Product Marketing Is for the Curious: Meet Karen dela Torre, VP of Product Marketing

April 19, 2018
by Christine Viera
  • Product Marketing Is for the Curious

Interview with Karen dela Torre, VP of Product Marketing at Workday

We’ve been interviewing great marketers to gain insights on what draws people to this profession and how they succeed. No one does it better than the wonderful Karen dela Torre. Karen has served with Fortune 100 high tech brands and now serves at a growth software company that’s shaking up the industry. With no further ado, meet Karen.


How did you find your way into Product Marketing?

I was a product manager for many years working on applications in a variety of enterprise markets. The primary focus of my role was meeting customers, understanding their challenges, and translating that to a set of requirements. Next, I worked with engineers to design, build, test, and release software. While that was exciting and rewarding, I yearned to better understand the broader picture. I wanted to understand the markets we were competing in, how we were generating revenue, the cost to serve our customers, and how our sales people were trained and incented. That curiosity was what led me to product marketing.


What do you love most about your craft?

The breadth of what product marketers cover is astonishing. At any moment, we can be working on a business plan to lay out how to take a new product to market; creating the track strategy for our presence at a conference; reviewing the storyboard for a new product demonstration video; or taking screenshots of our latest release for the website. And in all of this, we’re collaborating with colleagues in other domains of marketing, sales strategy, and product development. That constant variety and intersection with experts across the organization is what I love the most about our craft.


What is the biggest challenge you face in product marketing today?

All marketers are expected to be more data-driven than ever. While there has been an explosion of data and tools available to us, it’s still challenging to have consistent metrics across the entire buying lifecycle. It’s hard to understand how the various touchpoints are working in concert – from brand awareness and digital marketing to events and the sales development, qualification, and close process. We have a simple model of the marketing funnel, but in reality the buying cycle is less of a straight line and more of a labyrinth. You might be switching back and across at many junctures to engage prospects. So it’s challenging to find the most simple and meaningful measurements to track.


How is that different from 5 years ago?

5 years ago, there was a lot of focus on social marketing and what that meant and how to activate it. I think we have a better handle on that now, but measurement and analytics is still an ongoing opportunity.


Where’s Innovation Happening in Product Marketing?


How do you keep up with the latest advancements in marketing? Where do you see the most room for innovation in marketing?

I rely a lot on my colleagues and my team. We’ll send folks to conferences like the Growth Marketing conference. Also, there are online tutorials and classes from places like the general assembly. And there are tons of meetups in the Bay Area for product marketers.

I see the most room for innovation in the level of personalization we provide to buyers. We need to deliver an engaging experience earlier. We need to tailor the experience to their role, their challenges, their industry, their region, and, in fact, their specific company. By sustaining that personalization throughout the many touchpoints we’ll have over the course of our relationship, we can have a staggering impact on our effectiveness in serving customers.


What’s your advice about balancing simple messaging with product-specific information? How do you approach that continuum with prospects?

It depends really on where the buyer is in their journey and on the buyer persona. A developer is going to have very different needs than a payroll manager or a VP of Finance, Payroll and Accounting. A critical part of a product marketer’s role is to understand the information needs of our prospects at different stages, and to craft the artifacts that help at every stage.

For example, we offer different product showcases—a 3-minute preview, a 10-minute interactive experience, and a 30-minute live or on-demand demonstration. This has consistently been one of the most effective drivers of our MQLs and stage 1 opportunities.

When we’re speaking to current customers about other solutions in our portfolio, we tend to go deeper into product earlier because we already have an existing relationship with these customers. Typically, they want to cut straight to the product sooner. For our engineering audiences, we’ve collaborated with our engineering managers to create a blog channel where they can talk engineer-to-engineer about very pragmatic practices. These are examples of the creative ways that we adapt to our audiences and their needs.


What is ROI for a Product Marketer?


How Do You Measure Success?

This has always been a difficult area for me. My team supports and participates in demand generation, events, and sales enablement. But other teams are directly accountable for those results.

Having said that, this is what I look at:

  • Sales enablement—session scores at sales kickoff; downloads and usage of materials on our sales portal; and win rates for newer products where product marketers deliver active deal support.
  • Demand generation—whether we’re hitting goals for MQL and stage 1 opportunities.
  • Events—session scores and surveys and % of customers going to our annual conference.
  • Customer intimacy—number of customer interviews and quality of market insights generated.


What person, book, famous saying or recent experiences inspire you?

I recently learned about the concepts of Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha.  There’s a much much deeper exploration of these “Three Jewels”, but simplistically for me, the Buddha is our Vision, the Dharma is our path, and the Sangha is our community.  Whether we’re navigating change ourselves or helping our customers navigate transformation in their industry, we need all three to be successful. We need an inspiring vision of the future, a practical toolkit or capacities to make that vision a reality, and a community of supportive people who may be ahead of us, walking alongside us, or learning from us. Thank you Christine for all the instances you have helped me clarify my vision, armed me with practices, and cheered me on with your support! [You’re welcome and thanks for doing the same for me. I’m glad to be in your Sangha! ~ Christine]



High energy, inspired B2B Marketer. Lessons learned largely in high tech and communications industries where I've worked with very smart folks, on very cool things, in very dynamic environments. I like helping others navigate people, tech, programs, and problems with vision, courage, and impact. All opinions are solely my own.

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