Coupa’s New CMO Chandar Pattabhiram on the 4 Biggest Trends in Marketing

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Note: This is Part 2 in a two-part Q&A. Missed Part 1? Read it here.

Spend Matters recently chatted with the new chief marketing officer at Coupa, Chandar Pattabhiram, who was named by LinkedIn as one of five CMOs to follow this year. The first half of the Q&A had covered Pattabhiram’s thoughts on Coupa’s company culture and what he finds exciting about the procurement and spend management fields. In today’s Part 2, Pattabhiram discusses what he sees as the four biggest trends in marketing, as well as what drew him to Coupa (unhelpful hint: it has something to do with E = mc2).

Spend Matters: As readers might already well know, you believe storytelling to be a big component of marketing. But what drew you to marketing in the first place?

Chandar Pattabhiram: Careers are an intersection between DNA and passion. Early in my career, I was a mechanical engineer. At 21, when I graduated, I felt that was not the right fit so then I went to business school immediately, and then I was in management consulting for many years. When it comes to management consulting, a lot of [it] was storytelling. [It was] about solving customer problems but also telling stories.

I felt that marketing was a great function of bringing that “left brain meets right brain” [aspect], and I got an opportunity to come to the Silicon Valley in early 2000s to go drive marketing for one of those Silicon Valley dot-com companies, and then I just said, “That's my calling.” And I'm a marketer for life, I like to say as my tagline.

SM: There was a quote from the press release that I wanted to bring up. Coupa’s CEO Rob Bernshteyn had said that you believe in a “culture of empowerment, recognition and fun.” Can you explain more what you meant by that in terms of marketing?

CP: [In terms of empowerment], everybody is a Rob Bernshteyn of something at Coupa. Like Nicole [Romoli, vice president of global marketing], she's our CEO of North American demand generation. Kim White [senior director of events marketing] is the CEO of events. And Rob's the CEO of Coupa. So creating that sense of ownership for people and accountability is very, very important for them to get a sense of purpose. So that's a pretty prudent philosophy of mine.

Second is, creating ownership is one thing, but we all are motivated a lot more by intrinsic incentives. Money is important to all of us, but I think we have to tap into [intrinsic motivations], especially to make sure employees get the recognition they deserve and do it in a very authentic way — not just recognizing for the sake of recognizing.

And third is, [since] we spend more time here at work than at home, we're going to have fun. I mean ultimately all of us are coming together to have fun, and have fun the right way. Great teams play for each other, not just with each other. It's one of those few lines I use, and creating that sense of camaraderie and fun together is a philosophy of mine too.

SM: Earlier you were talking about the need for marketing to make an emotional connection to its audience. Of course, you want to know who that audience is, and data plays a big role in that. What other technologies, current or emerging, do you see playing a big role in marketing? What trends are you seeing?

CP: Marketing is the science of storytelling. There's an interesting evolution [where] yesterday's marketing was about brand and brand building, but tomorrow's marketing is about bringing the combination of Picasso-meets-Einstein, as I like to say.

The first thing is, your customers are not where you want them to be. Your customers are where they want to be, meaning they're just not in your own channel, they're in every channel. So one big trend that we're seeing is the convergence of mar-tech and ad-tech. If somebody visits your website or your event, and that person is on Facebook or LinkedIn, how do you take the information about that person on their engagement with your brand on your channel and make it really personalized for them in the other channels that they're visiting of their choice, which is Facebook or LinkedIn?

Trend No. 2 that we're seeing is an account-based marketing. In the '90s, you would see that there's account-based selling that was happening all the time. And then marketing would do its thing and do marketing, and sales would do its thing in account-based selling. The big “ah-ha” knowledge in account-based marketing is that you’re bringing sales and marketing into the same swim lane to collectively go after accounts. The word I use is not account-based marketing, that's a misnomer. It's account-based engagement because sales and marketing are coming together. In fact, to be frankly funny, I call it “account-based smarketing” because sales and marketing are coming together. That's the second big trend I'm seeing.

The third is behavior-based data. The only data that matters today, that's more relevant than anything else, is behavior-based data. What I do tells you about what I am simply more than who I am. So if I go to a doctor, and they ask me in a physical, "How many times do you work out a week?", I can say I work out three times a week, but my Fitbit device will say, "Liar." And it will tell you [I] only workout once a week. So that's my behavior-based information.

Behavior-based data is the only data that matters in trying to create hyper-personalized experiences because it's truly based on what you're doing. If Toyota markets to me based on my behavior, my demographic might tell them that I'm a 40-plus-year-old guy, market an SUV to him, but if I go check out the red Prius, the only thing they need to market me is the red Prius. That's behavior-based data.

The most important trend probably in our lifetimes is going to be artificial intelligence. We are in the top of the second inning or maybe even the bottom of the first, [to use] a baseball analogy in terms of where the technology is turning towards marketing, but using predictive as the first step towards truly using machine learning to drive that right behavior with the right marketing with customers at different stages is a huge, huge trend that we're going to see in the future.

SM: And what can we expect from you as the new CMO of Coupa? What are you looking forward to doing? What weaknesses do you plan to tackle?

CP: I'm going to channel my inner Einstein and tell you I wrote [something] called E = mc2. Not that I have had any quantitative physics in my life, but I wrote that an excellent company [e] is a mandatory category [m] times competitive advantage [c] times culture [c]. I think Coupa has that right formula. [It’s in a] mandatory category, [with] everybody spending on spend management. [They have the] competitive advantage, and I've talked about [their company] culture.

I don't want to address any specific competitive weaknesses because we are doing really well on that front. Just see the latest Gartner and Forrester reports that place [Coupa] right at the top of their objective and comprehensive rankings. Now the only thing we need to do is bring scale to the organization, and I have a lot of experience at Marketo, IBM and all those organizations bringing scale into fast-growing companies. That's really what I'm trying to do here, to collectively, as a leadership team, take us to the next level.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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