Lecture Chronicles: Is Marketing an Obvious progression from Sales?

Last year I had the opportunity to catch up a lot of young MBA students from across the country’s top schools. I was asked to provide insights regarding new age marketing (or Marketing2.0) through these guest lecture sessions, and I jumped in to take the chance to interact with good talent with whom I may end up working in the coming years.

In this post, I will be sharing my experiences acorss different b-schools and the kind of perceptions MBA students have towards marketing and sales functions. I am also sharing the inputs that I had given them during these sessions.

The first few minutes of these lectures went in asking how many of these students wanted to take up “marketing”. I made this a little tough for them.

The following pattern was used to get to their final answers:

Q1 – How many of you think that you would have to take up “sales” jobs first and then progress into “marketing” roles?(A lot of hands go up, and mostly this was 100% of the population. I ask them to keep their hands raised.)

Q2 – How many of you would take up “Sales” if it was provided to you as a specialization, and “marketing” didn’t exist?(Most of the hands go down. A few scattered ones remain)

Q3 – How many of you are prepared for a “marketing” role if I were to interview you today?(Very few hands !! Not surprising)

Our MBA curriculum and its faculty have this misconception and wrong deduction that marketing is an eventual progression from sales. So they somehow have always been suggesting their students that they should prepare to take up (sad) sales roles and then aspire to become a (exciting) Marketer.These young students want to be the next game changing, Kotler-hugging executives in respective domains.

Students deserve to know that to be a successful Marketer, they would need to focus on learning the concepts and science of marketing, and forget about sales jobs. Have you ever heard of faculty telling MBA Finance passouts – “Beta, you would have to do accounting first and then progress into risk-management”?

Some of the most recent advancements in Marketing domain have happened due to Internet and the type+amount of startups that it help build and support. These startups did not follow those K-frameworks and didn’t have marketing dollars to splurge (as fact that unfortunately most of our MBA faculty don’t have a clue of). Due to these limitations, some of the most innovative, measurable, and effective marketing practices were born and it is continuing to improve every passing day.

Broadly, every student should focus on 3-4 areas to be prepared and be accepted into real “marketing” roles in organizations today. It’s a dream for many of these students to work with say – Facebook marketing team, Groupon, Twitter, etc. Point to note here that such “cool” organizations are all startups who got their game right.

1) Community Management and marketing – The most successful products today aren’t built by spending million of advertising money. They become successful by absorption in the communities that are available online and are so dynamic that these can change the way products will perform or grow in the coming years. Seth Godin spoke about tribes, and we can witness the related growth everywhere. This will continue to be a large area of growth and more talented people would be needed to manage such diverse communities and products.

2) Content Marketing – Following close on heels to the above is the world of “content marketing”. PR departments are passe. Original and mapped content across the various communities and information portals are now working wonderfully for new brands. Somehow, every important content can now link you onto another one which then links into products ore reviews or offers. MBA grads are bad in content writing (somehow CAT doesn’t test for that). I urge them to focus on this and read up more on successful case studies.

3) Marketing Analytics and Measurability – Marketing was supposedly the only so called “science” wherein measurements were done after the experiments. Marketers across the established brands today have lost their credibility due to this fact, and they don’t have a clue of how to design marketing campaigns that would be successful in delivering results while being measurable. Further, almost no MBA student I spoke to during these sessions could tell me how “game theory” or “minimax theorems” are a part of the designs in Ad products of Google and Facebook. Marketers need to be strong in Econometrics, mathematics, and relevant statistical tools (or prob even MATLab).

4) BIG Data – We know about its potential (as showcased by the Obama re-election campaign) and its usage across the world. But, are MBA grads prepared to use actionable intelligence properly? BIG data will be necessary for being competitive and even making pre-emptive calls on market strategies. I will need awesome talent in this area at all time, and given the pace of change in consumer behavior, the next time I decide without any actionable intelligence, I will be mostly making a wrong decision. This is another area wherein an MBA grad can focus and flourish.

If you have noticed closely, the above 4 areas will need MBA grads to probably look beyond their curriculum books and texts and also some kind of a coach or mentor for about a year to get up to speed with learning systems and networking with some of the best talent in the world on each of these areas.

My hope is that from amongst the crowd that I have seen, there would be some who would take the high road and make exceptional progress to be called a “Marketer”. Others will still want to play it safe – join sales and then hope to progress into marketing. The second lot will be really bad sales people and then the worse kind of marketers we may see.