Charlene Wang, Director of Product Marketing at Coupa Software, on Partnering with Sales Teams to Drive Cloud Revenue Success

In this episode, our guest is Charlene Wang, Director of Product Marketing at Coupa.

Charlene is a marketing executive with over a decade of experience in business operations and expense management. As Director of Product Marketing, she leads go-to-market strategy, supports sales success, and manages programmatic release of product enhancements across Coupa's entire product suite.

Full Transcript

Michael Pollack [00:00:09] Hello, everyone, and welcome to Selling in the Cloud, a podcast about the business of cloud sales and marketing, brought to you by Intricately, the authoritative source of digital product adoption, usage, and spend data for cloud sales and marketing teams. I'm Michael Pollack and I'm here with Sarah E. Brown. And we are your co-hosts.

Sarah E. Brown [00:00:38] Michael, welcome to the show.

Sarah E. Brown [00:00:40] Sarah, it's great to be here

Sarah E. Brown [00:00:42] In this episode, we're speaking with Charlene Wang, Director of Product Marketing at Coupa. We're looking forward to discussing the role of product marketing and driving revenue.

Michael Pollack [00:00:50] Charlene, welcome to the show.

Charlene Wang [00:00:52] Yeah, happy to be here.

Sarah E. Brown [00:00:54] Can you give us a brief introduction and share who you are and a brief background for how you got to be where you are today at Coupa? And maybe also talk a little bit about what you're working on a Coupa?

Charlene Wang [00:01:02] Yeah, sure. So I am Director of Product Marketing here at Coupa. So I lead the go-to-market strategy and positioning for a portfolio of high-growth products and also corporate messaging. So I have a background in strategy and business operations, which is how I started initially at Coupa. Prior to Coupa, I had done strategy work at a management consultancy, McKinsey and Company, and also in corporate strategy at Dell/EMC. When I first came to Coupa, we were getting ready for our IPO and so a lot of our go-to-market processes were being formalized at the time and I was able to apply a lot of the best practices I had seen at other companies in these areas. And over time I started taking on additional roles, driving product marketing and go-to-market strategy for many parts of the portfolio, especially focused on a lot of high growth parts and the overall corporate messaging. So Coupa is the leading cloud platform for business spend management. What that means is everything that a company spends their money on, that's something that we help them to really manage in the cloud. And when the company started initially, it was founded by a couple of folks who had come from Oracle and back in the day, and this was over a decade and a half ago, I think, it wasn't very typical to have user friendly software. So a lot of the software that was built for managing spend in particular, was really built around the back office for finance, procurement, whomever – which made it very hard for users to really adopt that technology. And so what these guys did was they took this different perspective of, at the time, there's a lot of consumer technology that was really helping you to spend more effectively, like Amazon, Amazon's super easy use. You can just go on there and find whatever you need. And they thought, you know, why can't we just have an Amazon-like interface for managing spend so that when you go and procure something at a company, it's just as easy as buying it on Amazon. So that really was how they build a best-in-class application initially for procurement. And since then, the company has moved on to many other parts of spend management, starting with invoicing, expense management, sourcing. Now we've moved into supply chain, treasury, all these other areas that now we have a best-in-class platform where you can do all this in a very integrated platform and also benefit from what we call sweet synergy across the different applications. So instead of having individual applications that do this and that, having all these in one place actually makes you spend smarter. And then where we are now is we've really taken that up another level and we've really thought about how we can use our community to really benefit our customers even more, starting with something like community intelligence, which is really about the data that we have and how do we use that data to drive A.I. and and really come up with insights that help our customers get more value and other areas of community as well, negotiated discounts on behalf of our community and collaboration.

Michael Pollack [00:04:05] Charlene, I love that. I'd say we are familiar with Coupa in that many of our customers, large enterprises, as well as small and medium and fast growth companies, are Coupa customers. So we're in the Coupa community and that we deal with the software quite a bit and we interact with platform. And I can say compared to I won't call a green screen systems, but compared to the things that back offices use that are less pretty or maybe like the terminals, you see people like the airlines typing on, it's obviously a much better, much more improved and much more current experience with what I believe consumers increasingly have come to expect from business software. I'd love to ask you on the comment you made about data. When you think about the data, you see, obviously, I imagine inside the Coupa universe, you can see a business like intricately because effectively where a supplier, so you have some data about who we work with and what we do. I'd love for you to talk a little bit about the data that's relevant to you in the data you use. Maybe not what's black box and comes out of Coupa, but whether it's external data or public-facing data, what are the elements that are most interesting to you both in your role or you think about is the business to focus on or to collect or to utilize?

Charlene Wang [00:05:10] So there's a lot of data that's going to be very, very helpful. And I think part of the challenge with data is prioritizing and trying to understand what really moves the needle. So that way you're not getting lost in all the noise out there. So, for instance, in my role and in marketing in general, a lot of times what we're looking at is how do we best align with sales to drive overall success from a revenue perspective. And so that starts with, I'd say, the high level metrics, we kind of look at our how are advancing our pipeline and how we're building that pipeline. So starting with how many leads are we getting? And then we have different ways of classifying this. But in general, it's kind of like marketing qualified leads, sales qualified leads up until closed/won, ideally, sometimes closed/lost. And then you look at what's the volume going through that funnel and then what's the percentages getting across from one state to another. And that's sort of the overall metrics that we align across the revenue teams towards. But as part of that, each member of the teams will own specific metrics that are leading into that. So, for instance, from a product marketing perspective, a lot of times what we're looking at is how do we impact those win rates? And so one of the things we look at is a lot of win/loss analysis at the end of each deal to try to understand what happened, ultimately, that got us to whatever outcome. And then leading up to that, then we'll think about what kind of collateral, what kind of positioning can we have to make sure that we're impacting those deals in the right ways that are going to help us increase those wins on the one hand, and then sometimes also supporting our growth marketing, revenue marketing teams to make sure that we're generating leads and the right qualified leads to begin with. And so a lot of those metrics, for instance, in terms of leading indicators, will look at how the content that we're creating is being received in general in the field, how it's landing sometimes with our prospects and then also kind of adoption metrics that ultimately tie into the win or the loss at the end.

Michael Pollack [00:07:15] When you talk about the metrics and, of course, supporting the sales organization, I'd love to ask you, just how does Coupa think about an ICP? Right. Obviously every business spends money, so theoretically the total addressable market is enormous. The question I would probably follow up with is how do you, to your point, prioritize? Right, whether it's prioritizing those prospects or prioritizing data. Would love to hear a little bit about how on the product marketing side you think about that and then the data elements or the assets potentially you're using to facilitate or operationalize that.

Charlene Wang [00:07:46] So there's a qualitative way of doing that. There's a quantitative way. So from a qualitative side, it's sort of analyzing different sales cycles and trying to think about who are the key decision makers and what kind of companies are good fit. So it's really kind of evaluating the product and how it's being built and then also using that and kind of triangulating with where there's attractive segments in the market where we'd really like to go after where we think we have enough product maturity. In Coupa's case, because we're a pretty mature product, we can pretty much go after any segment at this stage. It's just a matter of some segments are going to end up buying more than others on average. So there's a lot of kind of analysis around that. And then within that, we also think about who are the key buyers. And for us, we have so many different products. There's different buyers that kind of bring us into deal cycles. And then there's buyers who influence and then ultimately help make the decisions. So a lot of times, depending on the product area, we're coming from the procurement side or supply chain, our treasury or whoever it is that's going to lead us in accounts payable and then it's going to make its way through the chain. And it is a big audience that impacts those deals and then also finance and then ultimately executive decision makers. So those are kind of analyses that we'll do in terms of target personas and types of companies we'll go after. And then on the other hand, there's a data side of it and then there's actual lead scoring and opportunity scoring that we have. We'll use a lot of data analytics to figure out which kind of profiles they've bought from us at a higher rate in the past. And those are the leads that we will kind of prioritize and what we send over to our sales teams. Now, the only issue with that is that is a kind of a backward facing model. So you're only looking at what's worked well in the past, which is also a great way to help prioritize timing and making sure that our sales teams are being focused on the right kinds of leads. But it doesn't necessarily account for where we're going or product maturity as we continue to develop different capabilities.

Sarah E. Brown [00:09:52] That's interesting. So Intricately is a cloud product, adoption usage and spend provider. And we work with leading cloud companies to identify when a customer or a prospect is ready to buy what that threshold is for their cloud spend that they could, let's say, take note of. And I'm curious for you, what data goes into your sort of cocktail to understand when a prospect is a good fit or is your ICP? How do you think about that in your business that, hey, I'm ready to be a Coupa customer?

Charlene Wang [00:10:22] So one of the big things we look at is the industry and subindustry and then sort of the maturity of the company within that industry. And then depending on the sales segment, we'll also kind of look at the sizing as well. And then we'll also correlate that with any kind of information we have about how they're actually engaging with our content, so we start noticing when people are starting to download things over and over again from us, but there's a lot of different folks who are on our website, when there's starting to be really a lot of engagement. And so that starts telling us that somebody is warming up to the idea that they need a business and management transformation. And if they fit into a certain target verticals and certain types of company profiles, that's when we start thinking that these are better leads.

Michael Pollack [00:11:09] And maybe just to dig into that, because you made two points that jump out at me around, there's lots of data and prioritizing the data. You also made a comment about what's a leading indicator versus a lagging indicator. Right. Which is conceptually, I think, some of the biggest challenges revenue leaders today struggle with about how do I quantitatively assess propensity or potential write these questions of how do I figure out who's a fit for me. So I'm curious for you, when you think about trying to map the universe or scoring leads, have you found that you are able to be successful with that or really the balance between the art of what sales is doing, the science behind the numbers? Or I'm curious, in your experience at Coupa, have you seen tremendous success or have you seen challenges? What are your thoughts on that?

Charlene Wang [00:11:55] Yeah, so I think there is definitely a lot of value to lead scoring and to making sure that you are going after the right ICP. And we did a project a few years ago where prior to that we'd been doing it kind of informally, but we really brought in all the technology to really think about that and really do more formal lead scoring. And that's helped to improve a lot of metrics like win rates and the rates of passage between different stages. But on the other hand, this is where the company is constantly evolving and the product is continuing to mature sometimes for specific types of industries, sometimes for specific types of use cases. And that's where the art part comes from. So that's a little bit of, OK, we've developed these new capabilities that's going to allow us to go back into these particular target companies that we couldn't have gone after as well in the past. And so this is where we'll want to think about that win/loss analysis and what's coming out at the end. We're getting feedback of, we're able to win because of X or we're not able to win because of Y. And then when we are developing new capabilities and we have those new capabilities, in some cases new content as well to support those capabilities and to really position that, that's where we start actually going after those new profiles as well. So you really have to take a look at both.

Sarah E. Brown [00:13:14] I'd love to hear more about what advice you would give to marketers at cloud companies who are looking to increase the return on investment of their product marketing program. Sounds like you've incorporated a lot of different things people could learn from love to dig in.

Charlene Wang [00:13:27] Yeah, I mean, I think it goes back to data, right? It really goes back to making sure that, you know, what you're trying to do at the end of the day. So the first thing is alignment. Close alignment with sales is super, super critical. So, sales at the end of days, you're I mean, at least from my perspective, they're my customer. I mean, my customer's ultimately the customer, but they're my direct customer. And so making sure that, you know, how sales is doing their sales cycles, that you're really closely partnering with them and understanding what's ultimately driving them to win or not win. And so that's the first thing is having kind of that close alignment. And then as part of that, too, it's getting their feedback. So that's where at the end of the day, the thing that matters for us is win race on the one hand and on the other hand, how much pipeline we're generating. But what really gets us to that stage is a couple of things. Again, going back to the leading indicators, it is how much content are we creating? On the one hand, how much utilization of that content are we getting? And we have a lot of tracking that we've implemented around both adoption of content internally – so if they're sales decks, how many people have downloaded, how much time are they spending on some of that content? And then we also have tracking for external utilization, so there's actually ways that you can share that content directly through some of our tools. And that allows us to see if prospects are spending time on some of that content as well. So that's kind of just the pure "are people looking at it" metric and then there's a little bit more of the qualitative "are they getting the value out of that" in the sales cycle? And so that's where a lot of times I will go in and sometimes listen in on sales calls or sales recordings. I will interview our sales reps and try to understand what they're saying and the feedback that they have. We'll do surveys as well in terms of how they feel about lots of content. That's a little bit more of the art part of it, but I think is also really, really important. And then at the end of the day, all that kind of translates into what comes out at the end of all that, which is, again, do we win or do we not?

Sarah E. Brown [00:15:37] I think that's right on and you know, in terms of that alignment with marketing and sales, it sounds like you are sharing a lot of that data back with sales in addition to getting data from them.

Charlene Wang [00:15:47] Yes, that's correct. We have this pipeline – we used to call it the pipeline council. I think they might have changed the name by this point. But we have these regular syncs that we have with sales leadership that just goes over all the metrics so that we're fully aligned in terms of what the different sales stages are, what's happening in terms of leads and where we're helping them and where they need more support from us. And then we just regularly check in with sales leadership and also individual eight years depending on the situation.

Sarah E. Brown [00:16:18] What's something you wish your prospects knew about you that you would like to tell them? So if they're listening to this, which very likely may be, what would you wish that they knew?

Charlene Wang [00:16:27] So I think what I love about Coupa is that we really have this concept of value as a service. And I think for any good software company nowadays, you really have to be fully aligned with your customers in terms of actually helping them drive value. And what that means is it's not just about features and kind of patting yourself on the back for releasing a bunch of stuff. It really is about did we actually, at the end of the day, go back to the customers? We helped you become successful in X, Y, Z way. And in fact, our number one core value is ensure customer success. So what that does is as a company, we're constantly innovating, but with a perspective of how do these innovations really ultimately help us go back to our customers, say we helped you achieve this KPI, we helped you get promoted because you did such a great job on these things that really matter for your company. And so one of our other values is focus on results. So we try to set metrics with our customers from the very geko of what we would like them to achieve using Coupa and that we hold ourselves accountable to that. And then the next thing is strive for excellence, which is like how do we take that to the next level? So, for instance, we're constantly innovating in areas like community intelligence, which I talked about, which is how we're using A.I. across different companies to identify best practices, identify ways to optimize your spend profiles to reduce risk based on what we're seeing across the board for suppliers or fraud. And then also, how do you kind of improve your operational efficiency? So we're just never going to sit still there because we're always looking to raise the bar with how we can achieve more value for our customers,

Sarah E. Brown [00:18:10] For people who are listening, who'd like to learn more about you and your work, where should we direct them to?

Charlene Wang [00:18:15] Yes, please have them visit our website, www dot coupa dot com, there's a lot of great content on there. You can also feel free to email me. I'm Charlene dot Wang at Coupa dot com. I am happy to help or direct you to anyone else who can help you on any specific questions.

Sarah E. Brown [00:18:30] Thank you so much for joining us. That was fantastic.

Michael Pollack [00:18:32] Was awesome.

Charlene Wang [00:18:33] For sure. Thank you.

Sarah E. Brown [00:18:34] That's it for us. This episode may be over, but we can continue the conversation on Twitter with the #SellingInTheCloud. On Twitter, I'm @SEBMarketing.

Michael Pollack [00:18:43] And I'm @MRPollack.

Sarah E. Brown [00:18:45] Thanks to everyone for joining us for this episode of Selling in the Cloud, brought to you by Intricately, the authoritative source of digital product adoption, usage, and spend data for cloud sales and marketing teams. If you like the show, head on over to iTunes or wherever you listen to podcasts. And please give us a review. We appreciate it. Until next time.

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