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Arlyn Davich – What it Takes to Become a Fractional CMO – Episode #109
“…This just provides more flexibility for really top-notch marketers to live the life that they want.”

Arlyn Davich is an entrepreneurial executive with a proven track record of building and scaling consumer-tech businesses as a startup Founder/CEO (PayPerks…Allswell…ShopShops) and Fortune 50 Intrapreneur at companies like Walmart. She specializes in direct-to-consumer strategy, brand building, demand generation and digital acceleration.
She’s currently building her latest venture, Little Fish: a company that deploys top-tier executive talent, on a fractional and interim basis, to grow early stage e-commerce businesses.

Skip the intro: 00:03:59:58

Questions and topics we covered include:
* What is a Fractional CMO?
* The types of businesses that benefit the most from working with a Fractional CMO.
* Why is there more demand for Fractional CMOs, what has changed in the market?
* What is Little Fish’s role in the Fractional CMO landscape?
* What type of companies does Little Fish work with?
* How to build a marketing team from scratch.
* How to manage up to the CEO, as a marketing leader.
* What it takes to become a CMO (before transitioning to a fractional role)?
* What are the advantages and disadvantages when it comes to becoming a Fractional CMO?
* How should Fractional CMOs evaluate opportunities with new clients?

And more!

Say hello to Arlyn via LinkedIn:

Full Episode Transcript:

Kenny Soto  0:02  

Hello, everyone, and welcome to the people Digital Marketing podcast with your host Kenny Soto and today’s special guest, Arlen Davidge. Hi, Arlen, how are you? Good. How are you? I’m doing very well. I’m excited about today’s podcast because you are the first guest that we have on the show. This is Episode 109, where we’ll be discussing a new topic that I myself have discovered this year. I didn’t even know it was a thing, I didn’t even know it was a career path. I’m teasing it. I don’t want to talk about it just yet. First things first, I want the listeners to get more context about us professionals. So my first question is, how did you get into marketing?


Arlyn Davich  0:46  

So right out of college, I thought I wanted to go into advertising. And in a funny story that happened at a cocktail party, I was pitching myself to the husband of a woman that worked in advertising, who happened to work in public relations. And he, we had, we hit it off, and he offered me a job on the spot shout out to Zachary Hastings Hooper. 


And that’s how I started my career in marketing, I worked in PR, I did work in an agency, and we represented lots of magazines, celebrities and authors, and stuff like that. And, you know, I really, really appreciated learning the brand side of marketing there. But I was typically kind of like an order taker for a lot of my clients. 


And so I wanted more of a seat at the decision-making table. And so that’s when I went to business school because I wanted to learn the quantitative side of marketing. So it could be more of a full-funnel brand and performance marketer, I didn’t know the term performance marketer at the time. 


But when I was at business school, I focused on brand management, which is like, you know, the hub of the wheel. In marketing, typically, you know, you grow up there and like CPG companies are very good at brand management. And so I worked at Dan and for a bit learning that. And then I was like, I even want more of a seat at the decision-making table than that. And that’s when I transitioned into like the CEO kind of a role at companies where marketing is what drives the business.


Kenny Soto  2:23  

And I think this is a perfect segue to just jump right into fractional CMOS. Can you tell the listeners, what is it that you’re doing today?


Arlyn Davich  2:33  

Yeah, so I’ll explain it. visa view how I got to this place. So I’ll continue that arc that I was talking about. So I went from brand management into entrepreneurship, where I was CEO of a few companies. And then I landed at Walmart, where I was an entrepreneur in residence, and I ended up building a brand called alls well, which is still a mattress brand that is owned by Walmart but is a direct-to-consumer mattress brand that competes with the all as well with the Caspers and such as a world. 


And I, you know, although it was a big success for Walmart, so much so that they might have expanded to be Group President of a portfolio of brands. And so overnight, I went from being brand President to Group President. And so I had to figure out how to scale myself. And what I brought to one brand, to a portfolio of brands, call it five brands. And it was so rewarding for me for a lot of reasons. 


One was I got to mentor and coach a whole bunch of more junior gems and presidents and sort of level them up. And two, I really got to understand my own value and what it is that I bring that’s unique to companies and documents, my process, and what I now call the little fish operating system that actually can accelerate grand growth. 


And so that’s what I’m doing now outside of Walmart I’m basically replicating that fractional model, where I spend a portion of my time with several companies, I have the same process and methodology that I activate at each company in order to accelerate growth. And, you know, I started this just because that’s what I wanted to do with my time. 


And then, you know, I think you’re not alone in that you haven’t heard of this fractional executive or fractional CMO thing until this year, it’s very new, or at least I think there’s a growth in the market and growth in the demand for fractional executives, driven by some of the externalities of COVID. And some of the increase in appetite for remote workers and there’s a lot of factors that led to the rise of it, but because of The rise of it, I’m now just starting to train and place other CMOS in my methodology. 


So the little fish operating system is now a playbook for being a great fractional marketer, a great fractional CMO. And I’m now working with a handful of other CMOS who want to be, you know, deploy the little fish playbook, and then working with companies to help match them with the right little fish to execute on their needs.


Kenny Soto  5:35  

And how would you define what a fractional CMO is?


Arlyn Davich  5:40  

A fractional CMO isn’t is a CMO an operator in a business that spends a portion a fraction of their time at that business.


Kenny Soto  5:52  

Now, just to give more context, what type of businesses what type of companies do you work with and what we can extrapolate here? What kind of companies works well, with a fractional CMO?


Arlyn Davich  6:06  

So little fish, we focus on consumer growth businesses, so businesses in the consumer space that are fast-growing, so typically growing like 25%, at least year over year, or have the ambition to, and from a scale perspective, I’d say anywhere from 5 million in the top line to 150 million in the top line. And that’s where I think as a fractional executive, you can bring, we call it like the speed, humility, and agility of little fish, and actually enact change in a company.


Kenny Soto  6:47  

And for the most part, what would you say are, I guess, let’s look at both sides of the equation. What are the advantages of someone becoming a fractional CMO? And part two would be? What are the advantages of a business hiring a fractional CMO?


Arlyn Davich  7:03  

Yeah, so for myself, the reason I like to do it is that marketing is such a dynamic space, it’s changing so quickly, that if you’re stuck in one company, and you don’t have a portfolio lens on the market, you kind of miss it. It’s like that Ferris Bueller quote If you don’t stop to look around, I don’t remember the exact quote. 


So I really like as a marketer, to have a portfolio lens to be able to look across companies at the same time, and impart best practices from one to the other tools, new tools, new tactics, things like that. So that’s for me, so I have multiple clients at the same time, other people want to be fractional because they don’t want to work full time. But they still really want to be an operator. And they’re really good at what they do. 


And they want to work three-fifths or four-fifths or something like that. And so this just provides more flexibility for really top-notch marketers, to live the life that they want. On the client side, there are a lot of benefits to having fractions. So one is, you might not be able to recruit that there’s a shortage of supply of the kind of CMOS that a lot of companies want. 


Right now, these unicorn marketers that are half brand half performance, have worked at high growth companies and are really good at enacting change, and in a fast way. And so if you can’t recruit those people that you want that kind of energy, and you want that kind of person at your company, being open to a fractional person, can certainly help you get that kind of talent in your company. 


That’s one, that’s one reason to do it. Another reason is, you might not be able to afford that kind of talent in your company. And so it might help you if you know, afford that. And the third reason is interim. Right? So you, you are trying to recruit that person full time. But you know, the searches are taking longer and longer. So it’s going to take you six months. And so you want to hire someone in the interim, who can like fill that patch? And you know, you can, it might be easier to find someone fractionally than it might be to find someone full-time.


Kenny Soto  9:16  

What skills does someone need? Obviously, they need to have experience as a CMO. But are there any skills, hard skills, or soft skills that might stand out for selling yourself as a fractional CMO?


Arlyn Davich  9:31  

What we look for most is someone who has been a sitting and effective CMO before. So there’s a lot of people that, you know, we only accept I’d say 2% of the people that apply to be a little fish into a little fish program. A lot of people came up, you know, on the brand side or just on the performance side and they’re like I want to be a CMO. 


I don’t think they’re the best people to be fractional CMOS. Fractional works best for people who’ve done it a million times. and they can almost do it in their sleep. And so that’s, I think, the best candidate, somebody who’s been in the house as a sitting CMO at least once before.


Kenny Soto  10:10  

Now, I want to give more practical advice to the audience, because the majority of them, if not all of us, have never been CMOS. So taking a step back, what do you think, is required from a marketer when they start their career path? In order to get to the CML spot? Let’s not even talk about fractional CMO, what does it take for a marketer to become a CMO period?


Arlyn Davich  10:36  

Yeah, so I think the first and most obvious thing is having experience across all different areas of marketing. So across brand and performance, qualitative and quantitative, big companies, small company, you know, really know like what we’re talking about before about the portfolio lens, really being able to bring that portfolio lens to the table, and not just be able to say what worked at one company, but being able to see what has worked at multiple companies at multiple different stages at multiple different parts of the business. 


So not getting siloed in Oh, I was a retention marketer at 10 different small companies. But I did retention marketing, I did acquisition marketing, I did brand marketing, I did pay social. So I think that just the breadth of marketing experience is one thing. I think the second thing is, this is more of a soft skill, the ability to lead a team, and being a really good communicator so that you can align lots of different people a lot to the same goal, and be able to persuade not just your team, but up across the organization, like build a strategy, sell that strategy up, down, across, and then lead your team to execute that strategy. 


So I think that’s really important, like, the bigger the CMO job, the more people you’re managing. And so having shown that is really important. And I think the third thing is really being able to think like a CEO, meaning, understanding the numbers, understanding how marketing fits into the bigger picture of growth at the company, understanding how marketing fits into the p&l, and therefore it makes you more equipped to do the second piece, which is sold in your strategy. across, you know, and up.


Kenny Soto  12:44  

I want to pull a thread here that you mentioned, because it was something that I was tasked to do earlier this year, with full transparency listeners know from previous episodes, that this is something that actually failed and doing which is building a marketing team. It was my first time doing it. I had no experience doing it before. And I felt that there were a lot of challenges. 


And I know that there’s a ton of information that you can impart not only to me but also to any listeners who might be tasked either right now or in the future with creating a marketing team from scratch. It’s very vague. But regardless of the industry or business model, whether it’s a b2b, b2c service-based product based, or a mixture of the two, how would you approach building a marketing team?


Arlyn Davich  13:36  

I’ve also made lots of mistakes along the way. And I have so many thoughts on this, I think, a few best practices. One is to start with the job description and accountabilities, not with the person. 


So one of the biggest mistakes I used to make is I would meet someone and be like, Oh, they’re awesome. How can I find a role for this person? But that’s like a very undisciplined approach. What you should do is you should start with what needs to be done for this company to be successful. 


Sometimes people align that with KPIs. What, how does the business need to grow? Like how does the conversion rate need to grow or traffic needs to grow? And assign accountabilities based on that, and then go seek out people who specialize in doing not just specialize, but who have the appetite to take on those accountabilities. 


So I think that’s one important piece. I think another important piece is like, good, I think good marketing organizations, a lot of times, like, it’s not all in-house. It’s like in-house plus agencies plus contractors. And I think having a really good structuring cadence for getting everyone on the same page is critical to building an effective marketing team. 


And that’s like, really what little specializes in is that implement patient roadmap cadence meeting cadence on how to get everyone on the same page. So part of it’s like getting the right people in the right seats, and then part of it is getting the right meeting cadence and structure so that everyone is aligned and rowing in the same direction.


Kenny Soto  15:18  

I’m curious to know because everyone has their own way of doing this, when you’re building on a team, is it something along the lines of like, a content brand team performance or something that sometimes people are calling it revenue, so performance or revenue, and then you probably have on the other side content, and content could fall under a PRs, SEO, etc? Is there something along those lines?


Arlyn Davich  15:40  

It really depends on the company. So one of my clients right now, product marketing is a whole division. And then there’s brand marketing and PR is under brand marketing, and then digital, which is like the performance side of the business rolls up to product marketing. 


So it really depends on the nature of the business, what you’re trying to sell how you sell that product, and how you structure the team. So that’s why I go back to like, you have to really understand, take that CEO lens, like what is the business? And then what are what needs to be done to drive the business and then create the org structure based on that.


Kenny Soto  16:20  

When it comes to the CEO, there’s another thread I want to pull. How do you approach managing up establishing that relationship with the CEO so that they have full confidence in what you’re doing and trust you to completely own marketing as a function?


Arlyn Davich  16:38  

I think the first thing is communicating your process, and giving them visibility into the process. So for example, for all of my clients, I have a tracker. And in the tracker, I have everyone on my team fill out their top three priorities every week in that tracker. And then I have, I have a list of everyone’s top priorities for the quarter. 


And every week I have everyone track how they’re doing on those priorities, and whether are they on track or off track to be done by the end of the quarter, I spent a lot of time getting to what those priorities are. And I give visibility to that to anyone that not anyone that wants it but likes to the CEO to board members. Like, by the way, the KPIs are also in there not just like sales, but like all the underlying KPIs that drive sales. 


And I welcome everyone to look at that. However, often they want transparency, that’s like the first way is just providing transparency, and giving them easy ways to access information. I think that is one way to build trust. The second way is to pick your numbers. And the hardest thing to do is to tell the CEO, your plan is not where they want your plan to be, you know, like, I am anticipating X percent, you know, the CEO says I want 30% growth this year. 


And your job as the CMO is to say, I’m going to try for 30%. But based on current trends, based on what I’m seeing in the market, I think that 15% is more realistic, or whatever the number is. 


And so I learned this at Walmart from my boss there, Andy, Andy Dunn, we always do. We do a budget plan, which is like, if nothing changes, if I’m I should get fired if I don’t hit the budget plan because the budget plan anticipates no growth, right? Then I have the forecast, which is going to fluctuate every month, based on how the business is moving. 


And then I have a goal plan. And the goal plan is what I really want to orient the team around. It’s really what we’re trying for. But it’s ambitious. And if you know, a lot of times, you don’t hit the goal plan, I should know if I hit the goal plan, I want high fives, I want bonuses, I want all these things. 


But I also want to tell you every month that that’s our goal plan, that’s not our budget plan. And so I think another way to earn the trust of the CEO is to really be clear on what your expectations should be, and then always, you know, try to exceed expectations.


Kenny Soto  19:13  

What is one big mistake that you made in your career that actually imparted a very valuable lesson to you?


Arlyn Davich  19:29  

I’ve made a lot of mistakes and like or, um I think like the biggest theme, like a mistake that I’ve made over and over is like just getting very emotional about results, versus really trusting the process. Because at the end of the day, it’s work and like work is a part of life. It’s an important part of life, but it’s not life. 


And so, in the end, like for many years of my life, I would be really demoralized, really impact my life if I wasn’t hitting my numbers at work, for example. And now I try to contain that to say like, I’m going to be focused on what I can control. And I’m going to orient my satisfaction with my life, my pride in a job well done more about doing what I can, what’s in my control, versus the externalities of like, what numbers you can’t.


Kenny Soto  20:36  

Three more questions for you. How should fractional CMOS evaluate opportunities with new potential clients?


Arlyn Davich  20:46  

How should fractional be? Well, I think this is such a new space that like, there are a lot of challenges. When I first started doing this, I posted on LinkedIn. And I said, like, Hey, does anybody want to be a fractional CMO, we’re looking to recruit them. And I spoke to a ton of people who were being fractional CMOS. And they all had the same problems. 


They had three problems. One was scope, scope, and creep. So they didn’t define the scopes in ways that made it very clear what was in scope versus not in scope. And so they ended up being effectively full-time employees, but they were getting paid to be fractional employees. The other challenge was business development. 


So like, a lot of people want to be fractional, because they want to free up some of their time. But in order to have, you know, have clients, you need to be doing biz dev, which takes up a third of your time. So like, that was another challenge. And so what we’re really doing is trying to be that bridge in between companies, and fractional, to set fractional people up to be, you know, to have win-win, win-win agreements on both sides. So I would say, my advice to fractional people is to work with little fish to help you structure your projects.


Kenny Soto  22:06  

Now, when it comes to the companies that you’ve been interacting with, and that you’re a fraction of CMOS have been interacting with, what is the number one marketing challenge holistically that all of them are facing this year?


Arlyn Davich  22:34  

I don’t know if they’re all the same, to be honest, like, my clients are, by definition, I have like a $5 billion dollar company, I have a $5 million company. So they’re all very different in different stages. So I can’t say that there’s one commonality.


Kenny Soto  22:52  

Yeah. But that’s reassuring to know, that means that regardless of whether you’re in 1 million annual recurring revenue, versus 1 billion, the challenges will always change and evolve over time.


Arlyn Davich  23:07  

Challenge, there will always be challenges. And what I say is, as long as we have different issues every week, then we’re making progress.


Kenny Soto  23:15  

I like that. That’s a good mantra to keep in mind. Now, Arlen, my last question for you is hypothetical, because time machines don’t exist. But if they did, and you can go back in time, about 10 years into the past, knowing everything you know, right now, how would you specifically accelerate the speed of your career?


Arlyn Davich  23:32  

I would have focused earlier on digital performance marketing. I found that later in my career. And it is becoming a bigger part of my job every year. And I think we’ll continue that way until the end of time. So I think I’ll really dig into that. Dig into the quantitative side of marketing, and the digital side.


Kenny Soto  24:03  

Perfect. And if anyone wants to find you online, where can they go?


Arlyn Davich  24:07  

I would go to Little Fish growth to learn more about little fish. Or you can go to my LinkedIn. And one plug is we are hiring, we have a little fish. We have a ton of CMOS. So that’s not really what we’re looking for right now. But we’re looking for more junior folks. Maybe folks listening to this podcast, to work on the platform of little fish. 


So I think it would be a really good learning opportunity for someone who wants that visibility to the full marketing funnel across brand and performance and wants to shadow really amazing CMOS on projects that they’re doing. So yes, they’re on the little fish website. There’s an email address. If you want to apply you can apply there.


Kenny Soto  24:52  

Perfect. And you heard it folks definitely take advantage of this opportunity because opportunities like this don’t always come by frequently. So As always, thanks for being on the podcast Arlen, and thanks to you the listener for listening to another episode of the people’s Digital Marketing podcast. If you’re listening to this for the first time, please subscribe and rate us on whatever podcast app you are listening to this. And as always, I hope you have a great week. 



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