Ralph Oliva is a strong believer in business communities as an education tool. Oliva has been the executive director of the the Institute for the Study of Business Markets, a b-to-b marketing organization at Penn State University's Smeal College of Business Administration, since 1996. Prior to that, he was VP-market communications and design at Texas Instruments Inc.
One problem with today's online educational resources for marketers, Oliva said, is that many are little more than PowerPoint presentations. Though the Web is a great place for searchable, immediate access to tools, templates and online courses, educators need to use real innovation to fully take advantage of the medium.
Q. What's the best way for marketers to learn what they need to know?
A. When things are changing this quickly, a community of practice is a powerful place to learn--real time, real stuff. The profession of b-to-b marketing will flourish this decade. The past decade was the decade of efficiency and productivity; the next will be the decade of growth. Some of that will happen through mergers and acquisitions, but the rest will require a new level of professionalism. Growing the professional skills is an imperative, and seeking the highest quality education is the way to do that.
Q. What topics are marketers most interested in learning about right now?
A. One is e-business governance. How do you organize what goes on centrally and de-centrally, and what's the right mix? It's always been an issue, but this year there have been several VPs of e-business named. Those companies are grappling with how e-business affects their businesses, markets and customers. So that's a very hot topic of discussion. Also, the whole business of b-to-b hubs: Do we start one? Do we engage with one that exists? How do we assess which ones will be driving forces vs. those that will come and go?