The following column was originally featured on MarketingProfs.

I’m often asked whether companies should allocate precious resources toward professional development and training for their marketing teams. My answer is always “Yes, but…”

Although learning always adds value, companies must carry out the proper internal assessments before making any decisions regarding training—to ensure they allocate resources effectively.

But just how can companies do so? What are the steps required to ensure training effectiveness?

I’m going to share a four-step process to align your business objectives with your training objectives—and ensure you maximize training dollars in support of the No. 1 resource your company has to offer: its talent.

Talent is repeatedly reported as the top challenge to marketing team success today. PWC puts out an annual CEO survey in which talent and development are often key factors. In recent years, most CEOs have cited talent gaps as major concerns—and, most recently, in 2017, as many as 54% of CEOs said they plan to increase headcount in the next 12 months. That’s an astonishing figure when you consider the surge in the incorporation of AI and machine-learning into regular workflows.

And in the last year, the Data & Marketing Association – together with the Interactive Advertising Bureau’s Data Center of Excellence –published a study of the modern workforce and the upcoming shifts we can expect to see for the modern data-centric organization. The study revealed that just 5 percent are “extremely confident” that their internal teams have the right skills and experience to support their data-driven initiatives.

marketing talent gap graph

This lack of confidence in internal teams’ abilities to meet the challenges of tomorrow, coupled with the indicator that CEOs now recognize the need for equipped, well-trained, forward-thinking human capital and plan to expand on that in the coming years, shows just how important professional development and training are to the modern organization.

4 Steps to Selecting the Right Training Program

1. Identify Skills Gaps in Your Organization

Where are there knowledge gaps; what is the “next level” you would like to bring your team/superstars to? In a recent article from Forbes, the importance of identifying skills gaps within your company is underlined as a lynchpin necessity to ensure that companies’ transformation and modernization efforts are not put in jeopardy.

There are a number of tools in the marketplace that can help you assess where your team lies and what skills are required for success in a given business area – or your own company may have the internal knowledge required to do this. The assessment process can be a significant undertaking, however once you have identified your skills gap areas, you can begin to craft a plan of approach that will create much more value for your talent growth – and one that is explicitly aligned with your core business objectives.

2. Do Your Homework

There are a multitude of learning and development options out there – but how do you narrow the field?

You want to ensure that you are enlisting reliable and cutting edge training that will benefit your business by equipping your team with specific applications knowledge. The key is to look to experts in marketing and those with proven track records for industry knowledge and hands-on know-how.

At DMA, we partner with proven leaders from across the data and marketing ecosystem with track records that demonstrate their commitment to effective customer connections. Identify providers that have knowledge your company already trusts, and you are one step ahead of the game.

You also need to source what is feasible within your budget. It is important to note however, that if you are looking for anything deeper than theoretical knowledge, you may need to pay more. Many good platforms offer good training for free – but beware these often do not go as in-depth as your needs my dictate.

3. Decide Who Will be Trained

Do you want to train individuals or groups?

Professional training is a very useful tool to level set entire teams – both for teamwork purposes (shared nomenclature, identifying a common business objective) and enabling goal alignment across entire departments. Conversely, if your goal is to shore up and equip certain superstars within your team, you may look more towards a combination of one-off seminars and/or online training, together with an internal mentoring program.

Defining your core training audience will also help to define your budget and how you will apply your training budget dollars.

4. Choose Your Format – Video, Mobile, Micro, or ‘Old School’ – Which is Best?

There is an increasing amount of training opportunities flooding the marketplace, and they are being made available in more formats than ever before. From classroom to online options, to video and yes even mobile apps … it’s all out there and available right now.

In a 2017 survey of learning and development professionals, LinkedIn reported that 7 out of 10 organizations are starting to incorporate video-based training, and upwards of 67% of people are now learning on their mobile devices! These trends are becoming commonplace and indeed often represent a more effective strategy for retention.

In fact, Forrester research’s Dr. James McQuivey has famously asserted that 1 minute of video is worth 1.8M words. And it is this very ability to train in small concentrated chunks through video or mobile apps that can be very appealing to busy executives (and employees) who only have 1% of their work week available to devote to training and development.

It may be worth investigating whether video and mobile are a good fit for your company. Which format you choose will depend largely on available budget and your company culture.

At the end of the day, it comes down to knowing your talent. KNOW your talent, their needs and strategic business objectives, IDENTIFY leaders in the industry whose knowledge and skillsets you can trust, FOCUS on the methods that will best equip your team for lasting knowledge, and LEVERAGE your budget accordingly.

Jerusha Harvey is DMA’s VP of Education & Professional Development.