An Interview with Katrina Wong: The Future of Customer Engagement

Katrina Wong is the VP of Product Marketing and Demand Generation at Twilio Segment. CloudKettle’s CEO Greg Poirier recently caught up with Katrina for a discussion about how she got started in SaaS, the challenges facing marketers today, and what she sees for the future of customer engagement.

Greg Poirier: How did you get started in SaaS?
Katrina Wong: I started at Salesforce 15 years ago, and it was incredibly groundbreaking back then (and really, still is). When I was recruited, I was told to imagine software that didn’t need to be installed and was just deployed over the internet. It was mind-blowing at the time. The term “cloud” wasn’t commonly used yet and people were just starting to talk about software as a service. But I jumped in and the rest is history.

GP: Why did you keep going with SaaS in your career?
KW: Once I saw the efficiencies gained, and how the SaaS model freed up the technical teams to actually solve much more difficult problems, the value of it really clicked for me. It felt like a very important and significant shift in technology, and I recognized that there was no going back to the old way.

GP: In a world of unlimited SaaS companies where a skillset like yours is highly in demand, why did you choose Segment?
KW: My career began at PWC in management consulting with a focus on data mining and data warehousing, and it was before the time of the cloud or SaaS. One of my first tasks was learning how to install an OLAP Cube from an instruction manual. From there, I went to a company called Blue Martini Software and I was part of a team that built the first e-commerce platforms for large brands like Macy’s and Harley Davidson. We realized very quickly that by looking at customer clicks and activity, we could predict future buying behaviours, but the technology wasn’t sophisticated enough at the time to do a deep dive. Fast forward 15 years to Segment, and we’re still looking at these customer behaviours, but now we can solve the problems and analyze much more efficiently thanks to Customer Data Platforms (CDPs).

GP: What are the challenges of being a CMO/Marketer at a MarTech company?
KW: The MarTech ecosystem is very crowded and it’s difficult to sell to CMOs/VPs of Marketing. Their attention is hard to get. A client recently shared a great quote with me,

“As Marketers we have a lot of tools, but we just don’t have the data.”

I think historically, that’s been very true. A lot of tools and applications are focused on being campaign-down, but with the work we’re doing at Segment, we are more oriented around being data-up and building a foundation of data for marketers. It’s the iceberg analogy: all of your siloed data is the information that you can’t see, the part of the iceberg under the water. If you can collect and analyze that data as a whole, you can have a much clearer picture and make better decisions.

GP: A lot of services that Marketers buy are quick sales cycles. What is the experience of selling something that is more enterprise-focused?
KW: Marketers are economic buyers, so from an enterprise product-marketing perspective you need to be able to share the value you bring and the pain you’re solving. From the standpoint of Segment’s value prop, your data is everywhere – so as soon as we start talking about data silos, people understand. It’s about providing a universal view of the customer across all of the silos and data warehouses.

GP: Segment has a strong track-record of predicting accurate performance and close rates. How do you think about Marketing’s role in generating and predicting pipeline?
KW: There are 4 components to pipeline: Marketing, Sales Development, Sales People and Partners. You need to have synergy with your revenue org, and when that happens it’s actually beautiful – your marketing plays and sales plays are coordinated and yield better results. You’ve got that lock-step, that battle rhythm. When it comes to predicting, it comes down to 2 main things:
1) Instrumentation
2) Discipline of looking at the funnel/a rigorous process.
Without the instrumentation across your marketing stack, even with pipeline rigor and discipline you won’t be able to accurately predict. But once you begin to make those predictions, it’s important that all of the goals between sales and marketing should be tied. You need end-to-end predictability that starts with marketing instrumentation, and then running the same amount of rigor and discipline through the entire funnel, from MQL to opportunity close.

GP: What are your thoughts on MQLs and who should own those numbers?”
KW: You can’t, as marketers, only own the MQL number. You have to own the next stage down from what you can directly impact. That’s your quality gate, that’s your quality control. We look at the quality of leads and measure that, considering lead scores and account scoring.

GP: How has marketing success changed over the course of your career in terms of what needs to be measured/improved/etc.?
KW: In the early days we were pretty siloed. Marketing was responsible for driving a quarter of the leads. At Segment, no one really does any outbound pipeline untouched by Marketing. There’s a primary core metric for marketing, but it’s also a responsibility of Marketing to help support in those Sales Development, Sales People and Partner channels.

GP: You’re a Marketer who measures. In that context, and looking at what’s changing in the ecosystem, how do you think marketing will evolve as we move to a first-party data (or zero-data) world?
KW: A first party data, privacy-first, consumer-first lens is going to be important moving forward, because it’s ultimately better for the consumer. The good news for marketers is that we can do so much with first party data. That data that you collect yourselves is powerful, and that power is magnified when you can aggregate that data in a single system. We have seen customers achieve great success by shifting marketing strategies to only use first party data after consolidating all of their siloed data and then using that full picture to make decisions.

In terms of a zero-data world, it’s hard to say if that will be beneficial or not. If everyone went to zero, we’d no longer be able to provide highly personalized experiences. The reality is that as consumers and buyers, there are times when we DO want recommendations and suggestions, so I think the key is meeting the customer where they want to be met. Right person, right time, right message and right channel.

GP: What’s next in Customer Relationships and customer engagement?
KW: The real question is “how do you create the best experience for your customers that has less friction for Marketers?” There are so many great ways to create data, so we want to look into ways to collect first party events and have that data actually predict and drive interactions with consumers. The technology is moving in the direction of informing marketers and making recommendations in real time so we can create hyper-personalized experiences for customers. I think that’s the future of customer engagement.

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