Money men grab more power

When Twitter gave Chief Financial Officer Anthony Noto the additional responsibility of overseeing the company's marketing, some observers scratched their heads.

The timing of the move may seem odd on the surface. Twitter just completed a first quarter in which it missed Wall Street estimates, and the company's own outlook is uncertain at best for the current quarter and for 2015 overall. That makes it more important than ever to have a strong CFO focused on driving profitability.

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But if you really examine the current state of both the marketing and finance departments, particularly within high-growth businesses in a highly competitive market like Twitter, you will find significant reasons why a CFO assuming marketing duties might be a natural step for modern finance leaders— and a smart move for Twitter.

Anthony Noto
Brendan McDermid | Reuters
Anthony Noto

One of the driving principles behind the rise of the modern CFO is the unique ability to look laterally at the inner workings and performance metrics across all business departments. That distinct perspective — combined with the CFO's analytical, data-driven mindset — is what makes the finance chief uniquely qualified among C-Suite executives to not only heavily influence strategic business decisions, but also to take on new roles within other departments.

All facets of modern businesses are more data-driven and analytical than ever before due to today's proliferation of business data. The fastest-growing businesses are competing using data and analytics across the company because analytical organizations simply perform better than their peers. According to Bain & Co., companies that use analytics are twice as likely to have top-quartile financial performance in their industry than those that do not.

This shift to data-driven analytics is a significant change to traditional marketing strategy. Even today, 55 percent of marketers lack the ability to collect and connect data across channels, according to a global survey from Signal. Marketers still need help in making such a significant and important transition. As it applies specifically to a company like Twitter, business leaders are constantly monitoring and measuring things like activity volume and usage patterns to better understand underlying business drivers and opportunities. And the volume and quality of the data available within marketing to measure the impact of marketing spend continues to grow at an astounding pace. A company's top finance expert is certainly well-suited to help marketing become a more data-driven, analytical department.

Giving an executive both finance and marketing roles really means you're giving someone the ability to manage the growth engine through marketing while maintaining a laser focus on growing the business' overall revenue to meet street expectations. The executive will be at the very center of both business and market strategy. In the hands of the right leader, this dual role could have a very significant impact on the growth trajectory of the organization.

Businesses run at their best when there's a clear understanding across the company of the most impactful performance drivers. Such an understanding keeps everyone focused and working toward the highest-priority goals. It takes an incredibly collaborative culture combined with the right technology for a business to run at such peak performance. And the modern CFO is better positioned within the organization than any other C-Suite executive to foster such a culture.

In a recent CFO Indicator survey report, 76 percent of respondents described themselves as "navigators." And to help the business navigate through various scenarios, they're increasingly leveraging new business technology to get better, faster insight into performance data across the organization and to use that data to create risk and scenario analyses across a wide range of factors that affect all departments, such as new product lines, employee headcount, and sales quotas.

So, even though marketing and finance seemingly sit on opposite ends of the business — the logical left brain breaking-down data vs. the creative right brain generating the next go-to-market campaign — today's top CFOs are actually more intimately plugged-in to marketing than most people recognize.

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Twitter is the most high profile and unique example, but it's not the first business to call upon its CFO to assume new roles in recent years. In fact, we've seen similar examples among other high-growth companies. In September 2012, Gene Domecus stepped into the chief operating officer role for leading online self-publisher Blurb after spending more than a decade as CFO for Blurb and other companies. And over the last four years, Scott Bloomfield went from CFO, to general manager, to his current CMO role at Xactly, an on-demand sales performance management provider.

Consolidating the C-Suite by creating dual roles only underscores the importance of collaboration within today's business environments. But it takes a specific skillset to successfully lead two functions of the business. And as an increasing number of organizations are figuring out, no executive is better equipped with the right skills and business insight to assume a second C-Suite position than the data-driven, analytical-minded, modern CFO.

Commentary by Rob Hull, founder and chairman of Adaptive Insights, a performance management software company. Follow him on Twitter at @AdaptiveRob.

Twitter CFO Anthony Noto is overseeing marketing at the company but is not assuming the role of chief marketing officer.