The way marketers do their day-to-day work is changing incredibly fast. Adapting to shifting customer preferences and learning new ways to connect with customers keeps marketers more than busy. But beyond the tactics, what’s really interesting to me is how the core role of marketing inside organizations is changing.
Even as recently as a few years ago, marketers could get away with being pure “creatives.” We reported on vanity metrics like clicks, likes and page views. This is data that sounded important, but it didn’t mean a lot. As digital marketing and true demand generation has come of age, pro marketers now need to speak the language of the business and show tangible results, not just buzz.
How can marketers get smarter about what data they share, and how they tell their story to the wider organization? I asked Jocelyn Brown, VP of customer success at the marketing performance management tech company Allocadia. She helps marketers establish credibility, earn budget and show their results while using the language of the business. She’s especially focused on marketers’ relationship with finance.
I asked Jocelyn for her tips on rethinking and improving marketing’s relationship with finance.
Why is the relationship between marketing and finance so important now?
I’ve spent 10 years talking about marketers’ collaboration with sales, and how that relationship contributes to a company’s ability to grow. That marketing and sales relationship is extremely important, and these days there’s a lot of tech to support it — marketing automation, CRMs.
But as you get more serious about ROI and becoming more effective with where marketing places their bets, you start to think a little bit more about your relationship with finance. Marketing has quite a significant discretionary spend compared to other departments. Making sure finance understands that spend, and talking about it in business terms, is becoming increasingly important. If you’re not partnering with the team that looks at investments, you’re never going to show ROI.
We released a report at the beginning of 2017 that breaks down marketing organizations’ new challenges. High on the list: marketers’ relationship with the CFO. We found that only 14 percent of marketing organizations see finance as a trusted strategic partner, and 28 percent either have no relationship with finance or speak only when forced to. Until we saw the numbers, I had no idea the gap between marketing and finance was that huge.
What is finance looking for from marketing?
Finance craves predicability and as we all know, marketing and marketing results can fluctuate. While it will never be perfect, if marketing can start becoming accurate and predictable on their spend, that will gain a lot of trust from finance.
Marketers need to articulate what they’re doing in a way that’s meaningful to finance. That means not reporting on likes, retweets or share of voice, but articulating results in terms of dollars. If you’re just looking at marketing in terms of program spend, and you aren’t including the full cost of marketing, margins and profitability, finance might be dismissing your results.
The common language of every business is money. If marketers can bring all their disparate activities together in a way that drives insight, they can show more clearly how they’re contributing to business goals.
That’s the pursuit marketers are really on — showing results, showing how you’ll get to that next goal, in a way that’s easier to understand.
How can marketers speak the language of the business?
At Allocadia, we’re helping marketers find a common language with the finance department and answer questions like:
- How can marketing get a view of their investments that makes sense to them, and is recognized and trusted by finance?
- How can marketers produce metrics and reports that are meaningful to the business?
- How can these two departments integrate their tools and trust each other’s data, so they can spend time gathering insight, not checking each other’s work?
I worked for many years at Eloqua, and when I look back at my best customers, they were running marketing like a business. They knew exactly where their money was, what they planned to spend and what they were going to bring back to the business. Those are the people who are ahead of the curve.
Sometimes I think there needs to be a Rosetta Stone for marketing and finance language, but it’s actually pretty simple to solve the translation problem. You just have to agree on a common language, with common definitions.
Marketing can be a black box to finance. They don’t understand intricacies of why marketing needs to do things differently, like pre-pay for conferences and buy out of cycle. But if you have everything well-documented, you can start making big bets when you go into the planning cycle.
It’s usually not a huge ask to get finance to partner with you. Start by getting one data point tracked through the ERP. It can actually offer them a lot of benefits, like visibility and control. If you can give them richer information, they can probably give you really great opportunites.
What’s your goal for marketers?
I want marketers to be responsible stewards of their investments, to be able to talk about their job and their contribution in real business terms, and get rid of the idea that marketing is a cost center. Marketing is at the very forefront of a brand’s interaction with the outside world. Marketers determine whether a customer will be successful. The more they can show they delivered on their intent, they have a plan and they’re in control, the better it is for them.
Read more perspectives on the future of marketing in our interview series, Content Marketing Masters.