How B2B tech marketers can secure storytelling budgets from their CFO


Duncan Begg


04th October 2022

Years ago, a request from a B2B tech marketer for a significant storytelling budget might have been met with disdain from a CFO.

Today, not so much. Storytelling has shed its reputation as marketing fluff and is widely recognised as a powerful business skill that confers a competitive advantage on the brands that know how to use it.

In the world of B2B technology particularly, there’s a growing realisation that if you can’t capture and hold your audience’s attention with a story, you’ll never earn the right to tell them about your product’s great features and USPs.

But let’s be frank. It doesn’t matter how many Ted Talks or LinkedIn videos you share with your CFO about the commercial benefits of storytelling, it can still be a hard sell to secure the right storytelling budget at the start of each financial year.

So the more you can educate your CFO about what good B2B tech storytelling entails, and the many competitive advantages it can confer, the better.

What do we mean by good storytelling?

Every B2B tech company has a story behind it. There’s a reason it exists. There’s a distinct value it brings to the world. Specifically, to a certain kind of customer with a certain need. And this value is best explained through story.

But getting the right story to target markets requires investment in a strategic, rigorous process. Clearly setting out this process to a CFO should help them understand the size of the investment required. But, perhaps more importantly, it should also persuade them that you – as a marketer responsible for the company story – can be trusted with this investment.

Diagnosis first

CFOs need to know that good storytelling in B2B technology must always start with a diagnosis – a study of the landscape in which a brand or product operates. Information needs to be gathered about prospects, customers, products, competitors, segments and more.

Many hours of interviews with customers, the sales and product teams, company leadership (even the CFO themselves) are generally required. Then there are follow-up interviews, reviews of existing documentation and content portfolios, intensive online research – the list goes on.

Quantitative and qualitative research on the attitudes of your customers and target markets will deliver invaluable insights to inform your storytelling. Budgets might not always stretch to this. But, longer term, annual research on your customer base can yield the KPIs that CFOs like to work with. For example, you can find out and measure what it is that gives your target audience a preference for one brand over another. Then in a year’s time, you can do more research to test how much you have influenced preferences through your storytelling.

The CFO needs to know that storytelling can be a scientific process – if sufficient investment is there.

The strategy

Once the diagnosis is complete, the strategic phase of storytelling begins. Let’s be honest at this point: marketing departments haven’t traditionally been regarded as the most strategic area of B2B organisations. For this reason, a CFO needs to know there’s a plan in place to use their investment in story to move the company from point A to B.

This plan should involve working out the stakeholders – particularly prospects and customers – that you want this story to influence. This is the targeting phase.

From here, you can work out what the business should represent in the minds of these targets. This is the positioning – a framework that explains how your company (or product) provides the best solution for a particular problem or opportunity faced by a specific audience today.

Then you can create an effective brand narrative that will deliver the ROI the CFO needs. This brand narrative sets the stage for everything you do as a brand. It becomes the company’s North Star.

An important aside: you should do everything in your power to ensure your CEO assumes the role of your company’s chief storyteller. Not only will this ensure that the story gets buy-in throughout the company and more traction externally – it will go some way to persuading the CFO that this process needs sufficient investment.

The execution

Your next job is to bring this brand narrative – this story of stories – to life creatively and consistently, so that every visual and verbal expression of the brand aligns with the core story and reinforces it in the minds of your audience.

You can tell the story in many different ways, for many different segments. And for segments within segments. And remember, this story won’t just drive success in marketing, but fundraising, sales, product and recruiting. The whole business will have a script to work from – what to say and how to say it. One choir singing from one song sheet.

A good story creates huge economies of scale.

The long and the short of it

Before we dive more deeply into how a story like this can unite a company (and repay a CFO’s investment many times over) let’s focus on immediate sales, profit and growth.

The right, well-researched story – adapted to various target audiences – can be immediately applied to short-term, bottom-of-the-funnel lead-gen content campaigns that can lift sales for the next few quarters. In fact, a good story told in the form of a sales deck can start bringing sales over the line from day one.

Combine this value with the essential longer-term brand-building a story can power. Your business needs to be salient in the minds of your prospects when they are making buying choices. Your story will be doing this essential long-term work, without which brands eventually die.

The wider benefits of story

So far, we’ve largely focused on the value of story to customers – and the resulting lifts in sales and revenue that can result. But good storytelling moves needles for other important stakeholders – including staff, investors, analysts and the media. There’s a compelling list of advantages that good storytelling bestows on organisations.

Increased revenue. Compelling, coherent, convincing stories stand up to the scrutiny of large committees of B2B tech buyers.

Higher prices and better gross margins. Storytelling is a highly effective delivery mechanism for product information and sales messaging. There’s no better way to persuade a customer of your offer’s value to them.

Higher average lifetime customer value. A story can cut through a B2B buyer’s remorse. It’s a constant reminder to a customer of why they are spending time and money on your product.

Improved customer loyalty (more repeat purchases). A good story can unite customers around your mission, turning them into loyal brand advocates.

Attraction of higher quality talent. Storytelling helps you win attention, illuminate purpose, and paint a picture of an exciting future. Good storytelling helps you attract the best candidates (and ensures that high salaries aren’t their primary motivation).

Increased employee retention. Teams that believe in a brand mission and story are motivated and empowered. A story is a reminder of why they do what they do.

Market orientation. Stories can easily evolve. A good one gives you the flexibility to change with your market.

Superior advertising effectiveness. The right stories are designed to capture the imagination of the audience you are advertising to – then motivating them to act. With a good story in place, advertising becomes way easier, cheaper and more effective.

Investor interest and capital. Investors know the power of story. Your story is your pitch. If it’s good, and stands up to scrutiny, it’s your ticket to significant investment.

More (positive) media coverage. An interesting story wins attention but also shapes the narrative in your favour.

Talking the CFO’s language

The above list of competitive advantages speaks to the argument that story can effectively become an intangible asset that can increase a brand’s value. This notion will be of interest to any CFO.

But clearly, persuading a CFO of the potential financial advantages good storytelling brings is just one part of the puzzle. You also have to convince them that your storytelling will get the desired ROI.

In an ideal world, you’ll know how to talk a CFO’s language – assets, cash flows, discounted cash flows and so on. The work of David Haigh, the CEO of Brand Finance, can help here. But even without this type of knowledge and understanding, it’s important to set out how story can make a measurable contribution to your business objectives.

We know that CFOs care about outputs such as revenue, profit, expenses, risk, customer lifetime value, growth and valuations. Be comfortable with the fact that it will be impossible to come up with anything approaching a specific ROI figure on your storytelling. But a few objectives will help. And they should be more specific than “improve our social presence” or “get us noticed”. More along the lines of: Increase preference for our brand in X segment from X% to X%, which will lead to X sales.

Alongside a general vision of where a story can take your company, this should put you in a good position to secure the storytelling investment you need.

For more details on how B2B technology companies can build competitive advantage through storytelling, read the Storyful Brands and how to build them guide.