Taking a Customer Centric Approach to Marketing

The Product Marketing Community’s Megan Heuer sat down with Coupa CMO Chandar Pattabhiram to discuss ways marketers can adjust their approach to traditional marketing to focus on serving the needs of their customers for 2021 and beyond.

Taking a Customer Centric Approach to Marketing

The Product Marketing Community’s Megan Heuer sat down with Coupa CMO Chandar Pattabhiram to discuss ways marketers can adjust their approach to traditional marketing to focus on serving the needs of their customers for 2021 and beyond.
Autum Molay
Co-editor & Content Chief at Product Marketing Community

The Product Marketing Community’s Megan Heuer sat down with Coupa CMO Chandar Pattabhiram to discuss ways marketers can adjust their approach to traditional marketing to focus on serving the needs of their customers, while still driving forward the goals of their organization.


Megan: What are your top two strategic goals right now?


Chandar: Well, to set the stage, we call ourselves a revenue marketing team. To understand the reason we call ourselves that, you have to ask the question: Why do we do marketing? It's only for revenue, right? So, we categorize ourselves in such away that this focus is front and center.


Under this banner, there are two strategic initiatives in our playbook. The first of which is driving maximum monetization. We look at marketing as a flywheel, not as a funnel, and two key questions guide our efforts. One is, “how do I strategically align with sales today?” The second is, “how do I recalibrate the playbook for today's times to ultimately drive sales and revenue success?”


The second strategic initiative is building a community connection. We want to look at how to showcase stories in our community in away that is authentic and different than what other companies have done historically. You want to do this in such a way that you can inspire the community.


Megan: What would you consider your biggest challenges for 2021?


Chandar: In answering this question, I would just speak not just for myself but also for any marketer today. You first have to look at the marketplace from the mind set of a CFO and, specifically, what Maslow’s Hierarchy looks like for a CFO. Revenue should always be at the top, but, today, capital preservation and risk mitigation is also right at the top for them. More than even revenue. Revenue is important, but it's not something that they can control as much as they can control capital preservation and risk mitigation. Beyond that, soft stuff like productivity and efficiency is below on that hierarchy.


The challenge for all of us marketers is to align to the mindset of a CFO in such a way that our value proposition is clear. That’s a challenge for me and for every CMO right now.


Megan: So, you’ve got the CFO, who is essentially the gatekeeper, who you need to get a yes from.This is essentially a top-down process. Then you think about others like Slack and Zoom that have made themselves must-haves from the bottom up by solving a pain point. Do you see a conflict or an intersection of both of those?


Chandar: I see this type of intersection in anything that’s growing organically through user-value and user passion. Essentially – one can’t happen at the expense of the other. You can have a bunch of users say “I like it” but it may not have economic value for the company (especially, in the current corporate climate). Every decision is an economic decision when it comes to technology right now. But it doesn’t hurt to have that organic buoyancy from many users raising their hand and saying, “I want to use this.” This combination of top-down and bottom-up can be incredibly effective.  


Megan: Yes, that combination of getting a “yes” from the user side and the financial side is a win.


Chandar: They say that retention is the killer in SaaS, but really, it’s adoption. If you don’t have adoption, when it comes to renewal time, you may have problems. Getting that adoption early – the buoyancy or that bottom-up approach – is a great plus in the SaaS model.


Megan: We talked about some of your challenges, but would you consider your biggest market opportunities for 2021?


Chandar: I would think about it in terms of sales posture and brand posture. In good times, marketers, especially product marketers, become really good at traditional solution selling. Let me understand your pain. Let me understand what you're going through and then let me position my solution as the best way to solve thepain. That’s how we’ve been trained and there are a lot of good people doing it that way effectively. That is an approach that works in good times. But, in bad times, when the tide turns, that kind of approach is good, but it's not provocative. It's not something that compels me to move right now.


The mindset shift that I would say is an opportunity on the sales posture is to go from solution selling to provocation selling. I'm saying, “here's the thing you're going to have without having me and here's why I'm essential to solve the pain.” This is a different posture than saying “I understand your pain, and this is why you need me.” Instead, it’s saying, “Without me, this is the pain you're going to have” and then saying, “I’m essential to solve this.”You’ll want to do this with deep empathy when interacting and engaging. That’s the sales posture element.


Megan: What about the shift in brand posture you mentioned?


Chandar: What has happened in many years in B2B is that our advocacy has been from a brand posture perspective in terms of engaging your best customers and asking them to talk about how great your product is. Advocacy is defined as them advocating for you. In these times, maybe you should just flip it and approach it as you are advocating for them. Showcase the resilient stories that are happening in your community, including how your clients are adapting to this change, and use that to inspire the rest of the community. That would be a great opportunity to shift your brand posture.


An example of that is something we launched at Coupa called the “Road to Resilience.” The whole goal had nothing to do with our product and didn’t mention a single one of our products. We went to our top customers and asked how they were recalibrating their playbooks in response toCOVID-19 and using these stories to inspire the community. And, you know, it's amazing. Brand building through community building is the relevant brand posture for today and an approach to everyone should take.


Megan: Looking at some of the companies that you are on the board of, many of which are in the customer experience area, I'm curious – what do you think has changed about what customers expect of the companies they work with?


Chandar: What was the ceiling is now the floor in terms of expectation. Delivering a superior customer experience was the ceiling and now it's the floor. And then, theCaptain Obvious point is asking yourself, “Am I learning at every interaction step and making that next interaction that much richer and engaging?” The challenge that is happening for brands is engaging post-life cycle in a thoughtful way.


Even if they are existing customers, can you make their lives more successful with engagement and educational marketing, just not pre-sales but post-sales? That would be something that's a strive for excellence point that every software company can do today.


Megan: What do you think companies can do to become better storytellers and make the data-driven aspect of marketing engagement more compelling?


Chandar: A good rule of thumb is that, for every six pieces of content you create, four should be educational and serve to make the person engaging with the content better in that function. The fifth piece of content can be semi-promotional for you by telling a story that’s relevant to your product. And the sixth can be entirely promotion for you. The 4-1-1 philosophy is a very actionable philosophy.You want to be at the intersection of what you want to say and what’s relevant and important to your audience.


Megan: What do you think gets in the way of companies adopting that educational mindset?


Chandar: It’s because of the issue that we have today which is “I love me some me” or “I’m so in love with my product.” That’s the problem with the term product marketing. It’s not about products. It’s about value and about storytelling. We have a natural bias in our messaging to be inclined to talk about how great my product is and how great I’m doing. But you don’t have to and it’s a challenge o get out of that mindset.


I’ve always said – people buy candles not because they need candles, but because they need light.  It’s always about the value.


It is that mindset in storytelling that product marketers need to make – tells stories that are always the intersection of meaningful (in value) and interesting.


Megan: We’ll close with a question looking ahead. What’s something you’re really excited about or looking forward to in 2021?


Chandar: I think we have a real opportunity for marketers to learn some new techniques for engagement.For example, let’s just say we’re in a virtual event and people are running vanity metrics on how many people they got to attend. The real question is – is that really effective for what you’re trying to do? If your primary goal is deal acceleration for late stage deals and meaningful community engagement, then, you may want to reconsider running an annual virtual conference. Running a10,000-person virtual event doesn't give us the best way to achieve these goals that with a one-to-many approach. For example, we took that “one-to-many”community conference experience and converted it into many micro community experiences of “one-to-few” where you have eight to 10 customers and prospects around the world engaging in a meaningful way.


For instance, we're doing wine tastings with a behavioral psychologist, including 10 or so prospects and customers, looking at how you taste wine and what that tells you about the psychology of how you choose wines.Fun stuff like that. Something different that people actually want to take part in and give their time to.


For me, what’s exciting, is learning new areas of engagement like this – even within the digital spectrum – and what we can do as marketers to drive more engagement in ways no one else is trying. How can we learn and recalibrate using what we’ve learned? It’s exciting to take on a beginner’s mindset in this changed environment.


Megan: I love the idea of throwing the traditional benchmarking out the window in favor of trying new ways to achieve what needs to be done. Excellent words of wisdom, Chandar. Thank you so much for speaking with me today.



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