EPISODE 023
The Employed Entrepreneur
In this episode I share a conversation I had with Mike Tatum, a military soldier turned marketing guru.  He’s the person that spends his spare time studying marketing automation platforms like Hubspot, Pardot, Salesforce, and others to help companies like Survey Monkey create marketing that builds revenue. He lends his talents to Corporate America, but also runs his own marketing firm and somehow he manages it all.
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Host - Monique Mills   

[00:03]           Hi, everyone. Welcome back to the Unpolished MBA podcast. In this episode, I share a conversation I had with Mike Tatum, a military soldier turned marketing guru. He is one of the best. He's the person that spends his time studying marketing automation platforms on the weekend. And he helps companies like Survey Monkey create marketing that actually builds revenue. None of the fluff. As I always say, “Without revenues, you don't have a business anyway”, so there must be a focus there. With us both being in alignment with that, this was a great conversation. So listen in as Mike and I talked about career moves and entrepreneurship.

[00:57]       All right, I'm going to start by asking the first question. Are you an entrepreneur or corporate employee?


Guest - Mike Tatum   

[01:03]             Yeah, so I'm actually both. I have a corporate job and I also take on freelance work through an agency that I set up. Not sure if I really call it an agency, it's really just me doing the work. It's just nice to have that official agency feel. And I do have a couple of people who help me out in terms of project management and everything. So I'm a glutton for punishment, so I actually do both.


Host - Monique Mills   

[01:26]           Oh, that's good. That's good.


Guest - Mike Tatum   

[01:28]             Yeah.


Host - Monique Mills   

[01:29]           So I'm going to dive deeper into that one in a moment.


Guest - Mike Tatum   

[01:31]             Yeah.


Host - Monique Mills   

[01:32]           MBA or no MBA?


Guest - Mike Tatum   

[01:34]             So no MBA. I’ve thought about it. For me, it would just take time. I'd have to take away from work. And I just love what I do so much, for me, saying, “Oh, I'm going to stop and go to a classroom for two years,” it hasn't really spoke to me to make me kind of take the leap. But yeah, it's just one of those things that's always in the back of my mind. I'm not sure where I'm going to eventually go, I'm probably leaning towards no right now.


Host - Monique Mills   

[01:59]        Okay, good. Because I'm always interested to know how people learn about even setting up their own business. So you said you're both - you have the agency-- And no, so I know you want to kind of discount it and call it “Oh, it's just me,” but listen, that is the first step. Every company starts with one person. You have the setup; as your business grows, you can add people. That's the effect of being a business owner. But most people who start and it's like, “Yeah, I do have an MBA” are much more confident that, “Hey, I could do this.” So how did you even get started to say, “You know what? I'm going to set this up and we're going to see where it goes.” Where did that come from?


Guest - Mike Tatum   

[02:41]            Yeah. So really, what I was doing, my wife was a big part of it driving me to kind of take this leap. And so one of the things is I'm doing my corporate job, and I'm crushing it, I'm getting all these amazing results. And my wife kind of has this thing, because I always tell her about what's going on with my day, and what kind of things I'm working on. She'll be like, “Oh, you're doing all this amazing work for these companies? Why don't you get your own clients and do it for yourself?” And so I was like, “Okay, it makes a lot of sense. I could easily do this for other people.” And so she pushed me to kind of take the leap and set this up.

And I've started taking on projects, and I just love it. I love the duality of having a job where I'm engaged with a lot of colleagues, with one big company kind of keeping my skills sharp, and also kind of applying what I'm learning to my business when I'm working for clients, and vice versa as well too. I pull a lot of things I'm working with for clients that have nothing to do with B2B SaaS, where I work kind of during the day, and I'm able to take learnings and apply that to the job. So I think they create synergy between each other.


Host - Monique Mills   

[03:46]      Yeah, they definitely complement each other. A lot of employers, and it just depends, old school employers not so much, but ones, especially startups, or not even startup, I always say companies that have been created over the last 10, 15 years, they actually like that, because you're bringing in new ideas and stuff into them. And they like to see that you're constantly learning and growing. And it only helps them make more money.


Guest - Mike Tatum   

[04:11]        Yes, for sure.


Host - Monique Mills   

[04:12]        It helps you, having that entity, but it helps them make more money, too.


Guest - Mike Tatum   

[04:17]        Yeah, definitely.


Host - Monique Mills   

[04:19]        Well, that's awesome. I did a little bit of research, of course, because we're connected on LinkedIn, so I know that you have a background in advertising. I didn't even know, so that goes to show you that we live in silos and that's why I like to talk to smart, interesting people. I learn so much from all of you that I have on the podcast. I didn't know that advertising was actually a major.


Guest - Mike Tatum   

[04:44]         Yeah.


Host - Monique Mills   

[04:45]       I didn't know that. So tell me how did you choose that? Why did you choose it and go from there? Because you're amazing at what you do now - advertising. Go ahead.


Guest - Mike Tatum   

[04:53]     Yeah. Thank you. Yeah. So there aren’t a ton of schools out there offering advertising is a major so it's completely understandable. But yeah, so I actually had a crazy kind of college career just like everyone else. I actually started out studying history because I've always been fascinated just by real-life stories and I think how history kind of predicts things that are going on in the future. And so I was studying history because it was my passion. It was like, “I love history, why don't I major in history?” And then I was like, “What are the job prospects with a history degree?”

And obviously, teaching is a prevalent one, that's where most people end up going. And I didn't love teaching. I have so much respect for what teachers do. I personally cringe at the thought of having a classroom full of small kids every single day. Because I have my own two little ones, so I know how bad that can be with just two, having 30 is like, “Oh, my God.”


Host - Monique Mills   

[05:48]      Having a room full of them. Oh, gosh.


Guest - Mike Tatum   

[05:49]   Right. But yeah, out of that, I decided, “Yo, what do I like, and what can I take into something else?” And kind of on a whim, I took a class that was communications theory, which is kind of like the theory on interpersonal communication and mass communication. And I fell in love with it, and particularly advertising and marketing was a big one for me. So I found my passion with that and I ended up changing my major to advertising and actually switched schools to go to VCU because they had a phenomenal advertising program. Yeah, from there, it just really took off. I had a natural knack for it and I've just been on that path ever since.


Host - Monique Mills   

[06:26]      It's so interesting you say that because I know once my eyes were open to marketing, and how powerful it is, and basically how everything I do every day is pretty much driven by marketing, and everything we wear, what we buy, what we eat, how we raise our kids, and people don't realize it's impacting every single moment of your life. It’s incredible!


Guest - Mike Tatum   

[06:50]       It does. It really does.


Host - Monique Mills   

[06:54]      So when you went to school for that, what was your expectation of what you were going to do with it once you graduated?


Guest - Mike Tatum   

[07:02]    Yeah. So for me, my goal was to work at an advertising agency. And that was actually conveniently where I kind of ended up directly post-graduation, because I always loved advertising agencies, the chance to work across a lot of brands, it's idea-driven. And yeah, so my big thing was like, “I want to work in advertising.” And I spent a couple years post-graduation doing that. And I don't know how much you know about advertising; there's a lot of toxic parts to the culture in advertising agencies.


Host - Monique Mills   

[07:32]       Oh yeah, I know about that.


Guest - Mike Tatum   

[07:34]    Yeah. And so that's what I ran into. I think being black, being in a very toxic, very nondiverse culture was just draining on me. So, I ended up making the switch to working for a couple of tech startups, which tech, honestly, they have their own toxic cultures. I've been fortunate enough to be very, very diligent, because I was in that toxic agency atmosphere, finding businesses that I knew didn't have that and we're more forward-thinking and I knew was going to be a good fit. So that's how I kind of made that pivot into working in tech and B2B, most specifically.


Host - Monique Mills   

[08:08]        Yeah, B2B tech is interesting because they're just now starting to loosen up a bit when it comes to being more creative with their advertising and their marketing. And pretty soon, and I'm seeing it starting to happen slowly but surely, one of the things is businesses, even though it's B2B, you're still selling to a person. So it's not that much different than marketing B2C, where you're selling to consumers. So I totally see how you can vibe with that. So first of all, once you get into tech, I mean, you're sucked in.


Guest - Mike Tatum   

[08:44]           Yes.


Host - Monique Mills   

[08:44]          Nothing else will fill that void.


Guest - Mike Tatum   

[08:46]          No, not at all. Yeah, I love it. And I'm an ideas person. I'm not the most technically savvy person, but I love tech, what engineers are working on, what they're building, how they solve problems. And I carry that into a lot of stuff that I do. A lot of my work tends to focus around demand generation and marketing automation so it really is that same process, like, what does the customer journey look like? And what happens after someone downloads an ebook? What emails do they get? What advertising? Are they retargeted with all of that? Just really, really awesome atmosphere to be.


Host - Monique Mills   

[09:18]      Let me ask you something. Yeah, that entire ecosystem of what happens, as far as demand gen goes, is fascinating to most people who don't realize all of these things are strategically placed to happen that way. But when you are in your tech environment, you're dealing with engineers. And I always have to preface this by saying, I'm an engineer, and all the stereotypes I'm talking about, I have some of them myself. The thing is, I'm self-aware. I'm self-aware, and so when people point things out, I have to laugh, I'm like, “Yeah, that's exactly right. There you go.”

But I've learned to listen to the market. That has been the superpower behind businesses. How do you influence them to go along with some of your ideas that may seem not as… let me put it this way, to them, it's not one plus one equals two? It's like they download an e-book and then we do this. You’re probably a little bit more savvy with how to follow the buyer’s journey to influence their purchasing decision. That's not a superpower that engineers are inherently born with. How do you influence them internally?


Guest - Mike Tatum   

[10:35]         Yeah, I think for me, the number one thing is showing an appreciation for the work that they do and understanding that even like-- You know, I think a lot of people make the assumption that, “Oh, I want an engineer to just change this thing on this specific page. It's probably a quick five-minute thing,” when in actuality, this may be like they have to dedicate a day to making this. You don’t know how complex some engineering tasks are. For me, it's an understanding where it's like, “Hey, I understand this is a big ask, you got a lot of stuff on your plate in your workflow.” And I'll start with like, “Hey, this is what I want to do,” and let them tell me like, “What does that involve?” I'm always like if I were to ask you to do this, what does it involve? So I know exactly what I'm asking them for. And so I have an understanding, and I don’t just make the assumption that whatever I want needs to be pushed to the top of the queue. And I'll say, “Based on how much this is going to take, can I slide this in a couple of sprints down?” or, if it's something quick and easy, “You will be my permanent hero if you could squeeze it in earlier,” stuff like that. So I think the number one thing is having an understanding that things take time, and you need to be sensitive to how much engineering tasks involve.

[11:46]         And then I think the second thing is as a marketer - and I push all my colleagues I work with - tie everything to revenue. If you can say, “Hey, I want to make this change; this is what is going to be the revenue impact,” and then let them prioritize accordingly. Because I think if they understand the impact of it, they can properly prioritize, and then the workflow all makes sense.


Host - Monique Mills   

[12:06]      Thank you for saying that. I live day in and day out focused on revenue. And you would be surprised how many people are not. Especially in a tech startup world, it's like, “Well, if we do this and do that, then we'll get investors.” And I always say, customers are the best investors.


Guest - Mike Tatum   

[12:29]        Yes.


Host - Monique Mills   

[12:30]       Right? That is the investment that you're looking for. So I'm so glad that you're a marketer, and a professional that understands things need to be tied back to revenue. And I'm just telling you, in my past marketing department, and other engineers will tell you this, we'd be like, “What are they doing here? What they're doing is not important. It's just making stuff pretty in the brochures.” That was 15 years ago was the way I thought, right? But the way you all have, I mean, you came out swinging, particularly with the emergence of digital marketing, and analytics behind it, and being able to follow the entire buyer’s journey as much as you want to.

So I want you to explain to the audience how you define demand gen because a lot of people don't know the difference between demand gen, lead gen. And of course, lead gen includes performance marketing and all of that, but I’d like for you to describe to the audience, your definition of demand gen and what you do in your career right now.


Guest - Mike Tatum   

[13:39]     Yeah, that's one of the toughest things to define. People ask me that actually, all the time. I think broadly if you look at marketing, you have a lot of channel specialists. You have people who do PPC, people who do marketing operations, people who do reporting, and all of that, I see demand generation is kind of a function that oversees all of it. So I take a broad look at the entire field, like how are we acquiring customers? How are we being efficient there?

I look at what's happening in the middle in terms of how leads and things that are generated are nurtured. And then I also am looking at the end of the funnel where typically, marketing hands over prospects to sales, and then they're done. But I also look at how is sales converting? Are we sending them high enough quality leads? And then even all the way even further down the funnel, I'm looking at our customers. Are there opportunities to push our customers to upgrade into higher plans for the business? And just really demand generation broadly is just taking a marketing view at driving revenue. It’s like wherever it is in the pipeline, whether it's acquisition or you're looking at retention of customers, driving revenue is really what demand generation does.


Host - Monique Mills   

[14:46]     That's right. Wow. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. And I think that that will drive the point home for many of our listeners. So I also saw that you did the Y Combinator Startup School online. What made you want to do that?


Guest - Mike Tatum   

[15:01]     Yeah. Well, for me, I've been a tech-head for a long time. And obviously, anybody who does anything in tech, you know what Y Combinator is.


Host - Monique Mills   

[15:09]        You ought to.


Guest - Mike Tatum   

[15:09]         We know all the stories. We know all the stars. Yeah, exactly.


Host - Monique Mills   

[15:11]         Yeah. You better.


Guest - Mike Tatum   

[15:13]      Exactly. So I saw that they had their online school and I'm not a huge online course person. I'll mess around with LinkedIn Learning every now and then. But I saw it and I was like, “I love Y Combinator. They've got some of the best minds in tech there. So I want to do this, I want to check this out. Even with my business, it's not some ultra-complex SaaS startup or anything, but I want to see how they think about business just so I can learn.” And that was huge for me. I think there's such a lot you can take away from it. And it's free. I think everyone should do it. If you have a business, you should be doing that school.


Host - Monique Mills   

[15:48]         That's awesome. I'm glad that you recommended that to the audience. Because I think a lot of people have great ideas, and they read a few TechCrunch articles and be like, “Yep, this is what I'm going to do. I'm leaving that job and I'm going in, and I'm going to be this next big tech superstar,” and it's much more to it than having a great idea.


Guest - Mike Tatum   

[16:11]           It is.


Host - Monique Mills   

[16:13]         And so that's awesome. I will actually put a link to that in the show notes. And then finally, what I want to ask you about is I know that on your profile, it really highlights that you're somewhat of a HubSpot strategy and execution guru. And there are so many MarTech solutions out nowadays. Me personally, I've probably used about 40 of them, whether for my business, for clients, I've tried them all. So what got you to kind of grasp on to HubSpot and be like, “Yeah, this is a really good tool that can be used across many different businesses”?


Guest - Mike Tatum   

[16:57]          Yeah. So I think there are a couple of things I love about HubSpot. And I'll be the first to say just because I'm a marketer, doesn't mean I don't fall into the traps. I'm a HubSpot evangelist. They hooked me. I’m that sap who talks about HubSpot everywhere, so they got me, even as a marketer. But one of the things that I love about it is I think when you're looking at MarTech, especially MarTech that kind of bridges marketing and sales, it's only as good as the data that you put into it. And what I love about HubSpot specifically, is for salespeople who aren't like me, like they're not tech, they don't get into those systems, and all of that, it's so easy for them to use that they actually use it.

[17:36]          So I've found organizations where they'll use a CRM like Salesforce and the salespeople don't really know how to use it effectively, so they just don't update it. They don't put that critical data in there. I’ve found that HubSpot is so user friendly that you get good data. And it's growing. It's becoming more robust. I think the big knock on it is it is for kind of smaller, maybe mid-sized businesses but they've slowly grown the product. They're expanding, getting more custom functionality. And that's why I’m always a big, big champion of HubSpot, just because it allows marketing and sales to work so closely. That is the biggest thing. It should be a frictionless collaboration between marketing and sales. HubSpot has always been the tool that lets me do that, and that's why I'm always a big fan of HubSpot.


Host - Monique Mills   

[18:21]      And okay, I have to agree with you on that. They are partners with several of the tech startup incubators I'm associated with. So they really do a good job of offering not quite free, not freemium style, but it's heavily discounted to get people using it. Their customer acquisition strategy is sick. Not only that, their demand gen is ridiculous! I mean, the amount of content, marketing and courses and things that they give you free of charge. I mean, they are a lesson in demand gen.


Guest - Mike Tatum   

[18:59]       They are. They're always an example I point to. Every business I go to I'm always using HubSpot as an example just because they do it so well.


Host - Monique Mills   

[19:08]         They've done a great job.


(music)


Host - Monique Mills   

[19:13]         Well, that's it. So what did you think? You see, Mike is one of those people that's using his talents in both corporate and in his own firm. And there are more and more people doing that these days. There's nothing quite like building a client base of your own and having options to create income for yourself that's independent of the corporate world. If this is something that you're considering, I hope this episode brought you inspiration.


Thank you for listening to the Unpolished MBA podcast. To hear more episodes or to request to become a guest, please visit unpolishedmba.com.


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