Marketers Need To Learn How To Speak A 2nd Language: CFO

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I recently chastised a credit union CEO who stated there was nothing unique to running his credit union in comparison with other institutions. The point made in the article was that every organization needs to understand what makes them unique or get out of the business. If you fail to do the former, your competition will be more than pleased to assist you with the latter.

Although I used this statement to make a point, I probably shouldn't have been that harsh. For people that think almost solely in financial terms, the CEO is right. On paper there isn't much difference among financial institutions in the black and white (and sometimes red) world of income statements. However, there should be a uniqueness that drives those numbers for any particular organization. It's the responsibility of the chief marketing professional to help those in the organization with a penchant for finance understand that uniqueness.

That's a task that is often easier said than done, since it is sometimes an aversion to numbers that drives big-picture thinkers away from finance more than the creativity draws them to marketing. Marketing and finance often seem as different languages as far apart as Japanese and Latin. But, as a marketing professional, in order to make a case for a campaign or even to gain the respect of senior management, you need to learn conversational CFO at a minimum.

Some Advice Worth Following:

Here are a few tips to help the non-finance oriented marketer in the next meeting:

* Always begin and end by speaking in terms of dollars. "We estimate that our integrated direct marketing plan will generate net income of over $200,000 by the end of 2004." "In closing, the data listed in our plan confirms that $200,000 in net income is very achievable."

* As with members, under-promise and over-deliver. If you say that $200,000 is achievable, the CEO, CFO, and the board will hold you to $200,000. If net income is $190,000 they'll ask why you missed the target by 5%. If you feel $200,000 is at the high end of achievability, quote a figure of $150,000 at best.

* Use as much hard data as possible to prove your assumptions. You may want to dust off your text book from Finance 101 and perform an ROI. Look at past campaigns as a guide either at your credit union or another financial institution. If you need help, ask a marketing professional from a non-competing credit union for some assistance. Most people are more than willing to assist you, and may have run a similar campaign to yours where you can use their numbers as validation for your assumptions.

* Think through, and even write down, as many tough questions and objections you may be faced with before you put yourself in situation to deal with them. If you find a weak spot in your plan that will leave you in a difficult circumstance to debate, you may want to consider changing your plan. If you still feel it's important, try to explain the validity of your assumptions by proving the uniqueness of your members. Use demographic numbers if available. Remember the ultimate goal - helping people understand exactly why your credit union and your members are special.

* Try to align yourself with the CFO. Have him or her review some of your ideas before you create the plan and present it. Ask the CFO for some assistance in key numbers that need to be tied to your particular program. Almost everyone feels that they are a junior marketing expert anyway so you might as well play to that tendency and get the CFO on your side from the beginning. Even if the top financial person isn't ready to buddy up to you, whatever you do don't make him or her an enemy - a mistake I made once and it was once too many times. Trust me, in the financial world this situation will end very badly for the marketing professional.

* If all else fails, you may want to go back to school to learn a bit more on financials. No need to get an entire degree. There are a few universities and training firms that teach a class on finance for the non-financial professional.

Marketing is too important to be run by financiers but throwing up our arms in disgust saying they just don't understand won't work. Learn to speak in their language. In the long run it will make your life as a marketing professional much easier and will maintain the unique brand that your members identify with. Heck, after a while, the CFO may even stop the questioning and begin to completely trust your judgment.

Don't count on that too much, though.

Ken Bator is president of Bator Training & Consulting. He can be reached at 630-854-6380, or at kbator

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