A Troubling Disconnect in the C Suite

More than half of chief marketing executives say they’re not collaborating with their CFO peers. What can these critical leaders—and the CEO—do about it?

It’s one of the most well-worn clichés in modern business: executives must be in alignment. But it turns out that in many cases, two of an organization’s most important cogs are having trouble aligning themselves. 

In a new survey from the CMO Council, only 22% of CMOs describe themselves as very willing to collaborate with their CFO peers on such critical issues as investments, metrics, and goals. More than a quarter of CMOs said they were indifferent to working with CFOs, and another 7% said they were hesitant to even try. 

That’s a strain in an extremely important relationship, says Zach Peikon, a Korn Ferry senior client partner and member of the firm’s Global Marketing Officers practice. “CMOs may have big plans, but they really need approval from the CFO, because they have the power of the purse,” he says. 

To some degree, it’s natural that the marketing and finance executives might not see eye to eye. Marketers are responsible for driving one of the most important corporate metrics—total revenue—higher. To do so, they need to expend resources. But financial executives are tasked to rein in those resources. In addition, the effectiveness of a marketing initiative can be difficult to predict, making it difficult to value.

However, the lack of collaboration is particularly critical now, as the economy is softening, says Beau Lambert, a senior client partner in Korn Ferry’s Financial Officer practice. The lack of top-line growth is causing financial stresses in some firms. “Organizations are seeing pink elephants after the pandemic-induced sugar rush,” he says.

Experts say the tension may be due in part to the departments working from different sets of information. In the survey, only 18% of marketing leaders strongly believed both finance and marketing have the same timely access to reliable customer data. That disconnect could be a cultural issue, Lambert says, since some leaders don’t want to overload direct reports with information. “Sometimes that’s held back deliberately, to keep people focused,” he says.

Experts say CEOs might consider stepping in to make sure that senior leaders have a clear financial understanding of the organization. Sometimes organizations will layer in top financial executives within other departments to help manage budgets; this is a relatively common practice in areas such as information technology. That can cause financial executives, including the CFO, to be perceived as enablers, not just cost cutters, Lambert says.


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