Findings from the new ‘State of B2B Marketing Training’ report from MarketingProfs reveals major deficiencies that can be overcome, according to Founder Allen Weiss, who is also a Professor of Marketing at the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business.

Unlike most other professions in business, the skills required by marketing professionals are rapidly changing. Marketing needs to evolve to respond to changes in our culture and the variety of ways organizations and consumers engage with companies.

As a marketing professor who teaches in a business school (USC’s Marshall School), I’ve found it has always been the case that we primarily teach students how to think, and we assume that these students learn industry-specific marketing skills when they take a job.

I’m also founder of MarketingProfs, and we recently did a study on B2B marketing training that illuminates that B2B marketing training is falling down on delivering those industry-specific skills to marketing employees. The study, of 589 B2B marketers around the globe (primarily in North America), found that only 19% of those surveyed feel they are prepared for their future in marketing. As the report comments, “Yikes.” While you can read the entire report here, I want to focus on a few key findings.

How B2B marketing training is lacking

Very few organizations are proactive about B2B marketing training. Most B2B organizations do not have a process to decide what training is needed; in fact, only 13% have a process in place. Moreover, 50% of non-managers say they are unsure if their organization has a budget for B2B marketing training at all.

A lack of systematic training is a problem given how quickly skills can shift, and what constitutes ‘best practice’ needs to be updated. If B2B marketers want to stay current, good training can help. Companies that don’t keep their marketers’ skills up-to-date risk falling behind their competitors. As for obtaining a budget, this can be helped with a good assessment tool.

Managers don’t know what skills their team needs to learn. Only 15% report their training includes an assessment to see which skills their team needs to learn next. An additional 74% would like their training to include assessments.

Assessments are essential not only for identifying needed skills, but also for demonstrating, through before and after assessments, the value of any training program. Rather than simply believing a training program works, here is an opportunity to show value. It’s also a way to appeal to budget deciders in your company. As Tricia Weener, EVP/Chief Marketing Officer at KONE Corp says, “Speaking non-marketing, non-fluffy language [to the C suite] is what is important – and being able to be credible around the results that you’re going to get.”

Marketing teams aren’t on the same page. Twenty-four percent of B2B marketers report that not everyone on their team has a basic understanding of marketing. One-third of B2B marketers report they don’t have documented business goals.

This result is most problematic. It’s hard enough for marketers to speak with each other when the language of marketing is often fuzzy. Marketers typically disagree on basic terms like segmentation, branding, quality, and so forth. Contrast this with finance, for example, where everybody agrees on net present value, or accounting, where there are accepted standards. Another problem in B2B marketing is that often people from other disciplines are moved into marketing. Without basic training, it’s easy to see that teams are not on the same page. Solid marketing training would greatly help this problem.

Marketers struggle with B2B marketing training because it’s too focused on theory. The biggest frustration marketers have with B2B marketing training is its focus on theory. Half of marketers are frustrated because they want more B2B training focused squarely on execution.

Being an academic, I love theory, but B2B marketers need training grounded in day-to-day life. One way to do this is to provide some theory (since good theory applies to any context) but then show precisely how this applies to a company’s specific problems. Workshops work best for this purpose. For example, I have done a lot of workshops for Texas Instruments where I would briefly talk about a general theory, and then we would apply that to solve a specific TI problem. For example, I would talk about the general theory of benefit segmentation and then have participants try segmenting their market this way. This interest in workshops and live experiences is evident in the last finding I wanted to focus on from the survey.

There’s a gap between the type of training marketers use and the type they actually want to use. Self-paced online courses are used frequently for training; most marketers say self-paced training is effective for them. Yet companies are too often relying on virtual events for additional training, while marketers prefer workshops and in-person conferences. With the pandemic, of course, the latter hasn’t always been possible, but make it part of your training programs going forward.

Why strong B2B marketing training is mission critical

Marketing is now taking a more significant role in B2B purchasing than earlier times. According to CSO Insights, the research division of Miller Heiman Group, “More than 70% of B2B [prospects] fully define their needs before engaging with a sales representative, and almost half identify specific solution before reaching out.” The people responsible for this 70% is marketing. Most people go online to learn about anything before they consider buying.

If companies are not going to keep their marketers’ skills up to date, they seriously run the risk of falling behind any competitor who does believe in good marketing training. Along with this imperative is another insight from the report, which is that personal growth and satisfaction is the most common reason marketers participate in training. Half the survey respondents cite their company’s learning culture as a motivator.

So, assuming you want your marketing team to be motivated, have the skills necessary to compete in a current but constantly changing market, and finally be on the same page when coming up with marketing plans and execution, then ongoing marketing training is the way forward.