In a time when 56% of people claim that “data-driven” is merely a slogan at their companies, leaders like Chandar Pattabhiram are a rare breed. His commitment to regular testing goes far beyond just lip service. With an egoless stance, he’s just as delighted when the data proves his hypotheses wrong as right—because he knows either case provides equally valuable lessons for driving revenue more efficiently.
As the current CMO of Coupa, former CMO at Marketo and a strategic advisor or Board member for high growth tech companies like Freshworks, BlueShift and Gainsight, Chandar understands how data impacts all revenue teams. He’s also won multiple awards for his storytelling abilities, and LinkedIn named 1 of 5 CMOs to follow.
We sat down with Chandar to discuss why marketers need to focus less on ROI and more on a metric he calls “RODI,” the power of prioritizing a small handful of metrics, plus what today’s CMOs can do to foster a genuinely data-driven culture.
Can you tell us a story of when a data discovery improved your demand gen efficiency?
Sure, I have one about bucking conventional wisdom. At a previous company, most of us bought into the common misconception that an account-based strategy only works for targeting large companies. Since we were going after small and midsize companies, most people assumed we should pursue a lead-based velocity model.
However, when we synchronized our sales and marketing data, we unearthed a game-changing insight: Our average selling price (ASP) was actually 42% higher when we used an account-based model targeting SMBs.
This discovery changed our entire GTM strategy. We began going after target accounts in the mid-market segment with the kind of rigor usually reserved for larger enterprise accounts. We would have never thought to do this if we hadn’t coordinated our systems. Our intuition had led us astray, and only data could give us the golden insight that led to drastically more revenue.
How can revenue leaders assess if their data management strategy is effective?
Modern marketers are obsessed with measuring ROI. But I also like to think about what I call RODI—or “return on data investment.” If you can confidently say yes to the following two questions, then your data investment has paid off.
- Does your sales team consistently feel like they’re getting high quality engagement from prospects? (Since this is a direct result of data enrichment that allows them to pursue the right accounts.)
- Do the accounts you target based on your ideal customer profile analysis give you tangibly better win-rates and ASPs than the rest?
What’s the biggest shift you’ve seen over the past 5 years regarding data?
Five years ago, marketers had a gluttony for information. The stance was “more is better,” and marketers thought they could “slice and dice” their way into meaningful insights. Today marketers are experiencing data overload and the challenge has become finding the beacons in the blizzard—or, the real insights that have the power to increase the bottom line. I think savvy marketers should ask themselves: “What’s the least amount of data I can surface for the best decision-making?”
How do you find those elusive beacons in the blizzard?
It’s a bit of both art and science. Technologies that are able to harmonize data like Syncari can help surface meaningful insights across systems. I always seek a very clear understanding of what’s the least amount of information that I need for the best decision-making. Then I focus only on those key dashboards, rather than on every chart.
Because all charts look good. They make you feel smart. You could spend all day analyzing and say, “Hmm this is interesting. That’s interesting.” But how relevant is it for the decision that I need to make as an executive? That’s the art part of it.
What’s at stake for revenue leaders who fail to prioritize data quality?
Every time you see a business leader make a bad decision, bad data is sitting right behind it. Sales and marketing alignment happens when you have the right data to make the right decisions on how you go after the right customers with the right set of programs. Without the data, your aim is off for all activities. In any revenue marketing, your job is to enable sales to win bigger, win faster, and win more. In other words, you want to increase your average sales price, shorten your sales cycle, and up your win rate. Data underpins doing each of these successfully.
Netflix CEO and co-founder Reed Hastings uses a term called “informed intuition” to sum up his approach to decision-making: Get the optimal amount of data needed to make the smart decision, but make the final decision only if your gut agrees with it.
What are the biggest data issues you see marketing teams struggle with?
Marketing loses out on valuable competitive intelligence when sales or customer success teams don’t maintain complete records in SFDC. When sales speeds through typing out notes and only records one of a handful of competitors, you’re losing insights on who you are winning and losing against, and the reasons why. You can’t analyze batting percentages against each of your competitors or create content that addresses objections.
Another common challenge is automating the data flow between sales and marketing. Are you capturing all the lead data and converting it into contact information in Salesforce, while keeping the lead source consistent?
What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made with data and what have you learned from it?
In one of my earlier stints I had a hypothesis that your highest-paying customers are your best customer advocates, and they were the ones to focus our advocacy efforts on. But then when I analyzed the data, I realized that was a big mistake. We learned that the best, most engaged advocates were not necessarily the highest-paying ones. Many customers with smaller subscriptions were very passionate and took initiative to promote our products through different channels. As soon as we discovered this, we reallocated our budget to nurture advocates who were most likely to help us meet our goals.
How can CMOs establish a data-driven team culture?
It starts with things as simple as what you name your team. At Coupa, we call ourselves revenue marketing. By doing that, we’re setting the expectation that our goals can be measured empirically in terms of success.
Also, since it’s easy to get lost in data, strong leaders need to firmly establish a set of three to five KPIs to measure for success of your overall organization, as well as your respective teams within marketing. Then you need to make sure that you have all the systems and data in place that supports these narrowly defined goals. If you can do this, you’re laying realistic groundwork for your team to put data at the center of everything they do.
Do you have any hobbies during the lockdown?
Without a commute eating up my mornings and afternoons, I’m reading more books than ever. Intellectual humility is one of the core values that guide me. Even after all these years, I still seek out new perspectives to challenge me regularly.
Any book recommendations for us?
I’ll share three fabulous ones that have expanded my mind very recently.
- Edge by Laura Huang. Fascinating look at how your uniqueness and your adversity can actually become an advantage for you.
- Tribe of Mentors by Tim Ferris. Short tidbits of advice from remarkable people who have achieved rare feats in the arts, athletics, and business. You can pick up some good nuggets.
- Power: Why Some People Have It and Why Others Don’t by Jeffrey Pfeffer. An engrossing read that revolves around a central paradox: likability doesn’t always create power, but power many times creates likability.
What’s your number one tip for maintaining high data quality?
People don’t do what you expect. People do what you inspect. You can’t expect your revenue teams to enter the right data every single time unless you’re inspecting it, and this is impossible to do at scale. That’s why it’s critical to invest in technology that automates data hygiene and governance. You’ll free up your smartest people to focus on what truly matters.
About the author: Nick is a CEO, founder, and author with over 25 years of experience in tech who writes about data ecosystems, SaaS, and product development. He spent nearly seven years as EVP of Product at Marketo and is now CEO and Founder of Syncari.