It's a big shift from the way things used to be before the downturn and the resulting scrutiny of marketing ROI.
"Historically, relationships were sometimes adversarial between CMOs and CFOs," said Michael Gerard, research director at IDC's CMO advisory research practice. "On the marketing side, you had more of a focus on creativity and brand investment and, on the finance side, you had more of a focus on data, budgets and actual spending. It used to be, `Here's the money. We know we're wasting half of it-we just don't know which half.' "
That's changed, he said, as a result of the economic downturn and the resulting cuts in marketing staff and budgets, increased regulatory pressures and the emphasis on ROI.
"There is a lot of opportunity out there and a lot of discussion around how to bring [CMOs and CFOs] closer," Gerard said.
While reporting structures and decision-making processes differ from company to company, CMOs and CFOs often work side by side to define and prove marketing effectiveness. "I have a very strong relationship with my CFO," said Martyn Etherington, VP-marketing at Tektronix, a developer of testing and measurement equipment for communications and computer companies.
Etherington, who joined Tektronix in 2002, said he began a conversation with Senior VP-CFO Colin Slade from day one to determine how to have a successful relationship.
"I asked him a very fundamental question: `What would it take to get an A on my report card?' " Etherington said. "It all goes back to demonstrating marketing's relevance to the business and what am I contributing to the business in return for the marketing spend."
At Tektronix, decisions about marketing spending are made by an executive committee, of which Etherington and Slade are members.
"We run a very, very tight ship," Etherington said. His team develops a marketing dashboard and sets metrics to gauge performance, including head count to operational dollars, cost per order, leads to opportunities and leads to orders.
He reviews progress against those metrics monthly with his marketing group and quarterly with Slade and the other members of the executive committee.
Last year, IDC awarded Tektronix a CMO Best Practices award for its marketing dashboard development.
Slade said accountability is key to a successful relationship: "being able to account for marketing spend-but, most importantly, the results generated-and ultimately being able to track a marketing dollar to an order dollar.
"I expect nothing less than accountability and being able to measure and articulate what they are doing to drive business and profitable growth," he added.
Tracey Stout, VP-worldwide marketing at software company Autodesk, also works closely with her CFO, Al Castino, on marketing investment and accountability.
Stout and Castino both joined Autodesk, which makes software to manage corporate digital assets, about three years ago.
"We sat down to define the role of marketing, the reporting structure and how to get our teams closely aligned," Stout said.
Marketing investment decisions are made jointly by Stout and Castino, with reviews from senior executives across the organization.
"We are both very benchmark-oriented," Stout said, pointing to their development of a marketing dashboard that uses industry benchmarks and best practices.
In working to develop marketing metrics and check progress against them, Stout asked for and received a dedicated person from the finance department, with the title of finance business partner.
"One of the things that finance brings to the table is a real quantitative orientation to looking at marketing, as if it were less of a function and more of a business," she said.
Stout also has Castino meet with the marketing team every quarter following the earnings release to discuss the marketing context.
"We have a very fluid relationship," Stout said. "When you have marketing divorced from finance, your priorities and orientation tend to be different.
"More often than not, when finance understands what you're trying to do from a business point of view, they are in a position to help you achieve those goals and not a barrier."
At software company Sybase, marketing investment decisions are ultimately made by John Chen, chairman and president-CEO.
"For us, value has to be proven to our CEO, so the CFO doesn't really have a role," said Holly Rollo, senior director-corporate marketing at Sybase.
However, she added, "we work closely with finance to help us do that. So I would consider them more of a partner than anything else."
Rollo said she works closely with the controller, meeting at the beginning and end of each quarter to go over actual budgets and make sure the marketing department is on track for the next quarter.
"We look at our contracts with agencies, whether we are getting value out of our relationships with agency and publishing partners, and making sure we are able to show ROI," she said.
Sybase's VP-finance also works with the marketing department to track best practices in marketing spending by industry categories, including benchmark research from IDC.
One of the new metrics Sybase is starting to track is inquiries to lead conversion. "We have to show in some kind of meaningful way how we're contributing to the funnel, and inquiries isn't it," Rollo said. "Corporate marketing has to show how we're supporting the bottom line."