Considering an MBA in Marketing? 4 Success Stories of B2B MarketersFebruary 19, 2014 by Nicki Howell
At some point in their careers, many B2B marketers wonder if earning an MBA, especially one with a marketing concentration, is something worth considering. This degree prepares you for management roles, provides valuable networking opportunities and can put you on the fast-track to a better career—but it’s a significant investment of time and money.
According to U.S. News & World Report, the average tuition cost in 2013 for a two-year MBA program at the top 10 business schools in the U.S. was $111,418. Despite the hefty price tag, MBA graduates are doing well financially. According to NYU, MBA graduates earn a median base salary of $96,282; Harvard Business School graduates earn a median base salary of $106,000 annually and Stanford Graduate School of Business reports a median base salary of $125,000.
Obviously, an MBA isn’t the right choice for everyone—in fact, we’re big proponents of working your way up the ranks through challenging yet rewarding positions to gain both experience and financial independence.
For some marketers, however, earning an MBA has proved worthwhile. Here, we take a look at four examples where an MBA helped B2B professionals quickly ascend in their marketing careers.
A Fast Rise to Content Director
Many content marketers spend several years working their way up to content marketing manager or director, as the required skills can typically be learned through on-the-job experience. For Christina Griffo, however, earning an MBA was a way to fast-track her way to the top.
After completing her MBA in 2008, Griffo was hired as marketing manager at PR Newswire immediately after earning her degree—she graduated on a Friday and began working full-time the following Monday.
In 2013, Griffo was hired as content manager for Operative. She says she was given the opportunity to take on a more strategic role just a few months after starting with the company, which she believes her MBA made possible. “I was promoted within four months of working at Operative, even serving an interim role as head of marketing as we were building our team,” she says.
Griffo now serves as Operative’s director of content marketing, helping strategize and spearhead content development and thought leadership initiatives.
“In my personal experience, possessing my MBA in marketing has been extremely beneficial to my career,” she says. “It enabled me to bring home a higher starting salary at my first job, and it set me apart from a large pool of employees in the marketing space who did not possess an MBA.”
Griffo says marketers can benefit from an MBA if they aspire to positions that require a greater understanding of business strategy, such as higher-level roles and managerial positions.
“An MBA provides exposure to a number of key business areas, from management to finance to operations and much more,” she explains. “This well-rounded perspective arms MBA candidates with an overall business dexterity that extends outside their area of concentration.”
As an example, Griffo points to a “Change Management” course she took during her MBA studies that she credits with helping her understand team structure and overall team dynamics.
“I may be a marketer, but the failure to acknowledge and understand the workings of a team in a professional setting, including how to motivate different types of employees and enable them to feel as though their voice is heard, is an area of critical importance,” she says.
A Career Pivot to Brand Manager
An aspiring brand manager can usually launch a career by starting out in an entry-level marketing position and ascending through the ranks. But for those professionals who abruptly shift industries and have no marketing background, an MBA can prove helpful in quickly getting them up to speed, experience-wise.
Tricia Baione, associate director of career education advising at Columbia University, says she’s seen first-hand how an MBA can make a big difference for aspiring brand managers. She gives the example of a female student who spent several years in investment banking, but wanted to leave it all behind to launch a career in brand management. Since she didn’t have any formal marketing experience, the student enrolled in the MBA program.
“At the end of her first year, she landed an internship at a major consumer package goods company,” says Baione. “By the end of the summer, she had a full-time job offer for an associate brand manager position that started immediately after graduation.”
Baione says companies that hire brand managers are looking for professionals who understand how their role relates to and impacts other departments within the organization, which is precisely what an MBA degree teaches.
Gaining Knowledge for a Managerial Role
Many marketers who are promoted into middle-level management roles work for years as marketing specialists, advertising specialists or other lower-level marketing positions to accrue on-the-job experience. For Melis Steiner, however, spending years in the trenches wasn’t an attractive option.
The current marketing director at Trelligence Inc., Steiner earned an MBA immediately after completing her undergraduate degree. Steiner’s family owned a small business that she worked for during college, but the roles she held were varied and not specific to marketing.
Although she was surrounded by business operations her whole life, Steiner found her work experience did not meet the requirements for the middle-level marketing jobs she was applying for, so she decided to go for her MBA.
“Thinking long-term, I realized that if I wanted to have a managerial role in a company, I would either need to take whatever job I could and work my way up for five-plus years, or I could enroll in an MBA program for two years and become qualified for the jobs that I wanted,” she explains.
“Even though I was still technically light on work experience, the MBA gave employers confidence in my ability to perform the job, to lead and to manage.”
Steiner also found that receiving an MBA led to a large increase in salary offerings, both for herself and her fellow graduates. “I’d say the difference between the earning potential prior to the MBA program and what people earned with their first job out of the MBA program ranged from a $25,000 increase (mostly small nonprofits) to $100,000 for others,” she says. “I’d say mine was probably about a $50-60K increase.”
Accelerating to Upper Management
Eric Quanstrom, CMO and vice president of sales and marketing at Nimble, found that an MBA was a powerful asset in advancing to an executive marketing role. Quanstrom completed his MBA in 2005, and says earning this degree played an integral role in his success post-graduation.
“An MBA is a competitive advantage for a job candidate in managerial-level positions, especially director, VP or C-level titles,” Quanstrom says. “This is mainly thanks to the broad base of study, the focus on case study learning and the fact that most MBA programs focus heavily on how to manage group dynamics.”
Quanstrom wrote his MBA master’s thesis on marketing techniques in the wine industry. After graduating, he was recruited by an online wine portal startup in San Francisco, for which he became the head of marketing and sales. He attributes landing this position directly to the work he completed in the MBA program.
Today, Quanstrom continues to use much of what he learned during his MBA program, particularly concepts related to strategy and management that were reinforced by analyzing case studies of other successful businesses.
“We recently used a modified form of a case study to develop new product pricing that will debut here in March at Nimble,” he says. “It involved multiple stakeholders, perspectives, a bit of frank discussion and quite a bit of quantitative research.”
Working Your Way Up Through the Ranks? Supplement Your Experience with Self-Teaching
If you decide not to pursue an MBA, you should continue to learn in your field of study as you ascend through the ranks. Many of the graduates profiled here say their MBA course material has repeatedly proved helpful in their current careers.
In lieu of a formal classroom experience, here are a few tips to supplement your on-the-job experience and fuel your marketing knowledge and expertise:
→ Examine business case studies. Steiner says she learned the most during her MBA experience by reading and analyzing business case studies (she recommends those by the Harvard Business Review) and discussing them with her professors and peers. Outside of an MBA program, seek out other marketing professionals to learn their opinions and feedback on different business ideas. Industry-specific marketing groups, such as those found on LinkedIn, are also helpful for asking questions and learning new ideas.
→ Watch business documentaries. Steiner advises watching documentaries that chronicle the successes of other companies to learn how they do things. She particularly recommends the Bloomberg TV series “Inside,” which spotlights companies such as Chipotle and Ebay to highlight how they started and continue to outpace their competition.
→ Immerse yourself in the experiences of other marketing professionals. Steiner recommends reading business news and browsing videos on YouTube, where you can find TED Talks with marketing professionals and presentations from students at business schools. She also suggests looking for ways to learn from CEOs by reading books they’ve written on their experiences and attending talks they give at universities and/or business conferences.
There’s no doubt that earning an MBA can open doors and provide salary bumps, but it’s not the right choice for everyone. What are your thoughts on how a marketing MBA can affect the career of a B2B marketer? Share a comment in the section below.