It’s all very well in theory…

Despite the wealth of information available, B2B marketers are lacking in theoretical knowledge, and feel that tools and theories are inaccessible

Marketing theory is proving to be irrelevant for many marketers in their working lives, according to a new survey from the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM) on business-to-business (B2B) marketing.

Much marketing education is packaged goods-focused, so the question that needs to be asked is whether B2B marketers lose out. CIM investigated the knowledge of marketing theory among B2B marketers.

A number of senior B2B marketing professionals were asked about the areas of marketing that they considered important. CIM also looked at the tools practitioners turn to for support and the textbooks or theories marketers refer to. The findings were somewhat depressing.

The survey covers various aspects of marketing – marketing theory; winning business; implementing skills and processes; and background business knowledge. Respondents were asked to rate various factors within each sector on a scale of zero (low importance) to three (high importance).

B2B marketers rate customers and relationships as the most important concern in marketing theory (53 per cent). Another important concern in this field is advertising, promotions, events and market communications (21 per cent). Only eight per cent of respondents feel that competitors and the nature of competition is an important issue in marketing theory.

With regards to winning business, refocusing the company towards winning business, and setting up performance measures – and improving performance – are both rated as important issues. The allocation of resources to winning business is also rated as very important, with 21 per cent of respondents marking this as an issue of importance.

Market research is considered to be the most important factor in the “implementation of skills and processes” category, with 28 per cent of respondents giving it the highest score. But only three per cent of B2B marketers say that building and managing sales campaigns or sales projects are important.

Finance, accounting and profitability are considered as being the most important factors in the background business knowledge category. Knowledge of human behaviour and buying behaviour is described as very important by 16 per cent of respondents. Only nine per cent say that background knowledge of economics and development are very important, while just three per cent think that legal knowledge is very important.

CIM notes significant differences between responses from the public and private sectors. On average, marketers in government organisations do not rate competition as a very important part of marketing theory, giving it an alarmingly low score of 0.96, compared with the 2.18 given by marketers in private companies. While it might be expected that public sector organisations would take a more casual attitude to competition, this gap – coupled with comments such as: “There is no formal process of identifying competitors – we just know they are around” – should ring alarm bells.

Winning business is also regarded as unimportant, and comments such as: “Local authorities just assume they will always get the business”, suggest a degree of complacency. The situation is worsened by the fact that, in many cases, winning business is not considered a priority when it comes to resource allocation.

While marketers in the private sector consider managing sales processes and salesforces as important, their counterparts in the public sector rate this as unimportant. Similarly, advertising, promotional events and marketing communications – which are described as being standard practice in the private sector – are problematic areas for those working in government departments with more limited resources.

Clearly some public sector employees have little concept of the role of marketing in their organisation, while others have a good grasp of marketing theories and how to apply them. But regardless of their level of knowledge, most of these marketers feel that little of the marketing material available fulfils their needs.

CIM believes that marketers from private organisations tend to have a better understanding of their role than those in the public sector, but less professionalism when it comes to using or referring to marketing theory or practice.

The research says that, though a wealth of information is available to marketers, both public and private sector practitioners feel that marketing tools and theories are inaccessible or inappropriate.

While few of these marketers claim to have read a marketing textbook, marketing guru Philip Kotler has been found to be the most relied upon for additional information. The study also finds that these marketing practitioners find experience and networking to be the most valuable sources of information.

These issues must be addressed by those working in marketing education and trainers in the workplace, in order to provide support for and instill confidence in existing and prospective marketers.

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