You can learn B2B marketing in school, and should

"You can’t learn B2B marketing in school." Another marketing trope is wrong and will damage the future of the profession.

Kellogg School of Management building at Northwestern University, Chicago
Kellogg School of Management. Photo by hao chen / Unsplash

Another marketing trope is doing the rounds on LinkedIn, this time suggesting that you "can’t learn B2B marketing in school."

Not only is it plainly wrong, it is also damaging to the future of the profession. The argument is as silly as suggesting you should start practicing international tax structuring while skipping the bit about getting a finance and law degree.

Worse, many of the marketing hot takes on social media aren’t that hot when you know Kotler wrote about them at least two decades ago. Or that currents trends are explained in data researched by the likes of Bryon Sharp, Les Binet, and others. Many marketers should read more.

What we learn through practicing marketing is how humans respond to our positioning. To our messaging. Whether we have our channel mix right. Marketing education cannot teach market-ing reality, and nor should it.

Academic marketing research

This attitude leads marketers to believe that there is little to no merit in reading the excellent marketing research released by academics every year. That this type of research is deemed unworthy and only read by those who don't do marketing is "dumbing down" the profession.

Thankfully, there's a lot of great marketing research generated every year. A shout-out to Thomas McKinlay and his newsletter Ariyh. That he has less than 10,000 subscribers and a few hundred LinkedIn followers speaks volumes.

The damage is already done

The lack academic rigor means many marketers don't understanding of the breadth of the function. The result is the fragmentation of marketing into disparate roles across marketing, sales, and product.

Over the past decade marketer ignorance has segmented us out of key decision-making in many organizations. Starting with product pricing. The somewhat archaic “4 Ps” are now three. With product marketing headcount sometimes not even sitting inside the marketing function, we're down to two.

Similarly, under-investment by executives who don’t understand the potential benefit of a well-resourced marketing team limits their company’s growth. Marketing budget benchmarks exist, thanks again to research.

All of this isn’t made any easier when I speak with marketers who in addition to directing the marketing function, also execute as an individual contributor. No time to think, let alone advocate for the function and its needs.

(A side note: this is, I presume, what the talking heads on LinkedIn mean when they say, “life is too short to work with a CEO who doesn’t get marketing.” But I digress.)

Marketing is your competitive advantage

Marketing is in reality one of the few competitive advantages most companies have today. We are now in the Beyond Product Era.

We all think we have great products or services, A-list people, and optimized process. I hope that’s true for you. Even if true, we all have competitors.

Building great products or executing professional services at the highest level is no longer enough. It’s what we all strive to do, and no-one I know sets out to deliver mediocrity.

At the same time, you don’t even need to deliver excellence to win. There are countless examples of less than excellent products that own a market. From banking to professional services, computer operating systems to rock bands.

The reality is that the best product or service doesn’t always win. You don’t have to be first-to-market or create a category to win. Whether you win, or not, is entirely dependent on the effectiveness of your marketing function.

Great marketing is is more important than product, and even more important than sales.* Great marketing should make selling superfluous, as Drucker argued.** You don't get great marketing by constraining the function.

It is a great time to be a marketer, especially if you are given the resources you need to be successful. Good luck to us all.

* A note about sales. Every company needs a sales force. I am in awe of great salespeople. I've also seen the negative impact of less talented salespeople. I believe marketing can make a great salesperson's life significantly easier, increasing the likelihood of your customer's success.

** Not everyone agrees with Drucker's position, as argued in this short, academic paper. (PDF) My view of Drucker's statement is that great marketing delivers opportunities to sales who are ready to buy. No "selling" required.