Chandar Pattabhiram
July 31, 2020

Today’s Resilience is Tomorrow’s Excellence

Guest: Chandar Pattabhiram - CMO, Coupa

What does B2B excellence look like in a downturn? When faced with this question, the software company Coupa quickly adopted a story of resilience. The decision to change its messaging allowed Coupa to change buying committee perspectives on its offering—if the prospect’s goal was to preserve capital and mitigate risk in the long-run, Coupa had the solution to get there.

Coupa’s strategy has proven effective, and the company’s skyrocketing stock is proof. In this week’s densely packed episode, CMO Chandar Pattabhiram uncovers how they pivoted under pressure, harmonizing their messaging and releasing it to a 100% digital world. He also shares valuable insights, like Geoffrey Moore’s concept of “provocation selling,” the 4 P’s of pivoting, and how Coupa is taking action against social injustice.

What You’ll Learn in This Episode

  • How Coupa changed their go-to-market messaging
  • How to show B2B buyers why your solution is necessary
  • Chandar’s 4 pivoting P’s: positioning, posturing, programs, people

Renegade Thinkers Unite, Episode 199 on YouTube

Resources Mentioned

Time-Stamped Highlights

  • [0:28] Why Non-Essential Businesses Need to Make Themselves Essential
  • [3:03] Pivoting from “Excellence” to “Resilience”
  • [6:30] How Coupa Got to their New Messaging
  • [8:14] The 2009 Article That Inspired Coupa’s 2020 Messaging
  • [11:55] How to “Harmonize” Your Messaging
  • [15:54] Coupa’s Agile New Media Mix
  • [17:51] CFOs #1 Concerns: Capital Preservation and Risk Mitigation
  • [20:32] Measuring Campaign Success
  • [23:19] Moore’s “Provocation Selling” in a Downturn
  • [26:00] How Recent Events Accelerated a Digital Transformation
  • [28:36] Chandar’s 4 Pivoting P’s: Positioning via Relevant Messaging
  • [31:50] Chandar’s 4 Pivoting P’s: Brand and Sales Posturing
  • [33:19] Chandar’s 4 Pivoting P’s: Programs That Showcase Value
  • [37:17] Chandar’s 4 Pivoting P’s: Training Your People
  • [39:15] How Coupa is Responding to the BLM Movement

Transcript Highlights: Drew Neisser in conversation with Chandar Pattabhiram

[0:28] Why Non-Essential Businesses Need to Make Themselves Essential

“If you hope to survive if not thrive in this downturn, you need to think about what makes your business essential.” @drewneisser on #RenegadeThinkersUnite #podcast Click To Tweet

Drew Neisser: Hello, Renegade Thinkers! In the first quarter of 2020, the business world became divided between essential and non-essential businesses. Essential businesses like medical and healthcare, telecommunications, food and agriculture, energy, and law enforcement continued to operate on-premise. Just about every other business that could stay open had to make a number of quick decisions, like how to keep their operations running with a remote workforce. The CMO had to decide whether or not their messaging was still relevant.

As the pandemic progressed, economies withered with unemployment reaching historic levels. I know you know this, but it’s important to put a framework here. Many economists are predicting that the recovery will take years, not months. Now, I don’t say this to depress you, but rather to make you think about an important new reality for all B2B businesses. If you hope to survive if not thrive in this downturn, you need to think about what makes your product or services essential, what makes your business essential.

If you are not essential, the CFO—and yep, those are the folks that you probably thought would never get involved in your purchase decision, but are right now getting involved in every purchase decision—will reject your product or service faster than you can say “Renegade Thinkers Unite,” which brings us to today’s guest.

Chandar Pattabhiram, the CMO of Coupa, the cloud-based, business spend platform that has seen its stock skyrocket in the last six months. Now, this is Chandar’s second appearance on the show. The first was episode 14, way back in April 2017, when he was the CMO of Marketo. Now, this is episode number 199. Chandar, welcome back!

Chandar Pattabhiram: Thank you, Drew. Man, time flies—14 to 199. That is great. I’m looking forward to your 200s.

[3:03] Pivoting from “Excellence” to “Resilience”

I challenged my team together to say, “Can we always operate at the intersection of thoughtfulness and hustle?” @chandarp on #RenegadeThinkersUnite #podcast Click To Tweet

Drew Neisser: You’ve been at Coupa for three years now, helping this company achieve extraordinary growth. Talk about early March 2020. What was your message at that moment?

Chandar Pattabhiram: Early in the year, we had started a brand campaign focused on excellence and the whole brand campaign was “Upend your Spend.” The idea there was that spend is not something transactional but it’s a transformational weapon that you can unleash.

We were very excited. We were just starting to cut the ribbon across all physical channels, digital channels, as well as permeate that across all our different outlets for our events, etc. Then early March came around and we had to hit the stop button because it would be tone deaf for us to go in there and talk about excellence when the world was in a very different place.

To your point, there were some industries as you talked about, whether it is telecom or food industries or life sciences, that were doing great, but a lot of them were in that survive mode rather than thrive mode. We had to take a pause, Drew, and said, “That messaging doesn’t work, so what do we pivot to and what we do differently?”

Drew Neisser: I talked to another CMO in a show earlier and they had actually the word “winning” on their website. They quickly realized that we’re in survive first, and then maybe thrive mode, but we are certainly not in a winning kind of thing unless we’re talking about the battle against, say, COVID-19. That would be something to win.

So, you recognize that this message isn’t going to work, it isn’t right. Let’s talk about how long it took you and the process that you went through to replace it.

Chandar Pattabhiram: We have this framework called “thoughtful hustle” here at Coupa. Everything we do needs to be at the intersection of thoughtfulness and hustle. Sometimes we’re really thoughtful but take a long time, and sometimes we’re hustling but not really thoughtful, so I challenged my team together to say, “Can we always operate at the intersection of thoughtfulness and hustle?”

This was a great opportunity for us to do that. It took us about three weeks from concept to execution. Driving this across our channels, taking the new message and doing that, that was the time frame.

The message itself was an interesting process. If “excellence” through Coupa was the old message, we pivoted to a message called “resilience.” “Building Resilience with Coupa.” That took us a couple of weeks to conceptualize through a cross-functional effort.

[6:30] How Coupa Got to their New Messaging

“The concept of co-creation is very important because none of us is as smart as all of us.” @chandarp on #RenegadeThinkersUnite #podcast Click To Tweet

Drew Neisser: Let’s talk about how you got there, who was on the team, what kind of team you built, and so forth.

Chandar Pattabhiram: In these things, the concept of co-creation is very important because none of us is as smart as all of us. That’s another big Coupa nugget that we have. From my perspective, I had three leaders. One from our brand corporate marketing, two from our product and segment marketing, which is about sales messaging, and three is around demand gen and growth marketing.

On one hand, all the marketing leaders came together and on the second hand, a few key sales executives were in the trenches working on this every day in terms of customer interactions and feeling the pulse in the trenches. Having a small think tank of both marketing leadership and sales leadership come together and have this ideation phase of coming up with the concept—that is the approach we took. But it was a maximum of five to seven people at any interaction so that we didn’t get the diminishing return of people showing up and it turning into an education session rather than a true engagement session.

Drew Neisser: A few things I just want to point out. Don’t wait to bring sales in. You know this, but sometimes you forget because you’re the creative team. You’ve got to get sales in early because they have to buy in 100%. I love the notion of thoughtful hustle, but the truth is, if you had more time, you would have taken more time. This was one of those situations where a fire drill forced you to shift the message.

[8:14] The 2009 Article That Inspired Coupa’s Current Messaging

“Resilience today is about excellence tomorrow.” @chandarp on #RenegadeThinkersUnite #podcast Click To Tweet

Drew Neisser: How did you figure out whether or not it was going to resonate? You didn’t want to just say, “Boom, here it is.”

Chandar Pattabhiram: For us, first of all, resilience was the outcome. The effort that went through it was just sitting and ideating and asking, “What are some of the themes that are relevant today that aren’t tone-deaf and are aligned to our value proposition?” Then we can concept, test it, and release that to the market.

We picked a few areas and we kept double-clicking each of those. Finally, we came up with a simple framework that aligns to our value proposition and had the word “resilience.” It’s “building resilience with Coupa”

The idea that we sourced it from was a 2009 McKinsey article about the last downturn where they talked about how resilience today is about excellence tomorrow. They had actually studied about 2,000 companies that had been through the last economic downturn and said a few of the companies that did something different turned out to be better at the outset of the downturn relative to the others, and what they did differently.

We took that idea and then we created our own framework about what resilience means in a Coupa business spend management context. It’s about three things. First, it’s about visibility and control, which important for every CFO today. Second is supply chain risk and mitigating that. Third is agility to invest in the right areas and move when the economy turns. That is really how resilience today is excellence tomorrow.

It’s one thing to pick a framework. We had some executive advisory board members where we created this framework, had a very simple way to look at this at a brand level, at a sales and demand gen level, and at a customer level, harmonizing them there. There’s a simple document on that.

Then we got some initial feedback from some of the executive board advisory members and said, “Hey, is this empathetic? Is the posture on this right? Does it resonate? Does it make you essential in today’s world?” The concept of essentiality, does it get you there?” We felt, relative to some of the other messages that we had concept tested, this one got good external feedback. Then we started rolling it out. It didn’t happen on day one, but we started rolling this out over time.

Drew Neisser: Getting customer feedback right away before you put it in the market makes a tremendous amount of sense. It gives you some confidence that even though this is a fire drill exercise where you’re trying to replace a message that doesn’t feel right with something that’s better. Taking a couple of hours to at least gut check this thing makes a lot of sense.

The insight “resilience today is better tomorrow” is pretty profound. It really gives you a springboard for the content you can create. It’s a big idea and it’s nice that it comes from a thought leader that validates it other than you.

[11:55] How to “Harmonize” Your Messaging

“Harmonizing is making sure that the theme is permeated in a very congruent way across these three levels.” @chandarp on #RenegadeThinkersUnite #podcast Click To Tweet

Drew Neisser: Let’s talk about what harmonizing means.

Chandar Pattabhiram: A lot of times the challenge that we have as marketers is that we could come up with whatever the right word is for our #campaign. But then you have different trains running that are not connected. You could have your sales guys saying something, your demand gen saying something else, your customer stories talking about the old ways while at a brand level you’re giving this message.

From day one, the simple framework is to think of it as three blocks. The first block is your brand messaging. The second block is your demand gen and your sales messaging connected together. Your third block is your customer story messaging. Harmonizing is making sure that the theme is permeated in a very congruent way across all these three levels.

I’ll give you a simple example. Our brand messaging around resilience has ads on building resilience with Coupa micro-targeting the CFO community at CNBC and Wall Street Journal, etc. because that’s the economic buyer for us. It’s good news that in every company right now, the economic buyer is the CFO. In our case, he or she just happens to be the true economic buyer for our product.

Under the sales messaging, we made sure that the essentiality of what resilience means is in our new sales messaging. No one is saying to change your sales messaging by 60%. Change it by 15-20% bookended with this messaging, so that there is an empathetic concern to what the customer is going through while making yourself an essential technology for today. Just like an essential business, why you’re needed today. By the way, there’s a great framework on it by Geoffrey Moore called “Provocation Selling.” We kind of started using that concept testing, that framework on that.

For demand gen, we just made sure that every campaign we did with a webinar had this theme of resilience. For example, we just did one with McKinsey and Harvard Business Review last week. 5600 registrants—it broke the historical record. But the whole theme was what resilient companies do differently. We did one two weeks ago with IKEA—how IKEA sources with resilience.

We talked about brand, we talked about sales and demand gen, and then at the customer level, we launched this Road to Resilience series where customers are talking about how they are combating COVID in today’s time.

[Break: To learn more about possibly the best marketing agency in NYC and get your free ½ hour consulting session with our CEO, visit http://renegade.com]

[15:54] Coupa’s Agile New Media Mix

“It's not brand awareness—they might know who you are—but value awareness. What's the true value that you can bring to me right now?” @chandarp on #RenegadeThinkersUnite #podcast Click To Tweet

Drew Neisser: One of the things that most B2B companies had to very quickly go 100% digital. I’m sure you had events and so forth in your schedule that you had to cancel. What changes did you immediately make to your media mix?

Chandar Pattabhiram: All the physical events went to digital and that was, again, thoughtful hustle. We decided that there’s no better time to double down on the economic buyer, the CFO, than today, so we shifted a lot of digital media dollars to build value awareness with the CFO. It’s not brand awareness—they might know who you are—but value awareness. What’s the true value that you can bring to me right now? That’s where I distinguish the term.

Focusing on TV advertising and CNBC, for example, as well as the Wall Street Journal. Contextual brand building as opposed to generic brand building, that was important from a digital dollar standpoint for us.

Drew Neisser: Interesting—just being on TV alone in this period of time when so many brands were retreating. The only brands that you saw advertising were drug brands and a few others. There you were on CNBC—had you been on TV before?

Chandar Pattabhiram: We have. Not broad TV, but contextual brand building with the CFO and CNBC. We also took all the physical event dollars and said, “Where can I reallocate the dollars for the most effectiveness?” One of those answers was, “Let’s go double down through digital—not just TV alone, but also through digital outlets like the Wall Street Journal for the CFO so that we can, again, increase value awareness across these different digital outlets.”

[17:51] CFOs #1 Concerns: Capital Preservation and Risk Mitigation

“If you look at the CFO’s Maslow's hierarchy today, capital preservation and risk mitigation are on top.” @chandarp on #RenegadeThinkersUnite #podcast Click To Tweet

Drew Neisser: It’s not awareness of Coupa. It’s how Coupa adds value. One of the things we’ve been talking a lot about with CMOs is, in this world of essential, it’s about speed-to-value. Speed-to-value now is, “Boy, I better have a freemium product. If I give it away and I create some value, that’s one way to get to speed-to-value.” Of course, another way is to be able to have customers say, “Yeah, we did this in a month. We saw some kind of improvement in efficiency or an increase in revenue.” It’s one of the two. You were clearly in the value camp. Were you thinking about speed-to-value at all?

Chandar Pattabhiram: Yeah, we were. If you look at C-O-U-P-A, the “A” in Coupa is “Accelerated,” which is the speed-to-value. But value is an interesting thing—you talked about revenue. To talk about how you describe your uniqueness and your value in today’s world—one is about speed-to-value, but what’s the value itself? To every one of us who is selling software, let’s put ourselves in the mind of the CFO. Being John Malkovich, as I say, get in the brain of the CFO.

If you look at the CFO’s Maslow’s hierarchy today, capital preservation and risk mitigation are on top because that’s what I can control today, especially for industries that are in survival mode. How can I get capital and risk mitigation, and how can I do that now? That speed-to-value—can you get me there now?

Below that is revenue because revenue is always important, but I might not be able to control revenue today as much as I can control my costs and my risk mitigation for the supplier, supplies, etc. The bottom of that chain is efficiency, productivity, and some of that soft stuff.

We can think of a CFO and their Maslow’s hierarchy and really focus on the top level. In our case, it’s, “I can get you to capital preservation and risk mitigation and get you there sooner than ever before.” It aligns to speed-to-value and the value that’s relevant to them today. That was how we made ourselves essential using our positioning in today’s world.

[20:32] Measuring Campaign Success

“All these messaging exercises are a continuous recalibration exercise. It's not a one-time thing and then you're done.” @chandarp on #RenegadeThinkersUnite #podcast Click To Tweet

Drew Neisser: We started in March; the new campaign is in the market in April. It took a while to get sales guys and everybody caught up—when did you know that this was working?

Chandar Pattabhiram: That’s a good question. I think that all these messaging exercises are a continuous recalibration exercise. It’s not a one-time thing and then you’re done. We have metrics just like everybody else. We have top-of-the-funnel, middle-of-the-funnel, bottom-of-the-funnel.

I think there are two ways to look at this. The quickest way to look at this is the bottom-of-the-funnel. In this case, if you look at sales messaging, which deals are already in play? How does this thing resonate with them? Do they feel that we can get them there faster, that we resonate with them, etc.? There’s more instant gratification when you work the bottom to top.

Then, in conjunction with that, we look at our lead volumes. Are they decreasing or increasing? How are our ADRs (account development reps)? Is this resonating with them? Really being in the trenches with them and saying what’s working, what’s not, is starting from the bottom and then working all the way up, in the middle with the ADRs and then to our website. That’s the way we look at it.

Drew Neisser: For most businesses in the software world, post-COVID leads were closing really fast. Pre-COVID leads were just getting dragged out. Certainly, we know that your stock has performed well. As a public company, I’m sure you can’t share certain information, but you’ve given us a sense of the measures. What’s making you feel good right now?

Chandar Pattabhiram: I think, from our perspective, we look at the overall pipeline. We look at year over year pipeline growth. We look at all different metrics. We have a very sophisticated, what we call, “plan of record” where we track the number of new opportunities we need to create collectively as a sales-marketing organization, how much we need to move those forward, and more. We look at it every day. We know where we’re behind, where we’re ahead.

[23:19] Moore’s “Provocation Selling” in a Downturn

“When things are good, do solution selling. When things take a downturn, get into this concept of provocation selling.” @chandarp quotes @geoffreyamoore on #RenegadeThinkersUnite #podcast Click To Tweet

Drew Neisser: Let’s circle back to provocative selling.

Chandar Pattabhiram: Geoffrey Moore is very, very good. Just like we talked about the resilience piece in the last downturn, he wrote a piece in HBR, I think in 2009/2010 that says, “When things are good, do solution selling. When things take a downturn, get into this concept of provocation selling.” The idea is simple.

As marketers and sellers in B2B software, we’re all trained to be really good solution sellers, which is, “Let me come in. Let me listen to your existing pain. And then let me present my solution or how it is uniquely differentiated to solve this pain and solve it right now for you and provide a lot of value for you.”

It’s in our DNA. Whether we do the challenger sale or any other sales methodology. It’s ingrained in us. The point of view on this concept of provocation selling is: “In good times, you listen to a customer. In a downturn, you provoke your customer and say, ‘It’s not the pain that you have today. Let me tell you the pain you’re going to have if you don’t use me and why I’m essential to solving that pain.’”

Now, provocation is done with deep empathy, but at the same time, you’re telling them, “If you didn’t have me, here’s where you’d have the pain. That you need this to solve it.” That was the sales posture and that’s why, in our case, we’re saying, “Without having a business management solution, you’re not going to get the visibility of your spend and your supply chain’s risk. What’s most important to you in capital preservation, and risk mitigation is a place that you’re going to have pain unless you have some essential technology to solve it.”

Drew Neisser: Interesting. You’re literally telling them, “You’ve got to catch up. You’re at real risk here if you don’t do this.”

Chandar Pattabhiram: Exactly. But you’ve got to tailor that. Telling the same message to everybody would be a little tone-deaf, but to certain hospitality industries on this side of the survival spectrum, you are saying, “Hey, listen. You need this for visibility control and survival today.”

To other folks on the other side, whether that’s in life sciences or other businesses like telecommunications, you can say, “You need this to have the agility to dynamically shift your spend patterns.” Again, having that slight variation or nuance, that is important.

[26:00] How Recent Events Accelerated a Digital Transformation

“The digital transformation is accelerated by the delivery model today.” @chandarp on #RenegadeThinkersUnite #podcast Click To Tweet

Drew Neisser: In the last two months, e-commerce went from 10% to 13% to 26%. But in the digital transformation of business, the movement to the cloud is like six years’ worth of transformation in two months. I’m imagining that you are part of that digital transformation.

Chandar Pattabhiram: I don’t know if you saw it—there was a cartoon or something saying, “What caused digital transformation? The CEO, the CFO, the CIO, or COVID-19?” COVID is the one everybody picks. In a world of forcing functions, this is something that’s naturally caused it to accelerate certain areas. Cloud technologies are right in the middle of it. Whether it’s in the revenue side of the house or in the spend side, cloud technologies are integral to it.

What’s helped cloud technologies, obviously, is the on-premise challenge of going in physically. Whether it’s a consulting organization or your own services, going in there to implement it would have been a roadblock and the last mile problem. But as with cloud technologies, you have the natural ability to get these technologies implemented in a more agile way than ever before. I think the digital transformation is accelerated by the delivery model today. 

[28:36] Chandar’s 4 Pivoting P’s: Positioning via Relevant Messaging

“First of all, select the theme, align to your theme, and make sure that the theme is relevant for today.” @chandarp on #RenegadeThinkersUnite #podcast Click To Tweet

Drew Neisser: I know that you’re wonderful with acronyms. You have four P’s that you think will help other marketers and organizations think their way through the pandemic. First, list them all, and then we’ll go through them one by one.

Chandar Pattabhiram: The big P is how do you pivot? That was a big player. What do you pivot to in these times? The way to pivot is the four little p’s.

One is in your personal positioning. Second is in your posture, both as a brand as well as in sales. Three is your programs. Four is your people. That’s the way we looked at how we pivot.

Drew Neisser: Let’s start with the first one.

Chandar Pattabhiram: Positioning. First of all, select the theme, align to your theme, and make sure that the theme is relevant for today. I talked about resilience. For us, we went from excellence to resilience. That was about making sure that your positioning is aligned and harmonizing that across the three layers I’ve talked about.

The second one I said in your positioning is, think like a CFO. What would a CFO care about today? Make sure that you have the mindset of the CFO and you’re aligning your messaging to that. A great example of that is if you’re selling help desk software. In good times, you might be positioning that as a revenue increase, but in these times, you might say there’s a cost decrease component to it as much as a revenue increase.

Drew Neisser: I have to interrupt on that one because it’s so painful for so many of us who have been selling things that will improve revenue, not save money.

Chandar Pattabhiram: Totally.

Drew Neisser: The CFO is so often characterized as that “no” bird who says, “Prove it! Marketing is a waste of money. I don’t want to spend that. I’d rather hire another salesperson.” That they aren’t thinking about investments. I just wonder in this positioning when we think like a CFO, there must be some enlightened CFOs out there that recognize that it’s not just about saving money.

Chandar Pattabhiram: Totally. In fact, I talked about Todd, our CFO, world-class CFOs, many others. They’re not looking at savings as the end, they’re looking at savings as a means to reinvest in the right growth areas of a business. A lot of strategic CFOs think that way, but the starting point in today’s theme is like, “Hey, capital preservation and risk mitigation are on top of my mind in industries that are challenged” and that was the point.

Drew Neisser: It’s on the survive part of the “survive to thrive” and the enlightened CMO will say, “First, we’ve got to survive, so we’re going to preserve capital.” But the ones that say, “We preserve capital and we might be able to invest some. We’re going double down here.” That’s positioning.

[31:50] Chandar’s 4 Pivoting P’s: Brand and Sales Posturing

“Now is not the time to ask customers to talk about how great your product is.” @chandarp on #RenegadeThinkersUnite #podcast Click To Tweet

Chandar Pattabhiram: The way I look at it is that there is brand posture and sales posture. Sales posturing is positioning yourself in your sales cycle as being an essential technology to solve the problem. The example I gave earlier was this provocation selling, where it’s not necessarily saying that our solution is for your existing pain, but that you need our solution to solve an upcoming pain. It’s essential, and if you don’t have it, you’re going to have a lot of pain. That’s the sales posture I talked about—changing with the times.

For brand posture, I look at the role of the CMO evolving into the role of the chief authenticity officer in this time and doing everything with genuine empathy. Authenticity means different things for different people, but the simple, practical example of that is that now is not the time to ask customers to talk about how great your product is. This is not the time to do it, to be talking about ROI and TCO. It’s really about focusing on human stories and how people are combating COVID. Their stories of resilience and how they’re fighting and showcasing that to inspire the rest of the community, that’s the brand posture we have taken.

Again, we launched this whole thing called Road to Resilience. It’s the concept of showcasing them and their success as opposed to showcasing your product today.

[33:19] Chandar’s 4 Pivoting P’s: Programs That Showcase Your Value

“This is a great time to go after the install base in a very thoughtful way.” @chandarp on #RenegadeThinkersUnite #podcast Click To Tweet

Chandar Pattabhiram: We talked about meeting your audience where they’re at. A lot of it is the digital shift that’s happened and making sure you’re doubling down on the right digital programs. For some of you, TV might be great. For some of you, it’s digital advertising. Some of you could be third-party advertising like LinkedIn, etc. But again, meeting your customer where they are today is a little bit of the Captain Obvious point.

This is a great time to go after the install base in a very thoughtful way. In high growth companies, a lot of people look at “I’m investing a lot more marketing dollars, 70-80% of my marketing dollars, and going after acquisition marketing as opposed to lifecycle marketing.”

This is a time that companies can recalibrate and say, “Can I be more thoughtful about my install base, in showcasing value of additional products?” We run it programmatically rather than try to say, “I’ve got all these different products.” That would be, I would say, in programs.

Drew Neisser: There’s another upside to that. If you go to all your customers right now, there’s a chance that somebody in the organization thinks you’re not essential. By going back to them, you’re making sure you’re hugging them really strong and saying, “Oh no, what we’re doing is essential, and here’s why. Let’s do a check in call. How’s everything going? How can we help you?”

Chandar Pattabhiram: Totally. A lot of times software companies have this challenge where existing customers don’t necessarily know the entire portfolio of products that you have today. If something can be essential plus solve something that’s a pain today for them, it’s a great time for you to very thoughtfully position that with your install base.

Drew Neisser: Right. You’re already there, you’re already helping them, so “We can help you in another way and this is essential to what you need” makes a lot of sense. I know that a lot of CMOs and companies in general are having pushback from customers that are in trouble. One of the things that I talk about in a recent B2B demand gen report is that it’s an opportunity when a customer comes to you and says, “I need a discount. I need to skip a payment. I need something.”

That’s the moment where you can actually say to them, “I understand you’re really in difficult shape. Let’s do this. Let’s do a new case study. Let’s initiate a new ROI pilot.” I just throw that in there because it’s not always about upselling them right now in the thrive mode to keep the customer. You may need to give a little back, but you can get something, too.

And it’s fair. It’s a win-win. If your customer stories are stories that make the customer look good and help reinforce the story of, in your case, resilience, then it’s a win-win. It used to be really hard for some companies to get those case histories. Well, maybe you can get those or the pilot or the ROI proof that you were looking for. You can get that now.

Chandar Pattabhiram: Totally, but the advice I would say is that should be the outcome of a discussion rather than going in and talking about the ROI of your product. Posture as a brand as, “I’m going to showcase how you became resilient and how you can inspire the rest of the community. I want to showcase that story. It’s nothing to do with our product.” Let them tell that story and naturally let gravity happen.

As part of that, if they can say, “By the way, this product helped me”—which 90% of people would say that—then let that be the natural flow rather than going to them and saying this is the time for you to talk about my product because that’s not being empathetic and authentic in today’s world.

[37:17] Chandar’s 4 Pivoting P’s: Training Your People

“This is a chance for people to grow their career while they're growing in their jobs.” @chandarp on #RenegadeThinkersUnite #podcast Click To Tweet

Chandar Pattabhiram: We could spend two hours talking about the topic of people alone. A lot of great CMOs have talked about how they’re engaging their people through different Zoom sessions and Zoom happy hours and all that good stuff, so there’s a lot of good happening.

This is a chance for people to grow their careers while they’re growing in their jobs, meaning learning and education. In your own marketing, if CMOs can say, “Hey, listen, I’m going to mandate my team to go learn new topics because they have all the commute time that they’re getting back.” If they can go, whether it’s in Coursera or even different aspects of marketing, like, “Hey, I am a demand gen marketer, I’d love to go understand what strategic product marketing is” and vice versa.

We started doing this evangelization where, once a month, we have a session with somebody speaking about different aspects of marketing and doubling down on details that everybody else can learn from. It’s a great tangible goal for us CMOs to say, “I’m going to have my team spend a week of learning in the six months that we are going through this COVID pandemic working from home.” They can take some classes for free or some sponsor classes to grow in their career while they’re growing their jobs. That’s an area that I would say it’s a great opportunity from a people perspective.

Drew Neisser: What’s amazing is, if you want to find courses right now, Demandbase for example was offering—I don’t know if they still are—their ABM training, which used to be quite expensive, for free as both an offensive and a defensive move. There’s a lot available. The same thing went for Skillsoft—if you attended their virtual summit, they gave two months of free licenses to people. There’s a lot of opportunity. I love that.

[39:15] How Coupa is Responding to the BLM Movement

“We are associated with organizations that every employee can contribute to, whether it's Black Lives Matter or NAACP or others.” @chandarp on #RenegadeThinkersUnite #podcast Click To Tweet

Drew Neisser: We can’t talk about people without talking about businesses and their relationship with and the impact of the Black Lives Matter movement. I think I saw a study just recently that said 65% of people expect businesses to take a stand and support social justice. How that has played out for you and Coupa?

Chandar Pattabhiram: First of all, it’s inspiring to see the collective power of community over the last few weeks here in North America, when people come together with a feeling of fellowship and alignment towards a common cause and how they can be a catalyst for systemic change in our society. Organizationally too, just like in our own personal lives. I have a teenage daughter and a younger one. The first thing is to make them understand the systemic issue in the past that’s caused us to get where we are today.

We’re doing the same thing organizationally. The first thing we have done is maximize our educational awareness of the topic. We created a central portal that has great quality content for every employee in the company to come and understand the topic, understand the history of the topic. We’ve had speakers come and talk about the topic, as well as assimilating more content on the topic from that perspective. That’s the first thing is to educate and affirm that this issue is real.

The second is what makes it actionable. What are the things that we can do actionably? We have an organization called Coupa Cares where we can drive a number of action programs. For example, we are associated with organizations that every employee can contribute to, whether it’s Black Lives Matter or NAACP or others.

In addition to that, we’re continuing to get people to come and train our employees on diversity, racial injustice, equality, etc. You’re also going to see some external announcements from us from a product perspective on diversity in the near future. There are a lot of different initiatives, but this issue is real, and we take it very seriously.

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