Nurturing The Next Generation Of B2B Marketers With Hands-On Learning

Published: September 16, 2015

Today’s successful B2B marketers must master a wide range of new skills — including data-driven marketing and predictive analytics — in addition to traditional demand generation tactics such as email marketing.

Schools such as Old Dominion University, Northwestern University and The New Jersey Institute of Technology are adapting their marketing programs to focus on these emerging strategies as they prepare the next generation of marketers.

As data and analytics take on a larger role in marketing initiatives, many B2B organizations are beginning to recognize the need to train tech-savvy marketers. Research from Circle Marketing shows that 79% of B2B business leaders say there are “noticeable skill gaps” between their teams, primarily in data, customer insight and digital marketing techniques.

“Historically, marketing hasn’t been as important in B2B because it was primarily driven by sales,” said Don Schultz, Professor Emeritus-in-Service at the Medill School of Integrated Marketing Communications (IMC) at Northwestern University. “Today, sales reps can’t get in front of prospects as easily as they once did, so marketing is playing a bigger role.”

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The digital marketing evolution is spurring changes in higher education for freshly minted B2B marketers, sources noted.

“B2B marketing was always the ‘ugly stepchild’ in the academic space,” said Ruth Stevens, B2B marketing consultant and adjunct professor at the New York University Stern School of Business, in an interview with Demand Gen Report. “Only with the digital boom has B2B begun to have a better light shined on it.”

The Lewis University School of Business, for example, is combining business strategy with hands-on experience in digital marketing, according to Robert Bergman, Professor of Marketing. This includes B2B and B2C organizations.

“We offer a ‘service learning’ approach to a number of our courses, whereby students work with local small business or non-profits to determine their business goals, craft a digital marketing strategy and then help to implement that strategy,” Bergman noted.

At the Strome College of Business at Old Dominion University, students also collaborate with businesses to address their marketing challenges.

“We’re really trying to get our students to engage with these businesses early on in their education so they can get exposure to these new trends,” said Jeff Tanner, Dean of Old Dominion University’s Strome College of Business.

Bringing Consumer Lessons To B2B Marketing

While most students can relate to consumer-focused marketing, educators are challenged to translate those lessons for a B2B environment. “Students don’t identify with [B2B marketing] because they don’t make B2B purchases in their day-to-day lives,” said Dr. Rajiv Mehta, Professor of Marketing at the New Jersey Institute of Technology’s School of Management.

While there are similarities to B2C, B2B marketing requires a unique set of skills, observers noted.

“It’s was an eye opener for students to understand that marketing and selling to businesses is much different and more complex than selling to consumers,” said Cari Baldwin, President of BlueBird Strategies and Chief Instructor of BendPoly, a professional skills academy that offers B2B digital marketing courses. “This is a concept many of them hadn’t even considered.”

Baldwin noted that George Fox University is working with some ideas to integrate digital marketing programs across multiple learning tracks — both liberal arts and STEM fields. “[This] ensures traditional academic education is integrated into the new mix and not lost, at a pace that they can learn and adapt.”

Mehta said sales and product marketing courses can help educate business students on the B2B marketplace:

  • Product Marketing: When teaching marketing fundamentals to business students, university professors can adapt their teachings to incorporate more B2B product examples alongside their consumer counterparts. “Products can be services, consumer goods or B2B products,” Mehta noted.
  • Selling: “Students need to be educated on selling concepts in order to succeed,” said Mehta. “These concepts can be applied on a personal level, or it can be applied to a B2B level.”

Business courses outside of the marketing track can help future marketers learn about the various industries they will be working in, sources noted.

“The more enlightened business schools are finding ways for faculty to get involved and blend their trending research into school curricula,” Tanner noted. “Students win because they get the education, and B2B businesses gain valuable new hires once they graduate.”

Progressive B2B companies are collaborating with universities to ensure that the next generation of marketers receive the necessary training.

“A lot of marketers have had the experience of being unprepared as they joined the workforce,” said Tanner. “The first thing that needs to happen is there needs to be dialog between school faculty and B2B businesses. At the end of the day, business schools have to take the initiative to change, while B2B marketers have to promote that change.”

Marketing Technology In The Classroom

As marketing becomes more technology driven, students are getting hands-on experience with the tools they will use when they join the workforce.

Schultz highlighted how Medill IMC is working with IBM to educate students on how data has become a crucial part of today’s B2B marketplace. “B2B companies are lacking in data analysts. Our program will be focusing on putting offline and online data together to understand what the customers are doing.”

Tech skills such data analytics have typically been part of IT and engineering programs, which marketing students tend to avoid.

“Universities in general are not set up to teach technology to non-STEM students,” said Baldwin. “There is a great opportunity for tech companies to partner with universities, as Marketo has done with Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.”

Such partnerships can provide students with the insights they need to succeed in marketing careers, observers noted.

“I would love to see more tech companies taking an active role in helping universities provide curriculum and hands-on access and certification in tools the students will be using in their careers,” Baldwin concluded.

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