New Coupa CMO Chandar Pattabhiram on Storytelling as Marketing and Company Culture (Part 1)

Note: This is Part 1 in a two-part Q&A.

It’s been a pretty good year for Chandar Pattabhiram, who recently joined Coupa as the new chief marketing officer (CMO). In June, he was named by LinkedIn as one of five CMOs to follow this year, while he was still CMO at Marketo, a provider of marketing automation software.

At Marketo, Pattabhiram espoused a storytelling approach to marketing that emphasized emotional, human-to-human connections. In fact, if there’s an article on Pattabhiram that doesn’t mention storytelling, I haven’t come across it yet. So who are we to buck the trend? Last week, the brand-new CMO of Coupa gave Spend Matters what he called a “seven-day perspective” on the company culture and what excites him about the procurement and spend management field.

Spend Matters: When was your first day at Coupa?

Chandar Pattabhiram: [August] 21. You’re getting a seven-day perspective here.

SM: All the better! So storytelling seems to be core to your marketing philosophy. How do you tell the story of Coupa and of procurement?

CP: I'm new to the company, but I think if you look at [why] people come to Coupa ... People don't buy products or services, right? They buy emotional connections with brands. So the way we tell the story is, it starts with a brand promise. What is Coupa for? Why does Coupa exist? And then it permeates through everything we do. What's our existence? We talked about value as a service. We talked about showing real, tangible ROI in everything we deliver for being the platform for spend management.

In the way that I look at it, is why does Coupa exist? It's because we help companies to maximize the value of every dollar that they spend today. That's really the uber-value, and then you take that and you break it down into, okay, is it procurement? Is it invoicing? Is it expenses? Is it supply automation? And that's kind of the manifestation of a higher-level brand promise. You start from there and you permeate it down. [That] is my philosophy.

SM: How does B2B marketing differ from B2C?

CP: My philosophy is, it's not about B2B or B2C, it's about B2H, business to human. Ultimately, at the other end of a purchase order is a human being. It's not about campaigns, it's about conversations and how you have these conversations in a personalized, authentic, meaningful way in B2B as much as B2C.

Now, what has happened over the last few years is that there has been a great convergence of B2B and B2C. So B2C has lots of hyper-personalization that B2B did not, and B2B had a lot of lead nurturing and sophisticated practices that B2C did not. And the last two years of what I call the great convergence has happened, where best practices of B2B is kind of filtering into B2C and vice versa, and that's why I say that B2H is the future of marketing.

SM: What excites you the most about procurement? What do you find challenging or frustrating?

CP: I wouldn't say frustrating at all. I think two kinds of companies are extremely relevant today: companies that are directly associated with you making money, and companies that are directly associated with you spending money — and how they can maximize the value of how you make money and maximize the value of how you spend money.

[Coupa is] mandatory and relevant today, and that's what's exciting me as a space. I wanted to go to a company that was a mandatory space [and] had a unique competitive advantage and a tremendous culture.

SM: Speaking of company culture, Coupa certainly has a strong one. Can you speak a bit more about that?

CP: Ultimately culture eats strategy for breakfast, I think that's a Peter Drucker line. In organizations you trade up on culture and trade down on everything else as you begin. And for me, it was very important to go to an organization where there was authentic, strategic, results-oriented leadership at the top.

So that was important to me. That authenticity of the culture ... I would use that word again. When I go to and when I go to look at employee surveys, it's just refreshing to see that those values that we talk about are reflected in employee's beliefs.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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