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Pitching a Marketing Budget: What CMOs Need to Know

What’s in this article:

  • The second part of PostFunnel’s new series, B2CMO, the CMO’s guide to everything relationship marketing
  • This time on how to show confidence in your marketing data, your team, and your presentation to get the CFO — and the entire company — on your side

In the day-to-day life of marketing leaders, there are few activities with higher stakes or stress than pitching budgets to executives. Your goal is to craft a forward-thinking marketing strategy, calculate the associated costs, and finally sell the idea to someone who is likely (a) not a marketer and (b) happy to cut out anything that looks like unnecessary spending.

On top of all these challenges, CMOs are under growing pressure to increase performance with limited resources. And as industries increasingly tie revenue generation to marketing pipelines, those expectations are already sky-high.

The good news is that marketing skills are precisely what you need to overcome these obstacles. As I explained in our last installment, marketing is a blend of narrative creativity and data-driven insight that convinces audiences to close a deal. By treating a budget pitch like one of your ad campaigns, you’re far more likely to get the approval you need and excel in the year to follow.

What does a budget pitch look like?

When you find out, tell me!

Anyone who’s participated in budget meetings with multiple companies can tell you there’s no set format for pitches. For a typical budget meeting, you’ll give a presentation to the CFO, who forwards their decision to the CEO. But some organizations may require you to meet with the entire board of directors. Others may need you to present your budget multiple times as it goes through a chain of approvals.

In a one-on-one meeting with a CFO, I usually present two documents: a slideshow of budget highlights and a spreadsheet breaking down specifics. The latter is especially helpful because CFOs love spreadsheets! Financial executives are already familiar with the format, and the document gives them something to review and analyze after the meeting.

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This approach is far from standard. When one company I worked for hired a new CFO, we packed everyone into a single conference room — all executive leaders, management staff, marketing department employees, and representatives from affiliated agencies. We took part in a four-hour meeting that brought the CFO up to speed on current operations, but we didn’t share any numbers. The next day, I met with him privately to say, “All those projects you liked yesterday? This is how much it costs to keep them running.”

That’s an extreme case, but it’s another example of how budget pitches change between organizations. Company size, work culture, and the personal preferences of CFOs all factor into how a meeting will unfold. New CMOs should try to understand these nuances and tailor presentations accordingly.

Verify your numbers and build support

Before taking your pitch to the CFO, it’s helpful to gain support from the stakeholders and departments your budget will impact. Product and sales teams are usually the best place to start so that campaigns will reflect upcoming developments. Consider details like:

  • What major announcements are planned for the next three, six, or twelve months?
  • Are there any new product announcements that require marketing to earmark some budget?
  • Are there any promising new audiences or customer leads that might require unique campaigns?
  • Where are our best leads coming from, and how can we get more of them?

On the stakeholder front, you may want to run your numbers by someone working under or alongside the CFO, such as a VP of Finance. This individual can tell you whether your budget is feasible in advance or whether there are opportunities to optimize or expand your budget. Besides, there’s no point in pitching a budget that doesn’t reflect the financial reality of the organization!

The science of pitching

While budget pitches don’t have a fixed technique, you can’t just walk into the meeting saying, “I need money.” You’re effectively creating a brand mini-strategy that the marketing team will follow for the next six months to a year. CMOs can’t just make up the details — you’ll need hard data.

The best place to start is the performance results of your previous budget. Summarize the different campaigns your teams developed, breaking down costs and return on investment. Provide your perspective on what worked and what didn’t. Most importantly, be honest. The CFO already knows some gambles won’t pay off, after all.

Past performance should take up about 70% of your pitch. The remaining 30% looks forward to strategy recommendations and estimated costs. For this stage, you can optimize your proposed budget based on prior data or spend time discussing any relevant marketing trends. The better informed your insights, the more likely you are to convince the CFO to accept the pitch.

The art of pitching

When presenting your pitch, the CFO is not so different from a qualified lead. Your goal is to craft a resonating narrative that makes your case. That means you’ll rely on many of the same marketing techniques that engage customers. Those that help form long and meaningful relationships with existing customers.

At a minimum, your presentation should tell a story of how the marketing department is helping the organization. You’ll need to support this narrative with data from the previous section to reinforce why your proposed budget is correct. The good news is that an annual format that details the company’s state and how it can expand lends itself well to such narratives.

Another consideration is the needs of your audience. A CFO is responsible for ensuring a company manages its finances effectively. Your budget presentation can reflect this objective by emphasizing department efficiencies, reduced costs, or maximized returns. One benefit of revenue-centric marketing is that it’s much easier to tie marketing to company growth than ever before — when a campaign is successful, take advantage of profitable metrics!

Finally, don’t forget to rely on other soft skills such as communication and negotiation. Actively listen to the CFO’s concerns and address them directly. If a board of directors is particularly risk-averse, you could try the technique of overstating your budget so they will reduce the number to what you need. Your pitch is at its strongest when you strike the right balance between soft skills and hard data insights.

Be confident in your pitch

Finally, a CMO should always be confident in their budget pitch and stand behind any findings. If you don’t believe in your estimates, the CFO won’t either. If you don’t care about whether a particular strategy can succeed, it’s harder for executives to take it seriously. So, you should always exude confidence, not just in the presentation but in the plan you’re putting forward.

As a CMO, you are in a position of trust and authority. Use it! Reference previous successes from your team. Push back — within reason — against executive recommendations you know are bad ideas. When something isn’t working, figure out the problem and course-correct. If you can show confidence in your marketing data, your team, and your presentation, you’re that much more likely to get the CFO — and the entire company — on your side.

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