You can't do marketing without financial support, and you can't be an effective CMO without a good relationship with your CFO. That's the message our guest, Yannick Kpodar, CMO of a portfolio of Fintech brands under the BPCE banner, is here to share.
Yannick examines why the relationship between CMOs and CFOs can be difficult, along with his tried and tested methods to overcome those difficulties, so you and your CFO can become a well-oiled partnership that produce results.
Originally an episode of CMO Convo, you can now read everything we discussed below.
- Yannick’s background and mission
- Building a great working relationship with your CFO
- Presenting your CFO with a tough sell
- Cross-functional collaboration with other key stakeholders
- Speaking the CFO’s language
- Gaining the CFO’s trust and uniting cross-functional teams
- Leaning on your other allies for support
Yannick’s background and mission
Hi Yannick, how are you doing today?
Hey, I'm doing great. Thank you so much for having me.
We're excited about this conversation. We'll be looking at something that CMOs have to tackle every day: how to get investment from the CFO for the strategies that you want to work on, even if they’re not seen as main revenue drivers.
But before we get into that, maybe you could introduce yourself to our audience. Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your background, Yannick?
Yeah, absolutely. My name is Yannick Kpodar. I’m a US citizen living in Paris right now and absolutely loving it. My background has been in B2B tech sales out in the Washington DC area, working with Dell.
Later on, I pivoted into product marketing in companies like LinkedIn in San Francisco, and then I decided to relocate to Paris to join the hyper-growth tech market here, leading product marketing in an HR payroll company called PayFit, which is now a unicorn.
Most recently I pivoted into Groupe BPCE, which is the second-largest financial group in France, and fifth in Europe. As CMO, I'm overseeing growth and marketing strategy for a portfolio of FinTech startups.
Fantastic. Do you think your product marketing background has influenced your approach to the CMO role?
Absolutely. Product marketing has been a massive career builder for me because it’s at the intersection of so many parts of the business model. As a product market, you work with the product team to prioritize the product roadmap; you work with marketing teams to organize launches; you work with the sales team to increase win rates and pitch the product. You're really working across key pieces of the business.
It's been such a growth driver for my career. I approach marketing from a product marketing perspective, and it’s given me a much better understanding of how to align with cross-functional partners because, by default, that's what you're doing all the time in product marketing.
Even the way that I've built my current team is very product-marketing oriented. Our team’s objective is to enable product-market fit and accelerate profitable growth, so we need to be able to help the business identify their target market, how our product can answer their needs, and what pricing strategy we should build to create a sustainable business model and accelerate profitable growth.
And so I think the way that I define the CMO role in the various companies that I'm leading is a little bit different from your traditional CMO.
Building a great working relationship with your CFO
It's good you mentioned working cross-functionally with different stakeholders within the business because that's what we're talking about today: having that relationship with your CFO.
It might seem fairly obvious to say you need to have a good relationship with your CFO – they're the people holding the purse strings at the end of the day – but it goes a bit deeper than that. What are the other benefits of having a good working relationship with your CFO?
The CFO is such an instrumental part of any business. They're managing the cash to be able to grow the business profitably. You can be the best business in the world, but if you run out of cash, it's game over.
They're the gatekeeper to your opportunities as well, because, let's face it, in terms of marketing, you do need to spend to get that ROI. In order to do that, you need to have a good relationship with your CFO because they are managing the cash.
CFOs have different philosophies in terms of how much cash to allocate to marketing, whether it's for talent, tools, or ad strategy. And so it’s essential to have a great relationship with this person so that they can trust you, respect you, and give you the budget you need to reach your goals so the business can grow.
If you have a distant relationship with your CFO and they don't really know who you are or what you're capable of, and they don't have a good understanding of marketing, they might see it as just a cost center. You have to find a way to shift that point of view, and the way to do that is just to get closer, have great conversations with this person, and show how your role and your projects can positively impact the bottom line.
There's so much that we can say about that. But in general, the CFO is someone who can help unlock growth, and you need them on your team.
You definitely do, particularly because they're not just assigning budgets to the marketing team: they're assigning all the budgets for all the different departments. You need to be able to show the value of marketing against the value of other departments, and that's gotta be tricky.
You said if CFOs are feeling distant, they might just see marketing as a spend, which is a very dangerous position to be in as a CMO. So what are the usual expectations, in your experience, of what the CFO wants from the CMO?
How I see it is the CFO would want a CMO that is capable of showing their growth strategy for the business. The CMO also needs to understand which markets to go after to accelerate cash flow and customer acquisition at the most profitable rate for the business.
Of course, all of this depends on where the company is in its lifecycle. Your strategy and your marketing budget as a percentage of revenue are going to vary based on whether you're in an early-stage startup, you're in hyper-growth mode, or you're more mature.
In general, though, CFOs are looking for a marketing partner who can give a clear line on the buyer persona, what it takes to close a deal, and what pricing strategy will accelerate the business profitably.
Presenting your CFO with a tough sell
That's fairly easy to do with short-term strategies like paid media – you can clearly show your projected ROI for that – but how does it work for longer-term strategies like SEO, content, and brand marketing?
First, it’s very important to gain the CFO’s trust and let them know that you understand their world. If you can show that what you're doing is going to drive cash flow, create a stronger pipeline, increase LTV, lower customer acquisition cost – whatever metrics the CFO is looking at – that’s going to be the best way to get alignment with this person.
You also have to be strategic. You wanna make sure that a significant part of your budget is allocated towards things that will obviously produce ROI, or will be easy to track in terms of lead gen, sales cycle, upsell strategy, and so on. I’d recommend that about 80% of your budget be dedicated to these sorts of activities, with the other 20% for things like brand area, where the return is not so tangible.
Coming to more brand-focused activities, let's say you want to put some posters up on the Tube all across London – ideally you want to place these at strategic moments, like during a launch or a big field event happening in that area. It's harder to quantify the ROI, but if you can link the spending to a key event in the company, it will be easier to get the budget.
You also mentioned SEO, which is basically about being indexed in Google to make sure that your page is one of the first results and people click on your website over your competitors’. As long as you can show that more people are landing on the website as a result of that SEO strategy so we’re capturing more leads, you should be able to get your CFO on board.
Cross-functional collaboration with other key stakeholders
The idea of attaching requests for money to landmark moments and piggybacking on other departments’ events is great. Do you have to work closely with other stakeholders to work out the marketing budget in that respect?
Absolutely. Great conversations with the CFO are cross-functional ones, where you're bringing in sales, you’re bringing in customer success, and sometimes you're even bringing in product because you're running a product-led growth strategy. The more you can have a cross-functional approach to your strategy, the better.
So it's about showing how marketing can support other aspects of the business?
Yes. I call marketing “Market King”. Marketers have to be able to identify the revenue stream, customer acquisition channels, commercial partners, product partners… Marketing is responsible for a huge chunk of the entire business model so it should have a very strong voice.
CMOs who think of marketing as being at the center of the business model tend to do a bit better because they learn more about revenue streams, pricing strategy, customer acquisition costs, and so on. You start to be more financially focused, as opposed to your traditional CMO who may be more focused on the brand, content, or digital marketing.
Speaking the CFO’s language
Mastering all the financial language so you can talk to the CFO on their level has got to be a challenge too. You’re in FinTech, so you’re probably surrounded by financial jargon all the time, but what about other CMOs who might not be in the finance world – how can they get to grips with it?
I think typically one of the biggest weaknesses of any marketing person is that they're shy about even having that kind of financial conversation with the CFO. Honestly, when I first landed a CMO role, I knew that one of my biggest weaknesses was the financial aspect, so I ended up reaching out to as many CFOs as possible and having conversations about how to measure ROI and think about budget allocation.
There are loads of blogs, books, and podcasts out there too. I told myself, “I'm going to be a CFO in training for 30 days,” and I just binged as much as I could from various sources on financial topics to be able to lead a much better conversation.
I picked up several books, even a couple from Warren Buffett and his team. I was looking literally line by line at profit and loss, cash allocations, and how they pick stocks and invest in companies. It helped me to think like an investor, and that gave me the language to be able to have a great conversation with the CFO.
The key was understanding the challenges that CFOs face today so that I could see how to position any kind of idea or strategic big bet towards those challenges.
One way of identifying those challenges could be to speak to the CFO about what they're facing and what marketing can do to help, rather than just throwing loads of vanity metrics around. Having an understanding of what the CFO needs from you is going to open doors in terms of building both a professional and a personal relationship. Have you found that useful?
Yeah, absolutely. One of the first things I did when I came in as a CMO at Groupe BPCE was really to make sure that I spoke with the CFO right away. After our introductory meeting, I was like, “Hey, can you walk me through the P&L literally line by line? What are the weaknesses? What are the strengths? What are the opportunities? What are the threats?” It gave me a really good understanding of the issues we were having as a company.
In that one conversation, I figured out that we had some segments that were not profitable because they have a high acquisition cost and they churn faster than others. My next step then was to talk with the person overseeing customer success and dive into the customer portfolio. Then I spoke to sales to learn more; I had a hunch about what we should double down on, and that was the beginning of some deep-dive research into the most profitable segments.
Gaining the CFO’s trust and uniting cross-functional teams
Doing that early on has got to be extremely beneficial. If you've shown the CFO that you’re on the same page and you've got the same targets, it must make it easier to move the needle on things that might otherwise be a hard sell.
If you say that you need to spend money on a rebrand, the CFO might ask what good that would do. But if you've already confidently laid out that you’re working towards certain goals and the route to get there, the CFO will trust you more, surely?
Absolutely. We didn't talk about this yet, but I have a framework with six indicators of success, which is a great tool to bring into these key conversations.
The first indicator is product-market fit, which is the capacity to have the right product for the right market at the right price to accelerate growth. You can look at overall conversion rates and a lot of different indicators at the top of the funnel to understand if you have the right product fit.
The framework looks at growth as well: how many leads we’re generating through which channels, outbound partnerships, average deal size, and average sales cycle – really analyzing things step by step.
The third piece is looking at the brand. inkedIn was great for that because the more followers you have on LinkedIn, the more idea you have of who is interested in your brand and your products and services. You can use that data to create targeted campaigns, which also lowers CAC by the way.
Then there's the customer marketing piece, which looks at how quickly we’re delivering on the value that we promised and ensuring that customers have the right resources and information to get up and running fast. I also look at NPS, customer satisfaction, customer effort score, and, of course, P&L.
Talent is the last crucial piece because it’s about our ability to attract new hires so we can grow the business. I look at the number of applications, whether we have great talent coming in, and how quickly we’re onboarding new starters.
And so the way that I position marketing involves looking at multiple indicators throughout the business. And this builds confidence because the C-suite can see that I’m a player who’s thinking about the whole team, not just marketing.
What’s great about marketing is that you're at the center, and you can influence everything from product-market fit, to growth, to brand, to customer marketing, to P&L, to talent. You can influence all of those indicators, and that's why I love this position.
That's a great framework. Are the rest of the company aware of the framework you use for success, or is it something you keep to yourself?
That's actually one of the first things I did. In my first three days, I did an analysis with the six indicators and presented it to the C-suite. I told them, “Hey, here's exactly how I'm evaluating the business. Here's where I think we're red, here's where I think we're green, here's where I think we're yellow.” And that was a great way to start a conversation, for me and the C-suite.
Even at that level, you might have people that are just specialists in their areas and not necessarily thinking about cross-functional impact. That's why marketing is a great enabler of bringing people together. I’m always saying that marketing is like number 10 on the soccer field or the quarterback on the football pitch. You have to go all the way up to the offense with your sales team, and you have to go all the way back to your defense with the dev team and product.
Maybe that analogy comes from my sporting days, but I really do see it like running in the middle of the field with everyone. It’s a lot of responsibility and you need a lot of stamina for it.
Being the leader on the pitch, you’ve also got to have a good relationship with the equipment manager – the CFO – and explain why you need certain equipment and training regimes and stuff like that, and why they need to pay for it.
So when it comes to explaining this framework to the rest of the C-suite, how do you break through the marketing jargon that often puts them to sleep and use terms that are understandable to all the stakeholders involved?
That's a good point. With any department, there could be a lot of jargon, and marketing is definitely one of them.
I think the biggest thing is to ensure that everyone knows that they’re all responsible for flying this aircraft, which is what I call the business. You have marketing and sales to get those passengers on board; you have your financial team to fuel the cash engine; you have your security, tech and liabilities to make sure that the aircraft doesn't sink if it gets hit with lawsuits or targeted by hackers.
At the end of the day, we're all here to ensure that we have a sustainable product and a business model that creates value for the market. And so whenever I'm presenting a topic, I lead from the perspective of the business and not from the perspective of marketing, and I try to talk about things in a way that makes sense to every member of the crew.
I don't know if you know Donald Miller? He wrote a book called Building a Story Brand and another called Business Made Simple. He uses the plane analogy, which is something I use all the time to make sure that I can explain things in a very easy way for everyone to understand. That’s so important because you want every team to feel included in decision-making discussions.
Leaning on your other allies for support
This all sounds great – we're working well with the CFO. What if that’s not the case – is there a point where you should go over the CFO’s head to the CEO? We don't know if this is something that's happened to you – you don't have to name names, but if you did encounter this situation, what would be your approach?
That's a great question. The CFO is a great person to have on your side, but they’re not the be-all and end-all. At the end of the day, sales is your partner in crime. You’re working with them to go out and acquire customers, so sales is always going to be key.
The CEO is a great ally to have too. Of course, you have a lot of different types of CEO: they might be more focused on tech, sales, or marketing so the way you work with them will vary too. As long as you can align on OKRs and show how your marketing strategy will have a positive impact, you’ll have no problem working together. That's great because the CEO can help unlock budget, which I've had to ask for sometimes when managing a portfolio.
I can also tell you that I've worked with different types of CFOs. Some see the value of marketing; some see it as just a budget line item. When I worked with one of the latter types of CFO, we didn't have the best relationship because they already had this predetermined view of marketing. However, as long as I could show them how my numbers impacted their numbers in a positive way, that's what I did.
I did also go over this person to the CEO to unlock more budget. He basically told the CFO that we needed more cash for new hires and tools that would make our operation more efficient. The CEO was generally a lot more cross-functionally minded than the CFO in that company. Of course, going over the CFO’s head should be a last resort, and you need to be aware that if you do it, you might meet some resistance for future strategic projects.
So let's wrap everything up. As the final thing to tie everything together, do you have any golden rules for working with the CFO?
The first thing I would say is to show this person that you understand and care about their world. Make sure that before you talk about yourself, you talk about them. One of the first things I did as a CMO was to ask the CFO to walk me through what they were dealing with and show me where I could help. That first piece is very important just to show that it's not about you, it's about understanding the CFO's world.
The second thing is, if there are any projects you need to unlock budget for, make sure you tie them to metrics that the CFO cares about. Remember, they're thinking about cash, assets, and liabilities, so if you're doing something that will help the cash situation, the asset situation, or influence the liabilities in a positive way, and you can show a plan to get there, your CFO will be all ears.
Awesome. Thank you very much, Yannick!
How are you building solid relationships with the rest of the C-Suite? Need some tips on how to speak their language? Head to the CMO Alliance Community Slack channel and join the conversation with CMOs around the world.