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By prioritising professional development for marketers, SMBs can gain a competitive edge

As a champion for professional education, the findings in the recent Salmat Mid-tier Marketing Index (SMMI) really caught my attention. Marketers in the mid-tier sector say that the top two things they would do if they had more time and money would be building more marketing skills and knowledge across their organisation, and building their own skills base. However, one of the biggest roadblocks to effective training and development, particularly for mid-tier organisations, is knowing what skills they actually need.

Senior business leaders often do understand the power of the data they have available and its ability to be leveraged through new marketing technologies. However, not enough of them are willing to put their money where their mouth is when it comes to investing in their employees’ skills to properly use these technologies.

The SMMI found that while most mid-tier marketers consider themselves proficient or adequate in traditional channels, they admit they still lack digital skills. SMS marketing, SEO, SEM and TV advertising are the four top channels in which respondents consider themselves amateur.

So how do marketers plan to fill the gaps in their knowledge and training? Two in five (40.2%) said they will undertake some training or mentoring with a marketing expert, and a third (32.5%) said they will read more marketing trade media. However, to succeed, training and development needs to be a top priority, for not just marketers, but business leaders too.

This is because you need underlying skills to drive the investments you have made in technology. For example, if you’ve just spent half a million dollars on a marketing automation platform, but haven’t trained your staff on the principles of automation, customer journeys and data-driven marketing, then you’re missing your competitive advantage. The creativity of marketers is always where that competitive advantage is. So if you can enable them to be creative and to leverage those technologies well, then you’re going to create a lot of opportunity.

Too often companies don’t consider an investment in training and development an investment in business strategy. People who make decisions about where to invest still think of training and development as a cost to the business. They try to minimise it and ask ‘what is the minimum I can get away with?’

At the end of the day, gaps in your marketing knowledge represent risks to your business. This is what the business case for training and development must be. If we start to consider it as an investment in the business strategy, with a return on investment, rather than simply a cost, companies will increasingly place training and development front and centre.

We’re seeing the top end of town making significant investments in training and development and it’s now starting to come through to the mid-tier businesses. Here are five ways you can prioritise training in your organisation to ensure it becomes your competitive advantage.

1. Benchmark skills against an industry average

When we talk to marketing managers who are trying to secure greater budget, we’re finding that a lot of training is done ad-hoc. An individual might ask their manager for training in a given subject, for example, but there’s no due diligence done in order to determine if that’s the right investment to make for the business.

One of the first things a business should do is start to put in place a benchmarking system. This process looks at the skills an individual has and compares them to what the industry standard is for skills at that role, to see whether that individual or the team is behind, or indeed ahead of industry average.

This process of benchmarking allows you to determine where your skills gaps are. Companies can then start to have a conversation about what needs to be done in terms of training and development strategies to fill those gaps.

2. Reset your company-wide attitude to training and development

It’s imperative companies stop thinking of training and development as a cost. Marketers are now living in a world where the pace of change is extraordinary. More and more powerful computing technologies, more data being available, along with changes in consumer behaviour every day. It is unreasonable to think that a marketer will, just through their day-to-day work, be able to stay up to date with these things.

Managers need to give permission to their marketing teams to take time out – even if it’s 30 to 60 minutes each week – to go and top up their knowledge. Whether that’s through doing training courses, attending events or reading trade publications and blogs, it’s more important than ever to give staff permission to learn, rather than expect them to be able to do it all in their own time.

3. Make team collaboration the rule, rather than the exception

When teams or individuals are strong in some skill sets and weak in others, there is opportunity for cross-team sharing and knowledge-sharing across organisations. Allowing those more experienced marketers, or those people who have specific subject matter expertise, to coach and mentor members of the organisation is a critical part of effectively building skills.

4. Have a clear goal

Most of the time, training in mid-tier companies is still done on an ad-hoc basis in order to fill a gap at any one time for any one person. That needs to change.

With the current pace of change, training and development should always occur with an objective in mind, whether it be in order to meet a business plan or a career objective. Tracking that process is also increasingly critical, especially for those organisations that want to be considered a marketer of choice.

Marketers, particularly those in the upswing of their career, are very hungry to work with organisations who can give them much more exposure to new concepts and ideas and enable them to develop their own capabilities because they know that’s important to their long-term success in marketing.

5. Specialise within your team

We are moving away from an era where you can expect marketers to be able to do everything. So while you need a baseline of understanding for data-driven marketing, search and social, you need to start fostering people and allowing them to be subject matter experts so they can be up to the very latest best practice, and they are across any changes. You can then use these subject matter experts to train and upskill other people in the team.

It’s also worth noting that taking on formal training isn’t the only way to stay at industry standard. Many teams are now adopting the 70-20-10 principle. In this case, 70% of the training and development is done by stretching teams, giving individuals the opportunity to gain new capabilities or tackle new problems as part of their day-to-day jobs. Another 20% occurs with consistent up-skilling undertaken by marketers as part of their day-to-day work, and 10% occurs through informal training courses.

Providing good training and development isn’t alway easy to do. However, it’s consistently proven to be a powerful way to retain people as they are evolving their skills, being challenged and staying interested.

About the author

Richard Harris  is the Managing Director of the IQ department of ADMA (Association for Data-driven Marketing and Advertising). ADMA is the Australian Industry Association for marketers. Their goal is to ensure Australia has the best quality marketers. The IQ department’s specific goal is to ensure that Australian businesses have a standard of marketing to remain competitive on the world stage.

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Richard Harris

Richard Harris

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