You can learn b2b marketing in school, and should

"You can’t learn B2B marketing in school." Another Linkfluencer marketing trope is simply wrong.

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

Marketing is becoming more like a science, with thousands of research papers published every year. Works by the likes of Sharp and Binet contradict practices that are more like myths than laws. Recent papers from Romaniuk at Ehrenberg-Bass about b2b marketing, are published the same platform at the same time "influencers" are saying that you "can’t learn b2b marketing in school."

The argument of not learning b2b marketing in school 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 many well-known authors wrote about them at least two decades ago. Or that currents trends are explained in data researched by the likes of Bryon Sharp or Les Binet.

What we learn through practicing marketing is how humans respond to our positioning and messaging. Marketing education cannot teach market-ing reality, and nor should it. It's not the point.

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. The meme goes that that this type of research is created by and for those who don't do marketing.

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 of 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 an organization, from marketing to sales to product.

Over the past decade marketer ignorance has segmented us out of key decision-making in many organizations. Starting with pricing. The archaic “4 Ps” are now three. (We'll debate the relevance of the 4P framework another time.) With product marketing capabilities sometimes not even sitting inside the marketing function, we're down to two. It's now a borderline communications function in many cases.

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 hear of marketers who direct a marketing function while also executing as an individual contributor. No time to think, let alone advocate for the function and its needs.

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, employ A-players, and optimized process. I hope that’s true for you.

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 outcomes by constraining the function's inputs.

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 on his statement. My view is that great marketing delivers people ready to make a buying decision to sales. No "selling" required, simply guiding them to the most mutually beneficial outcome.