Forging closer ties with the CFO takes work, but it’s one of the most valuable relationships a Go-to-Market leader can cultivate.

The CFO controls the budget, vets the numbers, and has the ear of the CEO, the board and the investors. Yet CROs and CMOs don’t always prioritize strengthening their connection with this critical member of the executive team.

In almost two decades as a CFO, I have witnessed firsthand how important the relationship between Go-to-Market leaders and Finance leaders really is.

I recently led a discussion at LLR Collaborate alongside Jim Murphy, head of LLR’s Value Creation Team and former multi-time CFO, on the value of this allyship, and what Go-to-Market leaders can do to establish and maintain it.

In this GrowthBit, I’ll explain why CFO allyship matters, and how CROs and CMOs can foster partnership and support between finance and Go-to-Market.

Get to know your CFO

The CFO attends every board meeting, controls every budget and is often the organization’s second in command. The advantages of aligning your processes with their priorities are countless. This is the person who represents sales and marketing on a more frequent basis to the board, presenting GTM forecasts and results. And when things don’t go as planned (note: that’s when… not if…), they can advocate and run interference for the GTM function.

Having your CFO on your side gives you a powerful, trusted ally and advocate. But you need to understand who they are, anticipate what they need from you, and deliver it credibly, reliably and responsively.

Before you can engage with the CFO effectively, you need to understand who they are and what they want.

Define the CFO persona

Understanding your buyer and user personas is the foundation of a good GTM strategy. The same concept should be applied as the foundation of a successful relationship with your CFO. Before you can engage them effectively, you need to understand who they are and what they want.

Start with these questions:

  • What type of CFO are they? Do they have the operational background to understand what it takes to deliver GTM results, or will they need your guidance to see the deeper picture?
  • What level of experience do they have? Are they a cost-conscious, risk-averse first-time CFO or an experienced CFO who understands the value of investing in sales and marketing?
  • What is their role in the C-suite? Are they a strategic contributor on the management team, or seen more as the internal accountant?
  • What is their relationship to your other stakeholders? Are they a primary contact for the board and investors or do they interact only at board meetings?
  • What is their mandate? Are they answerable to a debtholder and tasked with controlling costs and maximizing profitability? Are they focused on investing in M&A and/or organic growth? Is it a combination or something else?

The CFO needs to be able to report on wins and losses, so they look to GTM to supply meaningful intelligence.

Align with the CFO’s expectations

Once you understand your CFO persona, use that knowledge to align your plans and programs to meet their needs. Here are some of the basics to get right.

Pipeline management

CFOs want to know that the pipeline numbers you supply are reliable. Modern CRMs make it relatively easy to keep up with the pipeline but interpreting and applying your typical sales process can be a challenge. For example, if an early-stage deal shows a close date in the current month, but the typical sales cycle is 120 days, that’s a credibility issue. Similarly, if a probability formula isn’t applied consistently to every sales stage, that’s going to trigger skepticism.

Win/loss program

The CFO needs to be able to report on wins and losses, so they look to GTM to supply meaningful intelligence. Lean on tools such as LinkedIn, ZoomInfo, and Salesintel to autofill as many of the blanks as possible so that buyer persona data can be applied to every lost opportunity or customer churn, even the hard-to-track competitive losses.

Commission plans

These plans have historically been over-complicated by multiple levers, percentages, targets and criteria. It’s better to keep them simple, easy to understand, and transparent. Use the tools in platforms such as NetSuite and Salesforce to plug your formula(s) directly into the CRM so that every eligible salesperson can have their commissions in a visible dashboard.

Exit planning

To support the CFO in facilitating an exit process, help them demonstrate that the company can confidently track and predict changes in the customer base over time. Ideally, you’ll be able to slice and dice the historical data for each customer going back at least three years. The aim is to deliver a full lifecycle view of each customer, from original lead source to first booking to expansion, contraction, renewal, upsell and churn. Include details such as industry vertical, buyer persona, reason for churn, support tickets and customer health or ‘happiness’ score.

Use realistic rather than optimistic numbers, recognizing that things rarely go as planned.

Sales leaders: How to build a relationship with your CFO

One of the most important things a CRO can do to strengthen their relationship and earn trust with their CFO is to own the numbers. Focus on predictability, accuracy, credibility, and clarity by:

  • Delivering an accurate forecast with ranges for low, ‘most likely’ and high revenue targets.
  • Using realistic rather than optimistic numbers, recognizing that things rarely go as planned.
  • Surfacing missed numbers early, as bad news does not age well.
  • Taking ownership of those numbers, especially as targets are missed, and act swiftly to address underperformance.
  • Aligning with finance to ensure the numbers tell a consistent story.

Marketing leaders: How to build a relationship with your CFO

To deepen the relationship with finance, CMOs need to focus on proving ROI and delivering the KPIs that CFOs need to communicate to boards and investors, including:

  • Tracking the impact of marketing investments, such as marketing campaigns, tools, tradeshows, and staff, on sales.
  • Separating brand spend from sales support, including tracking the frequency of rebrands and website updates, and benchmarking demand generation efforts.
  • Demonstrating that you can be flexible about the marketing budget.
  • Be aware and engaged with KPIs for lead generation, pipeline coverage, bookings (actual vs planned and prior-year’s forecast), gross and net revenue retention, and customer lifetime value to acquisition costs.

Here’s the bottom line.

For Go-to-Market leaders, understanding the needs and earning the trust of your CFO is as important as understanding and meeting the needs of your prospects and customers. Put time into fostering a relationship with all of them. Give CFOs the numbers they need to communicate reliably with the board and management. Make sure those numbers are trustworthy and that you hit them every month—or be transparent when you don’t. In return, you’ll gain a powerful ally who can advocate for you at the highest organizational level.

This GrowthBit is featured in LLR’s 2023 Growth Guide, along with other exclusive insights from our portfolio company leaders and Value Creation Team. Download the eBook here.