The State of Marketing Training in 2019 [Original Research]

corporate training session

U.S. companies spend billions on training each year. What about marketing departments? How much do they spend? What are they getting out of it? And what are they struggling to solve?

We surveyed 462 marketing leaders—CMOs, VPs of Marketing, Marketing Directors—to find out.

Respondents completed a 10-question survey that covered:

  • The perceived skill level of marketing teams.
  • Processes and accountability for training marketers.
  • Budgets for marketing training.
  • Primary challenges when upskilling marketing teams.

Here are seven key takeaways. If you want the full report, download the PDF.

7 things we learned

1. Bigger companies feel better about their skills.

Do larger organizations have greater in-house marketing skills? They certainly think so. Companies with 1,000–5,000 employees have the highest average estimate of marketing team skills.

Overall, the larger the organization, the higher the perceived skill:

It’s easy to speculate why this may be the case:

  • Larger organizations are more likely to have employees with specialized training and experience compared to smaller organizations, which may feel the lack of deep expertise acutely for some marketing challenges.
  • Larger companies have deeper pockets to afford top talent.

2. Training budgets aren’t big, but they’re getting bigger.

Each year, the average company spends $994 per employee on training. More than half, however, spend significantly less, if anything:

  • 61.9% spend $500 or less.
  • Nearly 1 in 5 spends nothing at all.
Note: We asked respondents for the training budget on a per-employee basis; some responses clearly provided a total training budget (e.g. $1 million). We omitted responses we believed did not reflect a per-employee budget.

Larger organizations tend to spend more—62.5% more than small businesses and 16.1% more than medium-sized companies:

Our current career development budget for our 60-person agency is $1,000/person/year. We find this is the right budget to get them to a solid conference in the area, or do an online course if they prefer that.

Ross Hudgens, Founder and CEO of Siege Media

For almost half of all respondents, budgets are getting bigger. Only 1 in 16 companies is reducing its upskilling budget in 2019:

Most of that added investment is coming from large enterprises. Nearly two-thirds (66%) of enterprise organizations plan to spend more on training in 2019 than they did last year:

Does more money translate into a higher perception of skill? Not really. There was only a weak correlation (0.20) between the amount spent on training and the perceived skill of the marketing team. Why?

  • Small companies may have urgent needs that siphon off resources from long-term investments in training. Individual practitioners at those organizations may spend more time learning through experience.
  • Teams that overestimate their skills—those, perhaps, that are convinced every member is a “10”—may not think there’s anything left to learn.

Being a successful marketer [. . .] demands a solid grasp of a multitude of different disciplines. Acquiring all these skills can seem overwhelming, unless you get the proper training. If you ask me, upskilling your marketing team is one of the best investments your company will ever make. 

Michael Aagaard

So what does correlate with strong marketing skills? The amount of business you do online.

3. Companies that live online have better marketing skills.

SaaS, B2B, and ecommerce organizations had the highest perceived marketing skills:

Government and non-profit sectors trailed for-profit businesses. (The sector listed a “limited budget” as their primary training challenge.)

It’s easy and common for even the most experienced marketers to gloss over the basics and lose touch with the fundamentals of good marketing. A good training course is rooted in these principles, even if the topic is more tactical or execution in nature.

Hana Abaza, Director of Marketing at Shopify Plus

Earning more resources often requires demonstrating ROI, something far easier for online companies that can tie marketing efforts and revenue tightly together.

The three industries with the highest skill levels were also near the top when it came to having a “clear, structured process” for training. Surprisingly, agencies trailed all industries: Only 2 in every 5 has defined a process:

That means that roughly…

  • 3 of every 5 agencies
  • 1 of every 3 B2B, SaaS, or travel companies
  • And half of all ecommerce, media, non-profits, and governmental organizations

…are struggling to create a structured training program. So who’s responsible for those programs?

4. Direct managers own marketing training.

In 2 of every 5 companies surveyed, direct managers are accountable for training their teams. In nearly three-quarters (74.7%) of all businesses, either the direct manager or a marketing leader—who, in some instances, is also the direct manager—is accountable for the skills of their team:

Only 5% of organizations reported having no accountability, although an additional 14.3% reported autonomy (anarchy?) when it came to training.

Accountability was especially lacking in small organizations.

5. Autonomy at small companies applies to training, too.

Of the 89 respondents who stated that there was no formal oversight of training, a disproportionately large share came from small businesses:

“The best thing you can possibly do for your career is also one of the easiest things [. . .] which is spend the time to learn something. If you spend an hour every single day—or 30 minutes or maybe even 25 minutes—you’re going to be leaps and bounds ahead of your competition in two years.”

Chad Sanderson, Microsoft

Still, about two-thirds of small-business respondents (67.8%) had some oversight of skill development programs. The management challenges, however, extend beyond top-level accountability.

6. A structured process doesn’t guarantee training success.

Having a “structured process” for training programs isn’t the only organizational challenge, as marketers made clear in their open-ended responses:

  • By the time everyone gets trained, the knowledge may be outdated. Marketing leaders highlighted the challenge of identifying what their teams needed to learn next, or how to find a program that could help future-proof their department.
  • CMOs and VPs of marketing also struggled to measure whether training knowledge translated into more profitable marketing strategies—or to test retention months down the road.

We have our own internal academy with our own execution recipes run by our Director of Training. The most important part of their job isn’t to add new content [. . .] but to actually audit the students and make sure they know everything we teach as second nature. You’d be shocked at the lack of knowledge retention unless you make sure you audit, and audit repeatedly—we do every three months.

Johnathan Dane, Founder and CEO of KlientBoost

The other major challenge? Finding the best employees and getting them to stick around.

7. Finding talent that wants to learn—and keeping them—is hard.

See if this sounds familiar:

  • You struggle to find capable employees who are willing to learn new skills. Highly trained employees are often out of your price range, and undertrained employees need a structured, well-funded program to progress.
  • You worry that highly trained employees will jump ship after you invest in their development. Training makes your employees more productive—and more attractive to companies trying to lure them away.

When you invest in your teams, you don’t just build loyalty and engagement—you build a force that grows with your business, stays ahead of the market, and seizes opportunities that keep you ahead of your competition.

Ryan Engley, VP of Product Marketing at Unbounce

Other HR challenges, many respondents told us, ranged from long-tenured employees unwilling to adapt to fresh college grads without technical skills.

What else is there to learn? Download the PDF with all the details from the 2019 State of Marketing Training survey.

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The State of Marketing Training in 2019 [Original Research]