How to write a marketing budget your CFO will enthusiastically support


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Ah, the fall. Changing weather and leaves. College football. Baseball’s postseason. And annual budget time!

If you’re on a calendar fiscal year, you know what I’m talking about (and probably wince every time you hear that word). For many companies, annual budgeting is a painful process of back-and-forths, arguments about priorities and endless spreadsheet revisions.

I can’t promise these ideas will make all of that go away, but if you want a less painful process this year, my best piece of advice is to build a budget that your CFO will understand and agree with from the get-go.

Here are seven specific best practices to get there.

1. Ask for organizational goals up front
I can’t tell you how many times I see marketing leaders develop a plan & budget without any context for the business or division’s overall goals. What are your revenue targets next year? How about net-new sales, margin, customer retention and other key business metrics? How can you write a marketing plan & budget without knowing what everything is building towards?

This step alone will help you align your priorities with those of your CFO and others.

2. Get sales buy-in first
Before taking your plan & budget to the CFO, run it by your sales counterparts. Make sure they understand how vital your plan is to helping them hit their number next year as well.

If you can go back to the CFO together, saying jointly that these efforts are required to hit & exceed sales goals, you’re in far better shape to justify and keep what you’re asking for.

3. Cut unsuccessful line items from last year (and explain why)
If you keep everything from last year by default, it’s far too easy to assume that you’re just doing a “land grab” for more money. Even if you had a great year, I’m sure there were initiatives that didn’t pass muster or deliver the results you had hoped.

As a way of making your plan both more efficient and credible, cut any items that were unsuccessful, highlight that in your plan and clarify why. This will also serve to demonstrate the rationale you likely used to justify any additions to the plan for the coming year.

4. Organize by business objective (instead of marketing function)
Most marketing budgets are organized in a way that lacks clarity for the CFO. It may be easier for you and your team to manage input and areas by sorting them by your org chart or primary functions, but it’s far easier for the CFO and other members of the management team to justify your budget if its organized by business objective.

This won’t work for everything, but at minimum you should be able to sort certain initiatives by sales, customer retention, etc.

5. Project results wherever possible (revenue, not just spend)
Most marketing budgets focus entirely on costs. And even if you couch everything in terms of the overall business objectives they support, it’s far better to project precisely what results you expect from any new budget requests. Better yet, create a mini ROI calculator inside your budget so that any negative impact of cuts are clear.

6. Make future expenditures contingent on early success
It’s tempting to ask for everything up front. But in today’s fast moving markets, it’s also difficult to accurately predict what you’ll really need in the second half of next year.

Rather than propose a firm budget for the full calendar year, identify certain line items that are contingency on early success. This can be defined as success in early marketing objectives or success in overall business performance. But either way, this makes your “core” budget request more manageable and demonstrates that the bigger number won’t come into play unless it’s justified by performance.

7. Tie staff bonuses to sales performance, not marketing tactic completion

I’m not talking about commissions. Most marketing teams have bonuses built into their budgets already. But in most cases, they get paid if the marketing objectives or tasks are completed no matter how sales performs. This year, consider tying marketing bonuses to broader company performance.

At minimum, tie your demand generation team’s bonus to sales opportunity growth and/or closed business. Tie the retention team’s bonus to churn reduction or growth of lifetime value.

Curious what other best practices you may have for making budget season a little less stressful.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Matt Heinz
Prolific author and nationally recognized, award-winning blogger, Matt Heinz is President and Founder of Heinz Marketing with 20 years of marketing, business development and sales experience from a variety of organizations and industries. He is a dynamic speaker, memorable not only for his keen insight and humor, but his actionable and motivating takeaways.Matt’s career focuses on consistently delivering measurable results with greater sales, revenue growth, product success and customer loyalty.


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