In Marketing? Training That Helps

Training has dropped down the list of priorities for marketers in the past few years. More marketing professionals are finding excuses not to attend corporate training, even though they say they want it.

Scott Knox, Managing Director of the Marketing Communications Consultants Association says that nearly 40% of the delegates booked on MCCA training try to cancel or re-schedule their course within 5 days of spotting it looming on the calendar.

This isn’t just an MCCA statistic. The CIPD and other industry associations have all reported similar findings.

Let’s take a look at the reasons, and see what can be done to ensure marketers start to receive career enhancing training that they deserve.

It’s training, it’s boring.

Marketers may have a deep scepticism of training because they are worried that they will be captured in a boring and irrelevant torture session.

Who can forget The Office training day? Although typically over the top, it captured the perceived training environment well. Too often trainers seem out of touch with the real world. In the absence of Brent they try to lift the atmosphere with “fun” role-plays and “exciting” energisers. Anyone for “balloon tennis”?

The training industry perception of “fun” has to be eradicated. “Fun” is something that marketing professionals do out of hours – maybe running with the bulls in Pamplona. If there is time in the workshop for fun and games, the training needs to be shortened. Marketing professionals enjoy a laugh, but their version of “fun” is to win an award for their client.

Why then do trainers persist with games in training? The question and answer section of one of the UK’s leading training resources,, regularly features questions from trainers such as this one: “My training class was looking bored today. What game can I play tomorrow to keep them energised?” The answer: “Try large colourful jigsaws. Split the group into teams and watch them cope with the fact that there is one missing piece!” Marketers know that the real answer to this question is; “Your training probably stinks – throw it in the bin and stop embarrassing yourself. Try being empathetic with the issues in marketing and design some practical and inspiring training based on today’s environment”.

Training examples and stories seem outdated, which add to the boredom. At a training session in 2003 I was reminded (yet again) of the New Coke example of market positioning (1985?). Surely there has to be something more up to date than that?! Marketing has moved on since. Seth Godin and Malcolm Gladwell are proof of that. Yet some trainers are still in 1985, singing the same old tune. In training we need to hear more examples such as the Easyjet pricing model, blogging as the new media, and Godin’s take on “marketers being liars”.

Trainers also have a habit of making simple concepts over-complicated. During training some years ago I was introduced by an enthusiastic trainer to her treasured “12 Branch Tree of Negotiation”. It struck me at the time that during the heat of a verbal negotiation it would seem a little improper to consult the Tree in front of customers and start counting branches. Other convoluted models include the “Presentation Fish” and all time favourite “8 Tube-Stops to Successful Client Service”.

James Bradley, Account Director for McCann Erickson People Marketing agrees that training is tired: “Client service is fundamentally based on delivery – customer service, quality, cost and progressive enhancement. I’ve yet to experience a training course that truly addresses this at its core. Some claim to, but after the first ten minutes you realise it’s essentially same old, same old.”

Not now, I’m busy.

Successful marketing people are busy servicing happy clients – that’s probably why they are successful.

On the marketing agency or consultancy side, clients regard you as their full-time resource (one of my clients used to call me “bitch”, said with a smile but also a hint of venom). They will sometimes vocalise their jealousy if you dare to serve another client when their query needs fulfilling. With training, few clients will congratulate you on furthering your knowledge base. More likely you will be asked “So how will that impact the delivery of my brochure?”

On the corporate marketing side, your team is probably smaller than 2-3 years ago and demands from your in-house customers are greater. For example, was “writing the company newsletter” or “the elaborate procurement and selection of marketing services” in your original job description?

So, marketers book training with the best of intentions, and cancel due to other obligations. But is it simply a priority issue or are there greater issues at heart?

My own brand is more important

Matt Atkinson, CEO of Euro RSCG-owned EHS Brann believes that image also plays a role:

“If last minute cancellations are allowed to happen, it actually devalues training which simply becomes a tool for people to demonstrate ‘how busy they are’ – if you don’t have time to be trained, you must be very important and vital to the business. When this kind of thinking is allowed to prevail, it becomes much harder to persuade companies to commit time and money to training and it actually becomes the easiest overhead to cut.”

Matt’s point is valid. Marketing people are custodians of their own personal brand. What is your brand saying if you are locked in a room for two days in training when the rest of the sales team is sweating on with business?

With office politics playing a large role in career success it is not surprising that marketers are opting out.

Steve MCDermott, European Business Speaker of the Year agrees; “The higher up you go, the more reluctant professionals are to accept there is a training need as they perceive themselves to be confident people who have achieved success without training.”

So, marketers perceive training as irrelevant and boring. They are busy and put clients first. They are also more image conscious than ever.

But enough excuses – what can marketing professionals do about it?

The training industry is starting to listen

Broadly speaking, your future development sits with two parties: the training provider, and you, the marketer.

For their part, the training industry is (finally) starting to sit up and take some notice of what marketers’ wants and needs are with respect to professional development. Trainers are improving content and flexibility.

From a content perspective, good trainers have moved from theoretical models (4 C’s, AIDA etc) and hackneyed examples because they realise this was drummed into you at university. The best trainers today provide more realistic and practical training workshops and courses.

Intelligent, relevant challenges designed for your circumstances at work are the path to the future in training. When you can’t solve the challenges fully, that’s where a good trainer should fill in the gaps. Good training creates the need before attempting to solve a problem you may not know you have.

The Manchester Publicity Association has just run a successful 3-day workshop for people from all agencies, such as advertising, PR and marketing. The teams had to devise a marketing plan from a ‘live’ brief set by the head of marketing of the Co-op Bank who adjudicated it. The group deemed it to be directly relevant to their day-to-day work and learnt how to better understand the total marketing mix. Brilliant.

Good trainers take a very close brief from your business before designing the training. They realise that a one size fits all approach suits the paper towel industry, but not training. They consult closely with your business leaders to develop a relevant brief that most resembles the desired outcomes for your skill set and behavioural improvement. Marketing professionals should look out for this expertise when selecting training providers.

Good trainers also understand your busy schedule. They realise that it is easier for marketers to cancel a day or two of training, but harder to say no to a half-day or less. Especially if it is during a time when you may be less productive.

Peter Hollins, Director of Libero says that “Today’s busy lifestyle demands small, high quality nuggets of time on a regular basis to build learning and demonstrate real return on training investment in terms of both money and more importantly time.”

Christine Cryne, CEO of the Chartered Institute of Marketing agrees; “Being trained does not necessarily mean endless terms spent at evening classes or days out of the office which can be difficult for those in senior positions. Marketers can now choose to study in a variety of different ways that can be adapted to fit into a busy work schedule. Courses can be delivered in short modules, online, or over weekends.”

Seek a training provider who will put together a programme to fit your diary.

There are plenty out there who want your business and will be more than happy to accommodate.

Be demanding

Now it’s over to you.

Rather than accept the training put in front of you, set aside an hour to look in the career mirror. As you gaze, try asking yourself the following question:

“What is truly holding me back from being more successful at work?”

Think about what frustrates you, annoys you, what keeps you working late and the type of stress you endure.

You might come up with a list such as:
• I spend excessive time writing documents
• I attend unproductive meetings
• I am frustrated with unenthusiastic colleagues who are paid the same as me
• I lack the time to study current marketing practice
• I don’t close enough deals
• I need to command more respect and lead my team more effectively
• I need to be more memorable and persuasive in networking situations
• I want to improve my hit rate with cold-calling

Don’t be too specific about the type of training. It’s your training manager’s role to source the type of training to meet the brief.

Be demanding. Inform your training manager of your list of issues that need to be addressed. Be sure to advise them you’re not concerned about training that falls outside of your list. They will appreciate your input, because many people neglect to voice their concerns.

Then identify your least productive time of the week. For example, if you find that you are an email monkey on Monday mornings then you could use that time for valuable training. If August is usually a little slow, put a whole week aside. If you can’t see any free time, then just shoot for a two hour block every two weeks.

I spent 13 years in sales and marketing, and always disliked corporate training. I felt that it was a waste of time.

I made excuses, and stopped going. When a training day was announced, my first question to my manager was “Do I have to go?”

Looking back, I wish I had had more valuable training. In my early 20s I would have benefited from training in pitching, writing, negotiating, computer skills, assertiveness and a dozen other things. It could have fast tracked my career and boosted my salary. I might not have been able to use all of the skills then, but now that I have my own business wearing many hats – marketer, trainer, advertiser, writer, and cold-caller – I could do with those skills now.

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