In this episode of the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast, I interview Mike Volkin. He is a serial entrepreneur, speaker, marketing consultant, fractional Chief Marketing Officer, Army veteran, and author of 7 books. In addition, he has built and sold 6 of his own companies. As a marketing leader, he specializes in helping businesses scale, particularly ones that help people, animals, and the environment.
The Fractional CMO model is a smart solution for companies that may not require a full-time CMO but still need strategic direction and are seeking tailored strategic insights. This model is necessary to develop a well-developed marketing strategy, which is crucial for companies looking to scale and succeed, and for this is important to refine messaging and conduct A/B testing to improve conversions. Mike highlights that it is important to consider a balanced approach to marketing channels based on the available resources and staff skills, focusing on a few channels that can provide significant ROI.
Questions I ask Mike Volkin:
- [01:41] Tell me about the experience of building and selling six companies.
- [03:54] How would you define a Factional CMO?
- [04:52] Have you seen a change in the marketplace for accepting the idea of a Factional CMO’?
- [06:12] Today we don’t have any way to stand out in the market or way to differentiate ourselves from our customers. Have you seen there is a real interest in strategy?
- [07:15] Would you say that there are companies that get to a certain point that need the Factional CMO role more than others?
- [11:21] If somebody asks you to come in and help with their marketing tasks and you realize that they have a strategic problem. How do you get them to realize that all their problems are to their strategy?
- [14:00] How do you scale a business as a Fractional CMO if you manage several businesses at the time?
- [15:53] I believe that there is a way to actually build a repeatable system for strategy development and then teach it to like account manager rather than somebody that’s got 25 years of experience. Does that sound like heresy to you?
- [18:48] How important is it for you to address kind of the whole ecosystem of the business and how it impacts its marketing?
- [20:19] How do you stay disconnected from areas that maybe aren’t seen as marketing?
More About Mike Volkin:
- Mike’s website
- If you’re a marketing agency, looking for a marketing strategy: Your Marketing Expert
More About The Agency Certification Intensive Training:
Take The Marketing Assessment:
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John Jantsch (00:00): Hey, marketing agency owners, you know, I can teach you the keys to doubling your business in just 90 days or your money back. Sound interesting? All you have to do is license our three step process that it's gonna allow you to make your competitors irrelevant, charge a premium for your services and scale perhaps without adding overhead. And here's the best part. You can license this entire system for your agency by simply participating in an upcoming agency certification intensive. Look, why create the wheel? Use a set of tools that took us over 20 years to create. And you can have 'em today. Check it out at dtm.world/certification. That's dtm.world/certification.
(00:55): Hello and welcome to another episode of the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast. This is John Jantsch. My guest today is Mike Volkin. He is a serial entrepreneur, speaker, marketing consultant, fractional chief marketing officer, army veteran, and author of seven books. In addition, he has built and sold six of his own companies. And as a marketing leader, he specializes in helping businesses scale, particularly ones that help people, animals, and or the environment. So lots to unpack there. Welcome to the show, Mike. Yeah,
Mike Volkin (01:26): Yeah, thanks very much. It sounds like I have a productive life, but it's not that exciting sometimes. But yeah.
John Jantsch (01:32): So, so let's talk a little bit about, I'm gonna ask you about the chief marketing officer role. 'cause the fractional CMO role is something I wanna focus on. But tell me a little bit about the experience of building and selling six companies. I'm sure there's a whole lot of people that you consult with that would like to do that as well.
Mike Volkin (01:49): Yeah, I think that what's makes me a more complete marketer is being able to do something like that. But I'm always, I've always been the kind of like guy that's had ideas in my head and I'm never short of execution. So, you know, I give things a try. I see what they stick. Some of them don't. I, I said I built and sold six companies. Doesn't mean I've only started six companies. A lot of 'em, I get to the finish line. I spent one time, I spent over 60,000 bringing a, a company to the starting lines to where I was gonna launch it. And I didn't like the looks of it and I never launched it. You know, sometimes that happens, but sometimes it works out and you get to build a value, which is really fun. And you get to find buyers and then sell 'em off for a good chunk of money. So,
John Jantsch (02:24): So, so tell me also a little bit about other then, it's a nice way to kind of have a niche people, animals in the environment Yeah. You list as a specific focus.
Mike Volkin (02:35): Yeah. I've listed
John Jantsch (03:08): Yeah, so, so I guess that's another way of saying you won't work with, uh, companies that hurt people, animals in the environment. Right? That's
Mike Volkin (03:14): Right. You know, I, I was contacted the other day about a, you know, from a company that does beef jerk and I'm like, you know what, I'm a vegetarian. I don't wanna help you sell beef Turkey,
John Jantsch (03:24): Yeah. Yeah. O over long time ago, I had a cigarette company actually contacted me. Oh, that was kinda the same way.
Mike Volkin (03:35): Yeah. As a marketer you can put your foot down 'cause you're gonna help these companies grow and develop the culture and you kind of gotta be passionate a little bit about the service or the product that they're offering, you know?
John Jantsch (03:44): Yeah, absolutely. So I started, in your intro, I talked about the idea that, uh, you are a fractional chief marketing officer, A CMO. If somebody comes to you, you, like, they've read your buy on, they say, Mike, what is that fractional chief marketing officer thing? How do you kind of neatly define that?
Mike Volkin (04:00): Yeah, it's a tough one. The way I usually say it is that I work with companies that can't afford or don't have the ability to obtain a full-time chief marketing officer, which is often sometimes 300,000 plus a year. So I'm able to segment my day into six parts, so to speak, and one company gets one of those parts and I can work with four to six companies at any given time.
John Jantsch (04:24): Yeah, and to your point too, I think there's a lot of companies that just don't need the a full-time. That's true, right? I mean, they need strategic input. They need somebody that's guiding them, but that person doesn't have to sit at a desk all day.
Mike Volkin (04:35): I know. Yeah. I know. A lot of times I talk myself out of a job because a company will just need me when they go to market to create the strategy, get some marketing processes going, and then they fire me or have me train a, a mid-level marketer to do what I executed and set up. You know,
John Jantsch (04:49): You've been doing this for a while, as have I, have you seen a change in the marketplace for accepting that, that idea? Very, we have leaned into the positioning a lot harder the last few years, even though we've always been doing it because it seems like small, mid-size businesses not only get the need for strategy, but I think the whole fractional employee, if you will, is really caught on, hasn't it? Yeah.
Mike Volkin (05:11): Yeah. It's been steadily growing ever since I've been doing it for like the last 10 years. In fact, when I was first doing it, I was calling it a part-time CMO because the word fractional wasn't even around. And then covid hit, and then everybody got used to doing rero remote work and freelance work started getting really popular, even though it was popular beforehand. And now kind of fractional. CMO is just kind of a name, names stake. Yeah. I mean it's not just CMO work, it's fractional executive work C levels of all types. So it's just, yeah.
John Jantsch (05:40): Yeah. I, yeah, the fractional C F O I think is probably been around longer than any other role because, you know, a lot of organizations, they need somebody to do their taxes, do their bookkeeping, but you know, they also need a little strategic advice on that, but rarely need a C F O O. What I've seen a lot in the last couple years also is a lot of organizations, I think, you know, let's keep blaming stuff on the pandemic. Why don't we, you know, kind of got caught without a strategy. You know, the market was good. They rose with
Mike Volkin (06:22): Yeah, absolutely. In fact, the, you know, a lot of people, obviously companies went under or had struggled with the pandemic, but my business was great as a fractional. CMO companies came to me saying, Hey, either one, we never paid attention to marketing before. And now's our chance to kind of retool and start to strategize. And the other part is, you know, you know, let's get creative, you know, help. Let's hire you to help me get creative and let's do something outta the box here. So I had some fun projects during covid and worked with companies I probably never would've normally. So I actually, I don't wanna say I enjoyed the pandemic 'cause that's not good to say, but from a fractional CMO standpoint, it was pretty beneficial for me. Y
John Jantsch (06:57): Yeah. And, and I think that will continue. I, we also had a lot of CMOs jump out of companies and decide they didn't wanna work for 'em anymore. And so I think there's more people hanging the fractional shingle out there, if you will. Yeah. Would, would you say there's a, I don't know if it's size or industry, but would you say that there are companies that get to a certain point that need this role, maybe more than others?
Mike Volkin (07:22): I would say every size company needs a fractional cmo, but they're certainly companies that are pre-revenue, or probably the ones that most needed are the ones that didn't think they needed a marketing senior marketing leader. They got the marketing like, wait, our sales aren't really what is expected and our, there's the product market fit really isn't there. Let's hire somebody senior to figure out what's going on. Uh, because a lot of entrepreneurs, as you know, have big goals. They'll come to meet time and time again saying, we got a billion dollar idea, and this is gonna be massive and take equity in the company and this and that. But it rarely works out like that. Right.
John Jantsch (08:30): You, you, you know, another type of company that I've seen over the years quite often is that company that is very founder sales driven. They grew nicely, 10, 15, $20 million company, but they plateaued because they don't have that senior team at all. Or se uh, senior marketing person. I think this fractional CMO is very attractive to them as well, because they may be ready for a CMO, but the typically the founder has no idea what to tell the CMO to do, or if they're doing a good job. And I, so I think that hold, doesn't that hold 'em back? Sometimes it's like, I'm not gonna hire that senior marketing person because, well, I don't know what they're, I don't get marketing.
Mike Volkin (09:10): That's the typical way a company grows, right? So they go to market, they have a very tight budget, you know, they do the lean business model thing, and they hire the minimum that they need to get a lot done. People wear a lot of hats. They might even have a marketing department with nobody actually specifically dedicated to marketing with any specific marketing skills. And then they realize they need the strategy. That's my sweet spot. When I have a company that has data coming in, they have customers, they have, you know, things that I can look at and grab onto to create a strategy. And then that's when things really start to take off. When they have processes, they know who they need to hire or need to upskill, and they really need my services at that point. So generally, my sweet spot is somewhere around 250,000 in revenue to 3 million in revenue is when companies decide I wanna scale, but I don't have the team to do it. Or the strategy.
John Jantsch (09:55): Yeah. Yeah. And even in that range that you mentioned, I mean, you have different problems at $2 million than you did at 250,000 probably as well. And so if you've never dealt with those problems, even having an outside perspective is, is pretty important, isn't it?
Mike Volkin (10:09): It's always important. You know, one of the key freelancers that I hire for a lot of my projects or my clients that I work with are the marketers. Because yeah, marketing is so fast. It's not, you know, back in the sixties it was like, here's the yellow pages and let's get listed. And that was marketing. Now it's like, and even lately, it's like, you gotta be on top of these AI programs and what they're doing and their capabilities. It's all these different specialties and marketing should just, I mean, there's hundreds of 'em. It's, you can niche down to anything now,
John Jantsch (10:34): Hey, marketing agency owners, you know, I can teach you the keys to doubling your business in just 90 days or your money back. Sound interesting. All you have to do is license our three step process that it's gonna allow you to make your competitors irrelevant, charge a premium for your services and scale perhaps without adding overhead. And here's the best part. You can license this entire system for your agency by simply participating in an upcoming agency certification intensive look, why create the wheel? Use a set of tools that took us over 20 years to create. And you can have 'em today, check it out at dtm.world/certification. That's dtm.world/certification
(11:20): So if somebody asks you to come in and, you know, it's like a typical thing. We need marketing or we need marketing help, we're not really sure. Like our website's not working. I mean, it's always like some little tactic thing, right? Yeah. And you know, you've been doing this for 10 minutes, you realize no, that
Mike Volkin (11:51): Yeah, that's a really good question. So the, probably the most popular thing that I do when I first come into a company is I, I give 'em an audit. I just go through not just marketing, but every piece of data I can get ahold of. You know, even if they gimme financial statements, P and ls, whatever, I'll, I'll look at everything I can to get an overall glimpse of how data's coming into the company, how it comes outta the company, and then I'll look at the resources and especially the staff. You know, I wrote a, I wrote a book called The Business Success Formula, and it's literally a formula on how to create business success. And the heavily, the most heavily weighted elements of that formula is the staff. It's 50% more valuable or heavily weighted than any other, uh, formula, part of the formula.
(12:29): But typically what happens is, I'll, I'll give an audit. And then the thing about clients is they come to you and they don't know what they need. They don't know what they don't know. So they might come to you with a problem and say, Hey, we need strategy. And I'll say, wait, you're not ready to scale yet. You don't need a strategy. You need to fix some stuff first. So I go in and I, I tell them, usually there's a clear communication problem with the way they're portraying their products or their service on their website. It's not hitting, right? It's not resonating. Conversion rates are low, bounce rates are high. All those key performance indicators that indicate that you're just not ready yet to scale. You need to refine some things. So typically what I do is I start with their website and their marketing materials and I refine the messaging. And that usually alone gives 'em a good 15, 20% boost in revenue and conversions right off the bat. 'cause a lot of companies don't really think too hard about that kind of stuff until they realize there's a plateau.
John Jantsch (13:18): Yeah, yeah. Their message is, here's what we do, here's what we sell. Right.
Mike Volkin (13:23): And then also the testing is really big too. I mean, that's how Uber and the, these companies that just exploded to a billion dollar valuation, they just tested every little minutia of their company. So AB testing is big too. I'll ask 'em, you know, what have you tried for your calls to action? What have you tried for your different menu options on your pricing plans? And they just don't, they just threw stuff up. They never really did any research on their pricing, and they just thought, you know, that's this, the price, it's gonna be a hundred dollars a month. But they never really did any research or surveys or anything. So there's that element to it.
John Jantsch (13:49): Yeah. Or, or worse yet, we find a lot of people just like, well, this is what everybody charges in, you know, free in our market, so we'll just be competitors charge. Yeah, exactly. Yeah. So, all right. You mentioned, you know, here's when I talk to people that, that decide to be fractional CMOs, one of the real challenges to the business model is you're really just selling your time. I mean, or that can be one of the challenges is, is, you know, you've mentioned that there's six companies that get a six to me. I mean, you may be highly paid for your time, but how do you scale a business like that? Or is it in your mind not really possible
Mike Volkin (14:26): To a certain point? The way I scale it is I have a, I'm not an agency, but I have a close-knit group of freelancers, depending on the skillset that I keep near and dear to my heart that I know do good work and deliver good value. And I don't need a quote unquote babysit them too much. Like I know, right? Right. If I give them a task with very little effort or instructions, they're gonna complete it. So I have about 20 to 30 of those people in my pocket. So when I create a strategy, I tell the team, listen, if you don't have anybody staff that can do this, I have people on staff now I have my fee, my hourly fee, but if you want me to manage them and work with them to deliver the product, like I will charge more for that.
(15:00): So that's the way I scale it, is I'll either upcharge the freelancers that I recommend just because of I'm working with them and I'm managing them. So other than the hourly fee, I also charge that. And I also make a, a good amount of money from referrals too. Like if I can't, I don't fit every client that wants me to work with them. So I'll say, listen, I know someone I used to work with, he's great. Give him a call, he's gonna work with your company, and then I'll take a 10% cut or whatever from that freelancer I refer to. So
John Jantsch (15:26): Yeah. One of the things that we've been teaching for years is a repeatable system. As you mentioned, a lot of times people, they've had no strategic direction, so they don't really need A CMO. They need what A CMO would've developed for them. Mm-hmm.
Mike Volkin (16:07): No, because you're actually speaking my language. This week I'm actually launching a business where it's gonna be the first ever AI generated marketing strategy. So I've been working on it for quite some time, but, uh, it's literally gives a company, and it's just for marketing agencies. I'm not rolling it out to everybody. So a marketing agency would come, they answer 16 or so questions about their clients, and it would spit out a three month marketing strategy for them based on the answers. So, you know, not to plug myself, but it's called your marketing expert.ai and it's gonna be launched this Friday. So I've been working on it for a long time. So yes, I do think that strategy is yeah, repeatable. However, the, even I'll be at my AI marketing strategy, it's not gonna get you 100% there. There's little nuances about every company and culture and the, the experience, the staff and like you just AI can't do, no matter how good AI is gonna get that, you need to be able to get in there that last 10% and customize it.
John Jantsch (16:57): Yeah. Yeah. I, you know, I've been, obviously all marketers are, you know, talking about AI today and Yeah. You know, I tell people, I think the best that you can expect from it right now is it's just an informed assistant. Mm-hmm.
Mike Volkin (17:21): Yeah. AI is certainly not replacing anything. Um, but it certainly does help and the potential there for something more, you know, more development. Obviously ChatGPT 4 is awesome, but, you know, I think a lot of clients that come to me thinking that AI could solve their problems, and it's really just more of a, a helpful tool to save money. It does cut down some of my time. Like if I need to, sure. You know, copyright a script or something real quick, I'll throw it in the chat G B T before I hire a writer and I'll hire the writer, look at it and review it type of thing. So it has certainly built some important processes in some businesses, but it's certainly not replacing anything at least just yet. But it certainly will in the near future.
John Jantsch (17:56): One of my favorite content uses is, you know, you write a really great, you know, piece of content and then just let AI turn it into 18 formats. That's right. So, so the writing's good. The writing is yours, it's original, it's on point, you know, but then it takes that and gives you all the uses cut up. Yeah. Talk a little bit about, you mentioned this early on that you end up, because of your background, you're able to actually kind of put your spin on some areas that people would think, well, that's outside of marketing. I, you know, I tell people all the time, I think everything a business does is marketing, you know,
Mike Volkin (18:55): Yeah, that's a good question. So typically, I mean, there's no less than three dozen different types of inbound marketing tactics and outbound, right? So, right. You can't do them all at once or you're gonna be spread too thin. So you have to look from a CMO standpoint, you have to look at the budget and also the resources. Like you can have the, a huge budget, but have no staff really to be able to execute it. So you have to balance that in with the, the strategy work you're doing. But typically what I like to do is I like to have two, maybe three different marketing channels that a company is gonna perfect where they can say, I put in $10,000 in this marketing strategy and I got $40,000 r o i once you could do that repeatedly, then we move on to a different channel.
(19:32): And depending on your skills of your staff, we, it depends what, what channel we select, you know? I mean, if, if nobody likes to speak in front of a camera, I'm not gonna be selecting a YouTube strategy for you. Right? So, you know, that's the kind of artwork that I don't think AI is ever gonna be able to pick up, but that I come in as a CMO and I have to look at from both sides to say, okay, do we have the staff and resources, and then what channel do we pick based on that? So that's the way I usually approach that. And I don't usually have them do more than three different types of inbound marketing at once.
John Jantsch (20:00): So, so, so what about some of the areas that fall outside of that? So, I mean, we've all seen this, you, you know, you're generating leads, they're converting leads, and then, you know, service drops the ball and they're going out the back door, you know, it's like, oh, it's marketing's fault. You know, we're not growing
Mike Volkin (20:25): Well, marketing, that's a good question. Marketing and sales is always almost presented as one and the same for a company. Sure. Especially if it's a sales led company. But honestly, before I ever launch a marketing campaign, I used to not, but now I do. I always look at the sales process, I'll look at the sales conversions and I'll, this guy isn't cutting it, or this team isn't cutting it, or they're, they're doing the wrong thing on the, on the calls to the clients. But ultimately you have to be able to, your scope of work, when you outline what needs to be done with the client, it has to clearly outline what marketing is and what sales is like. I just had a client the other day who wants me to hop on some, um, sales calls, and I'm like, I've never done that in my entire life. That's not what marketing is. You just have to explain to 'em this is what marketing is and this is what sales is. And it's different with every company. Sales isn't necessarily sales from one company to the next. So in my contract that I send out to my clients, I have a, a long bulleted list of things that I do. And then I also have a, a list of things I don't do in regards to sales, like taking phone calls from clients and customers.
John Jantsch (21:22): Yeah. Yeah, yeah. Yeah. Awesome. Well, Mike, you wanna tell, again, I appreciate you taking a few moments to drop by the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast. You wanna tell people where they might connect with you and find out more about your work? Yeah,
Mike Volkin (21:31): Thanks. Always available for speaking gigs. mikevolkin.com, m i k e v o l k i n.com. And if you're a marketing agency, you want some marketing strategy, my new website, yourmarketingexpert.ai.
John Jantsch (21:43): Awesome. Again, appreciate you stopping by the show and hopefully we'll run into you one of these days out there on the road, Mike.
Mike Volkin (21:48): Alright, thanks so much, John. Talk to you soon. Hey,
John Jantsch (21:50): And one final thing before you go. You know how I talk about marketing strategy, strategy before tactics? Well, sometimes it can be hard to understand where you stand in that, what needs to be done with regard to creating a marketing strategy. So we created a free tool for you. It's called the Marketing Strategy Assessment. You can find it @marketingassessment.co, not.com.co. Check out our free marketing assessment and learn where you are with your strategy today. That's just marketingassessment.co. I'd love to chat with you about the results that you get.
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