Marketing and accounting can behave like opposing camps in many organizations – and that’s often true. From the marketer’s perspective, accountants are the ones who say no to these big, bold campaigns, and they’re the ones who don’t have a single creative bone in their bodies. Accountants, on the other hand, may view marketers as manipulators or flakes. Unlike the results-driven, time-driven approach needed to keep a company’s finances up-to-date and materially correct, marketers can come across as an overzealous bunch eager to do things without really understanding how point a new advertising campaign is expensive or if it is really effective.
But these two areas have a lot more in common than you might think. And when they work well together and connect their departments, it’s the difference between a chaotic organization whose campaigns are like throwing stuff against the wall to see what sticks and ones that have a carefully scripted approach that includes all parts of an organization.
Opposing points of view
Accounting and marketing occupy two extremes of intellectual capacity. Accountants are numbers people. They are analytical. They believe in following rules and processes. They love checklists (this month-end checklist is great). As stewards of a company’s resources, they want to see a return on investment for company initiatives. But they have a creative side: the current explosion of automation and artificial intelligence is pushing them to rethink the way they do their jobs.
Marketers, on the other hand, harness the creative power of their imagination to get inside the heads of potential customers and see what makes them tick. They work with words and pictures, two areas that accountants may have to translate into numbers to understand. Out of necessity, they are always looking for new ways to grab the attention of new customers. At the same time, they also carefully evaluate the work of other marketers to see what works, what doesn’t, and are always on the lookout for new ideas to borrow. Their analytical side shows up when they look at their campaign data to see which ones generated new leads and new customers, and which ones failed.
Both marketing and accounting have the same overarching goal of seeing their organization thrive and succeed, and both do this through communication.
The purpose of accounting is to communicate the results of financial transactions between an organization and the outside world. They communicate these results through financial statements that are used by executives and leaders within an organization and stakeholders such as bankers, investors, and other interested parties to help them make decisions.
Marketing communicates with the outside world so that potential buyers are aware of an organization’s products and services. Their efforts address the many levels of prospect awareness, from those who don’t know they have a problem to those who are ready to buy and just want to negotiate the terms. Marketing helps people find solutions to problems and decide which solution is best for them.
Marketing and accounting are essential functions within a successful organization, and although they each have their own distinct tasks, there are many areas where contributions are needed from both areas. For example, financial projections and business planning are often based on expected levels of marketing activities.
Annual reports that communicate business results to stakeholders are a common project between accounting and marketing. Accounting provides the numbers, while marketing provides a narrative that puts those numbers in the context of company achievements and the external business environment.
Any decision to develop a new product or service or discontinue an existing one depends on input from both parties. Accounting provides analysis of potential return on investment while marketing provides information gathered from business trends and customer demands.
And let’s not forget that pricing is a form of marketing. From an accountant’s perspective, the price should cover the cost of providing goods and services to a customer and should support the company’s revenue goals. But a company’s pricing strategy also conveys a marketing message. Low prices may imply low quality, while high prices may give the impression of luxury goods. Determining the appropriate pricing strategy requires input from marketing and accounting.
Creating a pleasant customer experience is another area where marketing and accounting can work together to create synergies. The cheapest customer to sell goods or services to is an existing customer. Creating an environment that ensures that all of a customer’s interactions with an organization are positive can turn a one-time buyer into a repeat buyer. Marketing can help with clear customer communication, engaging website messaging, and a well-designed customer interface. Accounting can make it easy for customers to do business with the organization by providing convenient payment options and clear reimbursement procedures.
Assessing the success (or failure) of a particular marketing initiative requires data from accounting and marketing systems. However, while measuring the costs of a marketing campaign can be calculated relatively easily from accounting data, matching these costs to revenue can be difficult. Even with today’s increasingly sophisticated technologies for tracking website visitors, it can be difficult to definitively tie a sale to a particular marketing asset, especially when certain data may not be tracked at all. Or, if the data is traced, the analysis may require combining data from the two separate systems for accounting data and marketing data, which do not always communicate well with each other.
This means that marketing and accounting will need each other’s help to develop a system for determining how marketing spend translates into increased revenue and profit for the business. A bare minimum would be to track the ratio of sales to marketing spend over time. Effective campaigns will tend to increase sales, but if marketing spend is growing at a faster rate than sales, that’s a sure sign that a particular approach isn’t working.
Besides the money for the bottom line, successful marketing campaigns can bring intangible benefits, such as improved brand reputation, increased market penetration, or improved customer satisfaction. These measures can be more difficult to assess and can accumulate over several years, but should not be ignored. Customer surveys or market research can provide information that accounting and marketing will need to evaluate together.
Accounting can keep marketing focused on profitable campaigns that demonstrate positive ROI. Accountants can also help determine the best time for a particular marketing spend and ensure marketing spend is appropriate and on budget. Accountants can help marketers take a data-driven approach to evaluating campaigns and communicating those results to business decision makers.
Marketing can help accountants lift their heads above their beloved spreadsheets to get the big picture of what an organization is trying to accomplish. They can help accountants link financial results to overall business goals in their communications with the board and management. And they can help accountants see their calculations in a more creative light.
When marketing and accounting work together as partners, the resulting synergies can help a company focus on effective and efficient ways to achieve its goals. Linking business performance metrics to marketing messages and communicating those results across the business can unite an organization around a common goal. The resulting enthusiasm and increased employee engagement keeps everyone motivated and pushing together in the same direction.
This internal enthusiasm can only spill over to the outside world, resulting in a successful and thriving business with loyal customers, helping to create what every business wants.