CFOs’ 7 Skills Essential for Real Influence

CFOs 7 TipsThe new worker – and that’s us – can expect to change jobs at least 15 times in their career. That’s twice as many as 20 years ago. A few of these hops will be in the same company, but most won’t be.

Ambitious CMOs and VPs of marketing can take a page from CFOs – who, surprisingly – face a lot of the same hurdles. How do you get a seat at the only table that counts?

“There are just three people running any company. You can be at an executive level, but not necessarily have a seat at the table,” said one seasoned CFO.

Getting there was the topic at a recent breakfast hosted by NAVSCO, a peer-networking group for CFOs of venture-funded companies, where I’m on the advisory board. It turns out that CFOs have much more in common with marketing leaders than I’d expected.

Here’s the short-list of the new skills and traits that are essential for real influence:

1. Shape your own story. It’s easy to focus on the data, but the leaders listening to what you have to say remember the stories. This begins with the message, of course – the story you want them to remember. Every meeting has a message, or should. One way to test it is to know – before going in – what you want them to say on the way out.

2. The best leaders hire the athletes, not the sport. If the leadership team needs speed, strength, stamina and agility, that’s what they should be buying. Whether you played forward or goalie shouldn’t be important. It’s up to you, of course, to sell it that way.

3. Most people don’t know how to hire for your position. They do it so rarely. That means it’s up to you to identify what’s really needed. For most companies, it increasingly includes: the ability to do deals, raise money, implement new systems, or go international. Specifics for marketing and sales may vary, but the big elements are strikingly similar.

4. You’re rarely hired to be the expert. But they do expect you to know when you aren’t, and how to hire one.

5. Learn the technology. It’s essential for credibility- you can’t manage the business unless you understand the product.

6. Define your own metrics. The CFO generally established them for the company. CMOs need to do the same for marketing. And the name of that game is changing, dramatically. Cost per SQL will become the norm, soon, if it isn’t already.

7. Avoid being pigeon-holed. It’s an easy mistake, especially when operations take precedence. The most effective antidote is ensuring you always connect to at least one initiative that’s a top priority for the company.

And there are two other essentials – one as old-school as it gets, and one that’s not in most people’s playbooks. First, network; at least 15% of the time. This means doing for others; the return favors eventually follow. And the unexpected one: consider investing in speaker training, even at your own expense (though the company should pay). This pays off and then some, because it all comes back to the story you want to tell, and telling it the right way.