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What CMOs and CFOs Really Think About Working Together

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Nearly every industry has seen a surge in marketing activity in recent years. With the increased competition every company faces comes the growing importance of marketing, branding, and positioning strategy—now critical elements of success. Businesses that don't prioritize these factors are likely to be left behind.

With the marketing landscape evolving at a rapid pace and the avenues to target and reach consumers continuing to expand, CMOs are now more important than ever.

This focus on marketing, however, means that a CMO's performance is increasingly under the microscope. And though the role of a CMO has traditionally been viewed as a creative one, it is becoming increasingly tied to the company's financial results.

All that means that CMOs, like any member of the C-suite, need allies and alignment to succeed.

Recent Findings About CMOs and CFOs

This spring, Active International, the largest global independent corporate trade company, commissioned a survey [email required] among CMOs and CFOs to ask questions about their dynamic in the workplace.

The findings reveal where the counterparts agree and disagree, and paves the way for substantiated advice on how CMOs can work with their CFOs most effectively to drive results.

Here's a look at findings from the survey.

CMOs and CFOs agree being in sync is important, but leave it at the surface level

A total of 77% of CMOs and 76% of CFOs surveyed report that aligning with their counterpart is highly or extremely important to their company's success.

Yet when questioned about the negative impact not seeing eye to eye may have on their business, only 45% of each group reports that misalignment has a moderate negative effect or worse.

But it's vital that CMOs and their CFOs align. According to a Marketing 2020 survey, over 40% of companies that had their marketing and finance teams work together closely outperformed expectations. Clearly, joining forces—and visions—with their CFOs is a major contributor to enhancing performance.

CMOs and CFOs see alignment differently

Though CMOs and CFOs agree that alignment is important, the survey reveals that they may have a ways to go in achieving that.

Even when CMOs and CFOs rank the areas in which they believe they do align, CMOs and CFOs aren't in sync. Though they both report that they are most aligned on the overall direction of business, that's where their agreement ends.

CMOs think they most see eye to eye with their CFOs on business-development initiatives.

CFOs instead believe it's financial priorities.

Remember that different perspectives and approaches can often spark creative and dynamic business ideas. If CMOs' and CFOs' mindsets are too entrenched, both may find accomplishing their goals more difficult.

Getting on the same page is vital.

CMOs have less influence on their CEOs than CFOs

Alignment between CMOs and CFOs is arguably more important for CMOs. That is because, according to the survey, both counterparts agree that CFOs have more business influence on their CEOs than any other senior level executive by far.

So, if CMOs want their agendas and priorities to be heard by CEOs, having CFOs on their side helps.

Additionally, CFOs remain in their role for 10 years on average. That's six years longer than CMOs average tenure of four years. Though CMOs are increasingly staying in their positions for longer periods of time, being in sync and collaborating with CFOs will only help to propel this trend forward.

Many CFOs don't think CMOs do an excellent job of connecting marketing initiatives to ROI

Of the CFOs surveyed, only 12% rate CMOs as excellent in connecting marketing initiatives to ROI.

On the other hand, two times as many CMOs report the same of their CFOs. That is likely the result of marketing's less quantifiable results. It can be difficult to measure a marketing program's effectiveness in a meaningful way, especially quarterly, which many CFOs are responsible for doing when reporting numbers to boards or Wall Street.

Additionally, CMOs (who are obviously more intimately connected to a company's marketing vision and strategy) are likely more aware of the emotional connection between their brand and consumers. That relationship is imperative for long-term brand growth, and it can take time to develop.

CMOs will find it difficult to track short-term measurements of such growth. But it's important to find ways to do so.

Four Quick Tips for CMOs to Align With CFOs

So how can CMOs best align with the CFO to create a positive and productive office atmosphere?

  1. Share information with their CFO regularly. Details around marketing initiatives should be clearly communicated to boost understanding, maximize buy-in, and reduce gray areas.
  2. Establish a common ground. As marketing continues to drive companies' overall business success more and more, finding more ways to collaborate, such as new ways to stretch budgets or use new tools, is key.
  3. Commit to a long-term vision of success. Because CFOs more often have to commit to long-term plans for quarterly reports, finding shorter-term successes to tout marketing's impact of ROI will help drive teamwork.
  4. Create a common language. Though both counterparts often use their own jargon, finding terms relevant to both will help create a neutral foundation on which more specific, strategic conversations can take place. 

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Jim Porçarelli is chief strategy officer at Active International.

LinkedIn: Jim Porçarelli

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