In this Growing Business Faster podcast episode, Matt Coffy interviews Chief Revenue Officer Jeff Herrmann about Fathom's best digital marketing practices that small businesses can immediately implement.
Matt Coffy: So I’ve got Jeff Herrmann on the podcast today. Jeff is the founder of Fathom.
Jeff Herrmann: No.
Matt Coffy: Oh, you’re not the founder.
Jeff Herrmann: I’m the chief revenue officer.
Matt Coffy: You’re the chief revenue officer. Whatever. I mean, we’ll call you what you want to be called.
Jeff Herrmann: That’s right.
Matt Coffy: I’m the chief bottle washer, trash taker out of Customer Bloom.
Jeff Herrmann: That’s right. Chief cook and bottle washer as my dad used to say.
Matt Coffy: Yeah. So I guess I look at this and I go, you know, we’re a digital agency in New Jersey. We have a little bit unique approach on the market. You’re an agency out in the middle of the world and you’re in Ohio. What is it that you think makes Fathom stand out?
Jeff Herrmann: We have passion and purpose. As a privately-held agency, we have no one to answer to other than our ownership, our partnership structure. And here I’ll play the Midwest thing to our advantage. We have Midwestern values, strong work ethic. What makes us different is we grew up from a heads down, SEO optimization standpoint. We productized SEO more than 10 years ago, and just that blocking and tackling perspective and kind of boxing it up so it’s digestible for a lot of our Legacy clients who are B2B manufacturers, that allowed us to grow and evolve into really now our core competencies are really delivering personalized and scalable communication strategies across enterprise. With the data-driven DNA and we really focus on innovative and scale-seeking CMOs and we grew up executing and with the team we really embraced a more strategic approach. Our biggest area of growth is in marketing automation and CRM because it’s all about that one-to-one communication and doing it at scale and with data driving all the programs.
Matt Coffy: There’s so much in there. Great. I get that.
Jeff Herrmann: Hey, I’m a sales guy, right? So of course you expect me to riff on you.
Matt Coffy: Yeah. I just was trying to right-size the discussion. I know we talked about this briefly before we started sort of getting into the cool. Your position in the market is probably upstream a little bit more than where we are from dealing with automation and the social selling piece which I think is the next sort of iteration where we’re going to end up putting our efforts towards. I mean, really we’re at that phase where the majority of our customers are just coming out and saying, “I want simple stuff. I just want traffic and conversions, right?” Where it becomes more integrated when you start to go into aspects of putting in Marketo or a larger-ended automation tool like Infusionsoft and start really working with people on segregating profiles and stuff. But I had a question that relates to the brand itself. How does Fathom become Fathom? Was it you and Scott and Kevin starting it all together? It seems like you’ve had a history here as part of your world.
Jeff Herrmann: Yeah. That’s a great question. Fathom became Fathom we were almost 19 years old. It started as Vendor Tech. so out of the box in the late 90s, we digitized the Thomas Register. Are you familiar with that?
Matt Coffy: Oh yeah, absolutely.
Jeff Herrmann: So we loaded that puppy on CD-ROMs back in the day. Bill Fox is the founder and Bill Fox founded the company, took it from Vendor Tech to Fathom SEO. Our legal entity is still Fathom SEO LLC. I only joined just shy of five years ago. I joined because unfortunately Bill Fox passed. He had an untimely death. He had a heart attack. He was the passionate driving force behind the company and he started the company with at least a dozen other individuals and he consolidated his position with Kevin and Scott back in around 2006 or 2007. That’s what really took Fathom SEO from a scrappy startup shy at 30 people to where we are today which is north of 150 people across Ohio, Columbus. We actually have a team in Chicago as well. Yeah, it’s funny though because the name Fathom is very broad and vague and we’ve had modifiers over time. We’re about to add another modifier back because people often say, “Aren’t you the Fathom Events that people see in the movie trailers? So we have to explain that. We’ve been so performance-driven and results-driven that branding is something we’ve only appreciated as far as our public entity legally.
Matt Coffy: That sort of leads me to the next conclusion here which is your aim has been initially of that rolodex coming from that Thomas Register. It must have been absolutely amazing to see what we’ve been able to see or have some visibility around some very interesting worlds. But the company itself, what would you say is the thing that keeps you motivated in the space? Why do you do what you do?
Jeff Herrmann: Several reasons. We’re very purpose-driven. We’re big supporters of the conscious capitalism movement. We believe like many others believe that entrepreneurs and business can change the world. No offense to big government or NGOs but money moves markets and money when applied appropriately most often where entrepreneurs and private organizations and private companies in public trade companies can actually invest and move markets and make change. That’s our purpose, right? We’ve spent a lot of time on culture and purpose and letting our entire team know that we’re here. It’s not simply a paycheck. It’s a career. Even boil it down to something as simple as I want to help my parents put an addition on their kitchen. That’s a purpose. That’s a calling. That’s kind of the broader perspective. Specifically, this is just a fun space. I mean, if you look at the market tech landscape, that’s upwards of 3000 entities on the market tech land space. This is such a dynamic space for constantly learning. I’m personally passionate about social selling and the movement, the agenda being pushed by LinkedIn and others to help people connect on a more meaningful and relevant way using social media tools. It’s a lot of fun. That’s the other side of it. It’s just a lot of fun to be in this business.
[clickToTweet tweet="'We believe that entrepreneurs and business can change the world.' @JeffLHerrmann" quote="We believe like many others believe that entrepreneurs and business can change the world. -Jeff Herrmann"]
Matt Coffy: That’s great. At the end of the day—we’re trying to get some of the mindset strategy in this—do you think that there is a certain type of, I would say, skill set beyond obviously the sales piece but really what drives you to be successful? Is there a piece that you might want to impart from a perspective of how you go about your day that would impact many people on this call to help them get to the process of building a better structure in their day or building a better structure to the way that they strategize their business?
Jeff Herrmann: Yeah. In fact, we have a very big discipline around strategic planning. We’re big fans of Verne Harnish’s Rockefeller Habits.
Matt Coffy: Oh yeah. I have his books.
Jeff Herrmann: Cool. Yeah, we’re using the Scaling Up book to develop our seven strata of strategy. We always had a really strong focus on vision and purpose, and then specifically our operating model effectively what we get paid to do. We’re using the Scaling Up methodology. On a weekly basis, we have a small team of people from across the organization that meet. We establish a set of core competencies and what are we really good at, foundational things that don’t change. For example, we have 10 years of experience in email and marketing. We have sent over a billion emails. So we took that foundational experience of email marketing and doing email marketing before marketing mission really existed. We’ve applied that to where the fastest growing area of our business is helping companies that invest in a Marketo or a HubSpot help them not only do an implementation but strategy. Like literally how do they write content, build assets, do campaign and execution, and ultimately drive sales productivity. I would say grab a book, take a framework, take a pass at it, and just more focus. We’re big believers in niche audience strategies. The more you can focus and resonate with a specific persona, like I mentioned this already, but our persona literally you walk around and you tap anyone on the shoulder. Who’s our persona? Innovative and scale-seeking sales leaders and CMOs. Boom! And just get to that point where there’s such alignment and that there’s an attraction model both internally and externally because of that.
Matt Coffy: You have mentioned a couple of things in passing. When we talk about the price or cost or investment range, what’s the typical cost that you’re approaching now that will go into this space where you’re going to help them right-size their Marketo or go after and clean their HubSpot strategy out and start them into a real environment.
Jeff Herrmann: That’s a great question. The obvious answer is it depends, right? But we do everything from projects. Simply clean up. In many cases, a marketing animation program won’t go effectively unless your CRM, your sales force instance is in check and there’s good data hygiene. It’s one of those processes where you start digging in. Marketo even says to the extent that when you’re looking at investing in transforming your organization through marketing animation, I think that software alone is just a fifth of the investment. If you’re allocating budget, the bulk of the investment really should go around driving the program forward, building content, campaigns, all the assets. I mean, I can give you a range. We do projects just to kind of focus on hygiene and restructuring that start in the $25,000 - $50,000 range. Typically we can accomplish our goals within two to three months. But then ongoing programs, I mean specifically we have many ongoing programs where it’s a recurring revenue model, right? So we literally to get the process flow and unload the logic and lead scoring down, but then the content and all the assets and making sure that we’re constantly measuring and optimizing, that’s upwards of starting at $30,000 a month up into the six figures. It all depends upon the scope and how much they want to accomplish.
Matt Coffy: How many people usually work on a project for you? Let’s just say the average project is $50,000 a month to work with a brand on.
Jeff Herrmann: We’re agile, right? So we have core teams around our solutions, around search and paid and marketing automation and CRM. To the extent that our marketing automation and we call it nurture marketing specifically. We have more than 25 people just on that team alone. There’s a dedicated account team of course that quarterbacks the relationship. Ad so the extent that we have people with specialties that participate on that project across content, across more on the analytical side, the measurement side, the design, building the assets and the campaign execution and the design. It’s a range really. It all depends on the scope of the situation but anywhere from a small team of three upwards of we can have a dozen people on a project any given time.
Matt Coffy: You guys have got a pretty decent roster of customers and brands that you’ve been working with and obviously being in business for this long, it’s a different sort of enablement model where you’re being picked out in a I would assume in a RFP process typically.
Jeff Herrmann: We love RFPs but quite frankly we grow under our own power. I worked at the Nielsen company for a long time, and of course there I never had a prospect. You say Nielsen TV ratings and people take your call and they take your meeting and it’s not a problem. It was an interesting change. I was an entrepreneur at Nielsen. I built video game measurements and mobile media measurements and really helped support the online video measurement initiatives back to almost 10 years ago. Becoming an entrepreneur where working for a small, privately-held company, we have always had great referrals and of course great inbound because that’s what’s we do for ourselves. But we really chose to pick a set of ideal clients across the set of verticals and just grow in a more predictable way under our own power and that started as a prospecting program with good old-fashioned calls and emails and we had hardcore measurement in sales force.
But then we evolved into social selling. So we dropped the volumetric approach because email prospecting, spamming cold prospects does not work. Social selling does work. Using social tools, not only observing who your targets are, researching and observing your targets but then engaging with them and finding out relevant things about them. I believe you’re a musician. I just noticed a couple of things. I can dig in to that topic with you. I have a musical background. Just one of the things that we can pick up relevant that can help build those initial seeds of the relationship. And then my personal passion which is why I do a lot of podcast interviews is how do we all become creators. I’m such a believer in the fact that everyone has an opportunity to express themselves these days and that the best way to scale your relationships and scale your revenue is to become a creator of content. You can assume an authority position in your space. If you have passion, commitment, and an iPhone 6+, you can build a global audience. It’s that easy these days. That’s my personal passion is helping a lot of entrepreneurs and sales leaders break through by just embracing the tools that are available to all of us and then just really focusing on the discipline approach to building their own audience which effectively builds their business.
Matt Coffy: One of the things that we notice is that you’ve done some speaking engagements. Where do you sort of put yourself? Obviously you’ve got yourself titled as the CRO. But where do you, in your speaking engagements, where have you found a sweet spot for the audience that they want to hear?
Jeff Herrmann: The most effective speaking engagements I’ve had are motivated individuals and I resonate really well with marketing-minded sales leaders and sales-minded marketing leaders oddly enough. People with personal motivation to express themselves and feel like they have a story to tell and they want to tell it at scale and what tools they can use and first why they should tell their story because everyone has a really interesting story to tell. I do a fair amount of LinkedIn profile consulting. For example, the summary section, everyone should have something personal or interesting in their summary just to not be superficial and just using LinkedIn as kind of like your online job profile resume and database. It really resonates just from certainly not nowhere near the personal development world of “Do your best” and “Be awesome.” I’m just a guy that loves social media and loves to help other people express themselves. I really find myself being the Rick Rubin of digital marketing because I’ve helped a lot of other marketing and sales leaders, set themselves up on YouTube channel, focus on what to say, how to say it, when to do it, and get a lot of personal joy out of that process.
Matt Coffy: Let’s do a real-time consulting, five-second gig. I do a Periscope every morning around nine o’clock. I take it. I post it into LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, to our corporate pages. I then take that, convert it into a podcast. It goes into our YouTube channel and it goes back into distribution. What would you suggest I do beyond that?
Jeff Herrmann: I would say do less honestly. You’ve got all the bases covered. That’s one of the biggest challenges, and I struggle with the same thing. Literally, what’s your source content? It sounds like your original source content is Periscope, so that live video. And then taking that asset and then repurposing that asset as many times as you can. That’s fantastic. If you can do it in a scalable way in a disciplined manner, it’s phenomenal. The question I have for you is which platforms do you feel like you get the most engagement from?
Matt Coffy: LinkedIn.
Jeff Herrmann: Yeah. Same with me. I have done YouTube and I have a YouTube channel. I can dial back about a year here. But right around last year this time, I had a passion for doing a podcast and I wanted to get into podcasting in a big way, signed up for copy bloggers, showrunner program, bought the podcast online course. I really enjoyed that. I really enjoyed that. I really enjoyed that content and that organization in general. But I really was working out what I wanted to say, what I wanted to accomplish. So I took to YouTube and I set up a YouTube channel and I just started shooting two to five-minute videos and got into a repetition, got into a pattern. I got squat for engagement on YouTube. But when I would share it on LinkedIn, it would really resonate. To this day, even though I source my content or produce the content so to speak via video, I recently shifted over to Facebook Live as my point of origin of which I save that, send it over to YouTube, upload it, and then share it out on LinkedIn because embedding Facebook video and having it surface in other places still is not a great experience. But I would say that where a lot of people I work with fall down is they’re doing too much and you pick a channel and you just hammer on that channel for a period of time, get engaged in, and almost you never truly conquer a channel but you get to be known. So I’m sure you have the great consistency. You’ve built that behavioral expectation. I’m sure they’ll miss you if you’re gone. If you stop producing, people probably pin you and say, “Hey, where’d you go?” If they do that, you know you’re successful.
[clickToTweet tweet="'Where a lot of people I work with fall down is they’re doing too much.' @JeffLHerrmann" quote="'Where a lot of people I work with fall down is they’re doing too much.' @JeffLHerrmann"]
Matt Coffy: I’ve been experimenting with Snapchat lately as well. Most people are meandering through mobile and trying to figure out what’s the best way to work it. Snapchat story is another thing that’s been interesting. Obviously, there’s a lot of people who aren’t at that platform yet and the audience is typically 13-25. But there are some core SEO guys that I sort of snap back and forth. It’s got more of a personalized internet texting gig. So Periscope was interesting because there was live participation, which I really thought was cool because I believe that that’s sort of the access strategy that’s missing in a lot of people’s visibility profile. I guess I look at this and I go Periscope was an idea. Facebook Live to me is probably a better idea now that it’s actually up and running. It’s just not very formatted very well. That will come. That’s why I was curious as to does it make sense to maneuver into Facebook Live and then use that as the platform because you’re accessibility is better. Periscope is limited because I thought it’s not a platform that’s visible to a lot of people on their phone.
I think that’s sort of these decisions that I’m trying to think about like what’s the best way to be consistent. That’s the number one thing. And then the podcast, that certainly helps because the podcast goes up every day now. Instead of like once a week, it’s literally every day like our discussions that we have every day. Anything else you’re seeing in the field that you’re seeing from a retail level—we work with a lot of manufacturing companies as well and I get it—where there could be some advantages that maybe someone who’s listening to this right now is thinking what could I do for my customer to help them grow their activity beyond he marketing automation stuff that we talked about earlier.
Jeff Herrmann: Right, right. It is literally having a strategy behind your content marketing, and that sounds so obvious. You’re like “Of course.” But content marketing governs everything. It governs your social media strategy. It governs our prospecting strategy. It’s to the extent that you set goals and have a content marketing mission statement. I can share our direct experience. We have a great team, a lot of creators posting to our blog on a consistent basis. Lots of great insight but it was a little all over the place. Like you got great insight on tactics, but to the extent that you want to harmonize it and really make it resonate. We spent a fair amount of time developing editorial guidelines this past year. I mentioned before our target of innovative and scale-seeking sales leaders and CMOs. That’s our persona and we go a little deeper on that. But then editorial guidelines and really focusing on core set of themes and we publish that and make it well-known.
Once again, if you’re targeting everyone, you’re targeting no one. So having that thematic approach governed by a content marketing strategy led by a strong content marketing mission statement. Of course, the mission statement. I’m quoting Joe Policci, but it’s “Who’s the target? What’s delivered and what’s the outcome for the audience?” Just answering those simple things and making it prevalent drive so much value because you really just focus your effort and you know why you’re working and you end up getting away from just churning out stuff and kind of making meaningful progress towards a very specific goal.
Matt Coffy: Interesting. That’s a lot said in a couple of sentences because there’s a lot of pieces to that.
Jeff Herrmann: Tons. Yeah.
Matt Coffy: Let’s get back into just the company and then I want you to talk a little bit about what you’re up to. Can you give me just to kind of scale the size of where you guys fit or from a revenue perspective where you were 10 years ago or maybe where you were when you really entered into this digital marketing space. Just a five minute sort of like… So the people who are in their growth stage, they’re growing, just like we are. We’re growing quickly into our sort of mature phase where we’re getting our people aligned up with the teams. It’s a big phase of growth for us. But you’ve kind of passed that initial stage. You’re more of a matured… In fact, just give us a little background of that if you wouldn’t mind.
Jeff Herrmann: Sure, sure. Literally we’re self-admitted awkward teenagers. We still absolutely trip and get bumps and bruises along the way but it’s such a great learning opportunity. Just around the company, around Fathom, we’re north of 150 team members today. We’ve been on the Inc 5000 list for I think five years running now. So we grow at a 30 percent a year growth rate. Our mix has changed though. So what was once significant growth in SEO and paid media which are still great contributors from a growth rate standpoint, we found that our marketing automation and CRM programs have really taken off and are leading our growth.
[clickToTweet tweet="'If you’re targeting everyone, you’re targeting no one.' @JeffLHerrmann" quote="'If you’re targeting everyone, you’re targeting no one.' -Jeff Herrmann"]
Being that we’re listed in Ad Age and on the Inc 5000, we’re north of a $20 million organization on our run rate right now, and once again we started as a really small organization. I think the initial team was three to five people and really got off and running around 2003, once again really focused on productized SEO. We’ve just evolved. Through things like the discipline approach to a growth model through the Rockefeller Habits and daily huddles, quarterly priorities, annual goals, following those frameworks, we’ve structured and re-structured now and again. So product-centric, team-centric, then solution-centric.
We’ve evolved. Now we’ve take a vertical approach. We know we resonate. We have really wonderful traction with health care, higher education, and consumer brand space. So we have dedicated teams to that where we have a high degree of intimacy. We still have a solutions team at the core which applies their knowledge and expertise to solve the client problems. Then we have kind of an opportunistic approach. We’re just not going out targeting anyone and everyone because that doesn’t lead to sustainable growth. So we’re pretty disciplined with our inbound needs. We have lots of partners that we have good lead flow but we may pass leads off to a lot of individuals, partners, or other agencies simply because we really prefer to stick to our ideal client profile. We just have great retention rates when we do that.
Matt Coffy: Yeah. That’s what it’s all about in this business is to hold on to clients that trust you. I just had a client meeting this morning and we were talking about building an e-commerce solution. Partway, he says, “How much does this cost?” I say, “I’m not really interested in how much it costs. I’m interested in how long we can be a valued partner for you.” I think that that changed the conversation to a discussion about a relationship as opposed to a transaction.
Jeff Herrmann: Right. Absolutely.
Matt Coffy: Good. So what do you got going on that we should know about as we get to the kind of wrap-up section here, and anything, speaking engagements or anything about Fathom that you would like to just impart with us?
Jeff Herrmann: Sure, sure. Yeah, definitely once getting back on, geez, there’s so much to share, but specifically I’ll be at Content Marketing World talking about Social Selling 101 and I have a podcast specifically focused on social selling and the age of content marketing and how individuals, sales leaders, and marketing leaders can really evolve into thought leaders and the tools at our disposal to share your knowledge and expertise, and that’s a fantastic way to connect with customers. I’ve had so many occasions where I’ve connected with someone on LinkedIn, they find my content, they spend just a few minutes with some of my videos on my YouTube channel or things they see on LinkedIn, and then we have a phone conversation. I just heard this last week, “You’re perfectly consistent. You’re kind of goofy on the phone and you’re kind of goofy on your videos. But you’re authentic and I feel like I know you already.” That allows us to just advance the relationship a little bit more quickly and just jump right in versus having that getting to know you phase. The podcast I release on a weekly basis is called Publish or Perish: Selling in the Age of Content Marketing. It’s on iTunes. I have a website to host it. It’s publishorperish.fm. You can find me there.
Matt Coffy: Cool. Very cool. We’re cut from the same cloth on the fact that I think the leadership visibility is a big push that people should do. But I have a caveat that I don’t think it’s for everybody. I think there are only a select few that will actually follow through and be consistent because it takes a dedicated effort to be prepared to make that part of your life.
Jeff Herrmann: Yeah. You’re spot-on. It’s funny I’m doing Facebook Live sessions and primarily I’m not active personally on Facebook. I’ve just embraced it more recently for business purposes. However, my wife and all her friends, they live on Facebook so I’m getting a fair amount of ribbing like “What’s your husband doing? What the heck is he doing on Facebook with the video?” But you just got to be bold and push through that there are actually prospects out there looking for that. So yeah.
Matt Coffy: I agree. All your friends from high school end up putting their funny, little comments about your…
Jeff Herrmann: Don’t get me started.
Matt Coffy: It’s all good in the end because you keep showing up and they keep commenting. You’re like “You know what?”
Jeff Herrmann: Thank you.
Matt Coffy: You’re adding to the flavor. You’re making my algorithm be better so just keep commenting. I don’t care what you put in there.
Jeff Herrmann: Right, right.
Matt Coffy: Awesome. Alright. Great. It was a pleasure talking to you. I’m really impressed with the size and scope. You’re so further along than we are, but we’re just a cog in another framework where we support a certain type of customer. You support a certain type of customer. We’re all sort of in the same marketing space. We just do different vehicles. I hope we cross each other’s path at some point at one of these shows in the physical format.
Jeff Herrmann: That would be great.
Matt Coffy: To have a more pointed discussion about all this fun animation of your character I’d like to delve more into.
Jeff Herrmann: It’s fun. It’s fun. Matt, it was really great talking to you. I enjoyed the time today.
Matt Coffy: Good. Alright then. Thank you.
Jeff Herrmann: Take it easy.