How to Sell Your CFO on Personalization (Or Anything Else, Really)

With marketers constantly testing in pursuit of incrementality and finance organizations always seeking predictability, the two teams are often like oil and water. Marketing wants to experiment. Finance wants guaranteed ROI returns.

Marketing and finance are separate entities with disparate thinking and operational methodologies, but the rise of performance marketing has helped them speak in a common tongue. Still, today’s marketers often focus on untested waters. Personalization is one of the more compelling examples. Unlike social media where there are industry-accepted surface metrics to gauge performance like engagement, traffic, and now revenue (even if not perfectly so), there isn’t an industry-parallel for measuring the impact of personalization. Given that personalization isn’t a brand new channel like social media, the metrics that matter become intertwined with the performance of the channels personalization helps to optimize, like email, web and mobile.

Personalization requires ongoing thought and investments over time to advance to a point of needed sophistication, to find what works best for a specific organization and its consumers. There are short-term gains to be had, but the power of personalization has a long-term impact on acquisition, retention, and everything in between including increasing top of funnel engagement and increased conversion, decreasing disengagement and opt-outs, and increasing the levers critical to lifetime value.

This has been proven, most notably by the 100 retailers Sailthru ranked in the Retail Personalization Index. But given the significant shift needed in people skills, processes, and technologies needed to make the most of personalization, we are not yet at mass adoption. To make personalization a reality in their own organizations, marketers have to make a more holistic business case to help CFOs understand how personalization will make an impact across the entire customer journey.

As a CFO, I consider myself a partner to the other departments at my organization. My job is to give them the support they need, and to help them make smart decisions. So when someone is considering an investment, I want to make sure they understand the expected output of that investment, and how it will be measured. When my marketing team comes to me with new ideas, they know to bring a business case. So as you’re thinking about how to create organizational buy-in for personalization — or really, any other significant project requiring changes in the way people operate and new technologies — here’s what should be thinking through to make a sound presentation.

Presenting a case for personalization to your CFO

The Vision

Your CFO is not a marketing and customer experience expert. That’s okay, because that’s not the CFO’s job. But it means that you have to sell the impact of your proposed investment.

In the case of personalization, help the CFO understand what it is and why it is important, even if yet unproven by a direct competitor:

  • How do you define personalization?
  • What is the short-term execution plan? Long-term plan?
  • Will this better engage your customers or readers or community?
  • How is it going to help you create a superior customer experience that sets you apart from the competition?
  • Can it free up resources internally, so that the marketing team can spend more time on strategy and less time on tactics?
  • What metrics will you be tracking and why?
  • How exactly will this help increase top line revenue?

Make your case.

The Metrics

Whenever someone comes to me with a proposal for incremental spending, the decision comes down to return on investment. That return can take many forms. It can be a straight financial return, a return in terms of increasing employee productivity, or even something we believe will drive our net promoter score.

When you’re talking to the CFO, you need to use specific metrics to describe your projected return. Those metrics could be email open rates, tap-throughs for mobile, page views per visitor, or revenue per email. These should all funnel into more comprehensive metrics, such as customer lifetime value. But if you’re not engaging people at the top of the funnel, you don’t have much chance later on.

Think about these metrics, and how you present them, carefully. Part of the CFO’s job is to hold your feet to the fire to make sure you and your team achieve those outcomes.

accountability

This is also the time to set expectations with your CFO. Some investments show a return really quickly, while other implementations can take years to bear fruit. Most are in the middle. With personalization, it can take time to build the profiles needed to power machine learning-driven recommendations, to make accurate predictions for future behaviors, and for your organization to test to determine how to most effectively deploy personalization techniques. But the payoff is worthwhile as personalization has been proven to increase customer lifetime value, drive incremental purchases, repeat purchase rate, and first purchase conversion.

Give your CFO a timeline, and a plan to go with it:

  • Where do we start?
  • What gaps do we have, in terms of both skills and technology, and how do we fill them?
  • How long will the implementation process take? How long will it take to ramp to peak effectiveness?
  • What external resources will you need?
  • Who should be on the ongoing team?
  • Will you need additional headcount?

The Homework

This should go without saying, but the CFO is not the first person to ask. Personalization is a business strategy (61% of the marketers we surveyed agree) and requires buy-in from multiple parts of the organization.

Personalization is a strategy, not a tactic

Chief among them is the CIO, or whoever runs your IT area. Even though personalization technology is cloud-based, you’re still going to have to do some integration work. You might need to integrate with your CMS, or with your ecommerce stack. You want to make sure your tech team is aware of that and up for it.

It’s also good to touch base with your head of customer service. Depending on how you use personalization, it could enable their team to know who the high-value customers are, and their history with the company, before picking up the phone. Give them a chance to get excited about that.

Then there’s the outside legwork. Find the companies who are doing the best job at personalization within your industry. For retail, Sailthru’s Personalization Index is the ideal place to start. What technologies are they using? What methodologies? Then start doing your reference checks. Talk to people who are actually executing on your vision so you understand the complexities. Find out what technologies they are using, how satisfied they are, and how their vision is playing with their customer base.

Once you have your goals, your outcomes, and your reference checks in hand, make the ask. Just remember: Your CFO is your partner in making financial decisions. By following these guidelines, you’ll be giving him or her the information they need to truly act as one.