Who can train the trainers?

Many marketers view training courses as outdated, irrelevant and time-consuming. Though this perception is understandable, training courses shouldn’t be instantly dismissed, says Matt Drought

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.

Marketing Communications Consultants Association managing director Scott Knox says that almost 40 per cent of the delegates booked on MCCA training attempt to cancel or reschedule their course within five days of spotting it looming on the calendar. This isn’t just an MCCA statistic. The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) and other industry associations all report similar findings.

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 training day in sitcom The Office? Although typically over the top, it captured the perceived training environment well. Too often trainers seem out of touch with the real world, and try to lift the atmosphere with “fun” role-plays and “exciting” energisers.

Stop playing games

The training industry’s perception of “fun” has to be eradicated. Fun is something that marketing professionals do out of hours. 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.

So why do trainers persist with games in training? The question and answer section of one of the UK’s leading training resources, trainingzone.co.uk, regularly features questions from trainers such as “My training class was looking bored today. What game can I play tomorrow to keep them energised?” The answer is usually something like “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. 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Training examples and stories seem outdated, which add to the boredom. For instance, at a training session in 2003 I was reminded (yet again) of the New Coke example of market positioning. Marketing has moved on since Jack Trout and Al Ries shaped the marketing world in the 1970s. Authors such as Seth Godin and Malcolm Gladwell are proof of that. Yet trainers are still living 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.

Barking mad

Trainers also have a habit of making simple concepts too complicated. 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 “Eight Tube Stops to Successful Client Service”.

McCann Erickson People Marketing account director James Bradley agrees that training is tired: “Client service is 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.”

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 and will sometimes vocalise their jealousy if you serve another client when their query needs fulfilling. With training, few clients 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, the team is probably smaller than it was two or three years ago, and demands from in-house customers are greater. This tends to mean that 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 work?

EHS Brann chief executive Matt Atkinson says that image also plays a role: “If last-minute cancellations are allowed to happen, it 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.”

Time is money

This point is valid. Marketing people are custodians of their own brand. What is your brand saying if you are locked in a room for two days making up for your own inadequacies when the rest of the team is getting on with business? With office politics playing a large role in career success, it is not surprising that marketers are opting out.

European Business Speaker of the Year Steve McDermott 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 look upon 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?

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

For their part, the training industry is finally taking notice of what marketers want and need with respect to professional development. Trainers are improving content and flexibility.

From a content perspective, good trainers have moved from theoretical models and hackneyed examples because they realise this was drummed into marketers at university. The best trainers provide more realistic and practical training workshops and courses.

Filling the knowledge gap

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.

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 your business leaders closely to develop a relevant brief that most resembles the desired outcomes for your skills 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.

Libero director Peter Hollins says: “Today’s busy lifestyle demands small, high-quality nuggets of time, regularly, to build learning and demonstrate real return on training investment, in terms of both money and time.”

Get with the programme

The right training provider will put together a programme to fit any marketer’s diary. There are plenty out there who want their business and will be more than happy to accommodate.

Rather than accept the training put in front of you, try asking yourself the following question: “What is 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.

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 instance, if you e-mail a lot on Monday mornings then you could use that time for valuable training. If you can’t see any free time, then just shoot for a two-hour block every two weeks.

What a waste

I spent 13 years in 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 I have my own business wearing many hats – marketer, trainer, advertiser, writer, and cold-caller – those skills are exactly what I need.


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