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3 Reasons to Stop Thinking like a CFO and More like a CMO

Jacob Brain


As many of us run our businesses, we tend to think like CFOs, focused on financial measures and statistics as the only details of business that matter. But time and time again, the business world shows us that marketing-first organizations truly win. Here’s why.

1. Marketers Think Customer First, Not Finance First.

It almost seems cliché, but within the sphere of organizations that we talk with, so many of them have not made the mental shift into being a marketing-first organization. They are stuck in financial-only paradigms of decision making.

Now, don’t get me wrong – you can’t throw out the baby with the bathwater. Making sure your decisions are financially safe is really important.

But decisions are nearly always more valuable in the long run if they’re focused on the customer first, rather than around an organization’s own interests.

You can really see this in an organization in how they respond to the idea of the customer experience, or how they make decisions around marketing, or even employee engagement.  But the truth is, an organization’s entire approach to a customer is evident in just about every aspect of business. From sales to the break room, understanding that the market comes first is a strategic choice, not a statistical exercise.

It takes work and money, and this is why many companies don’t bother with it. To truly step back and take a new perspective on your customer experience (or how your product or service is delivered) gives most leaders a cold shiver. They know from experience that making these changes is difficult, time-consuming, and maybe costly. But in many cases, the true urgency of the situation and the opportunity are left frozen in the state of denial.

So how do you identify if you are one of these organizations? Here are a few signs:

  • Decisions in meetings are instantly thwarted by “cost” conversations; e.g., “We thought about sending flash drives to our clients with our latest product information, but the CEO said the cost was too high, so we had to email it instead – which is a bit more tedious for the client.”
  • The customer perspective is rarely used in shaping decisions; e.g., you never hear things like “the customer research shows” or “I ran the idea to client x and they mentioned y would help make the product better.”
  • You never hear “wow” statements from clients. Clients are never impressed by any aspect of your business. What you are doing is truly unremarkable, and your clients are aware of it.

2. Accounting Maximizes Profit, Marketing Maximizes Value Creation.

This idea is a little more abstract, but the focus here is on the overall tension between investment into your value creation vs. into your overall profit.

What does investing 50K into your client experience, or systems to increase customer delight, gain over pushing that money to your bottom line?

I think much of your answer to that depends on how big the bottom line is. If 50K is only 1% of your net profit for the year, then it would be a no brainer. But if it’s 30% of your bottom line, that’s another issue. This is where the hard decisions need to be made.

The point is that marketing-first organizations are always looking at ways to increase the value they present to the customer. Good ones have running lists of things they can do to increase their position in the market, create product differentiation, and enhance the customer experience.

It’s not an afterthought for EOY profit discussions. It’s an active role and process in the company.

What does your value creation look like in your company? You might need to be having the following conversations:

  • Are you looking to make all aspects of the experience better? e.g., open brainstorming with staff and clients over how to increase the value for the client.
  • Do you champion customer feedback and metrics, as well as competitive analysis? e.g., there seems to be a link between marketing-first organizations and their awareness of the competition. The more aware of the competition an organization is, the more marketing-focused they are. Your organization might just be lulled to sleep – in which case it needs to be awakened.
  • Do you celebrate the client’s success, or just your own?

3. Marketing Emphasizes Vision and Purpose, Finance Emphasizes Viability.

The last viewpoint that generally defines a marketing-first organization over an internally focused one is the importance and declaration of vision. What is the vision of the company? Do they have one?

Yes, most companies do. But the real tell is in this simple nuance: who is the statement about? Is it about how great the company wants to become, or how great they want to make the client?

That is about as black and white as it gets.

If the mission and vision of the company is to be “the best” or “most successful” company in the space, the lenses are turned inward. If they are looking to “change the customer’s world,” they are marketing focused.

Where do you fall?

It’s worth the time and introspection.

Look at a few examples:

Netflix: We promise our customers stellar service, our suppliers a valuable partner, our investors the prospects of sustained profitable growth, and our employees the allure of huge impact.

CarMax: “To provide our customers great quality cars at great prices with exceptional customer service.”

GM: “G.M. is a multinational corporation engaged in socially responsible operations, worldwide. It is dedicated to provide products and services of such quality that our customers will receive superior value while our employees and business partners will share in our success and our stock-holders will receive a sustained superior return on their investment.”

Can you feel the nuanced differences in these statements? GM seems to serve two masters, making products but having a sustained return for investors, or making a profit. Compared to something like Honda;

“Maintaining a global viewpoint, we are dedicated to supplying products of the highest quality, yet at a reasonable price for worldwide customer satisfaction”

Purely a customer advantage view point. Marketing-first organizations know the road to economic success is providing value to customers and employees and community. 

Being Marketing-First

I hope you see a clarion call to being a marketing-first organization. There are so many good examples in the marketplace, and I think as a smart CEO you’ll inherently see the value.

The best part is that it does not take thousands of dollars in transformation and consultants. It takes everyone in the organization thinking about the customer first and foremost in all conversations. Try it in your next meeting. Simply reframe the discussion around the customer and see what happens.

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