholders are more active than ever, marketing needs to be the CFO's business partner. "Finance values marketing measurement, benchmarking and accountability to improve management effectivity of the company," Benton said.

She didn't come right out and say so, but I heard a plaintive tone in her voice: Help!

The professor said that when CFOs talk about marketing, they are talking about "entire dollars--people, process and systems. They ask themselves--is marketing a business partner? Do they give us early-warning signals or history? Do they have just a Plan A or a Plan B and C, too? Do they help us run the business?"

Who knew?

An informed survey she conducted among 16 of the 200 audience members revealed that her words were new thoughts for most. About one-third said marketing's representation on the board of directors was 20% or less; just about equal numbers reported frequent or minimal interaction with their CFO; one-quarter said they never see the board of directors, while half see them just once or twice a year.

As for being accountable, Benton's survey found that marketing dollars are being reported as part of SGA in half the respondents' companies--one-fourth as part of the entire marketing function, about one-fifth as part of advertising and just one respondent reported its being part of the overall total.

Benton's overall suggestion that rather than fear that one doesn't speak the language of the CFO, realize that he or she actually needs and wants to hear from marketers is similar to what I tell my teenage daughters about their teachers: They really want you to ask the question!

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