There I was, on a conference call with a prospective client, when I heard a question I wasn’t expecting:

Your technical credentials are fine, but do you have any marketing qualifications?

Immediately I knew where the conversation was going to go. I could feel the scope of the engagement shrinking.

Up to this point in the call, we’d discussed the business objectives, marketing strategy, and some finer details on how that might be implemented for this early-stage SaaS startup. They were operating in a sector our small agency knows intimately (open source software) and in which we help existing clients with strategy. Plus their marketing mix included the kinds of things we excel at: content marketing, SEO, and SEM. It seemed like a perfect fit.

But despite receiving two independent referrals for this gig, the lack of marketing qualifications was a deal breaker. After the question above, items were rapidly taken off the metaphorical table. The topic of conversation quickly moved from strategy to more tactical issues – from consultant to being just another pair of hands.

Like the late, great Bullseye host Jim Bowen often said: “Look at what you could’ve won!”.

By the end of the call we’d landed on some content marketing work, but ultimately things went nowhere. I’m still waiting for that follow-up email.

Failing to win that engagement pushed me to take a long, hard look at our agency principal (i.e. me), and the missed opportunities that stem from a lack of marketing credentials.

I’m clearly not alone in coming to marketing from a different field, and many top marketers have no formal training in marketing. My favourite recent example is Mark Ritson’s talk at Marketing Week Live, where he showed a list from earnworthy.com of the 24 marketers that you should follow on twitter.

Of those 24 marketing gurus, only 4 have any training in marketing. So it’s clear that you can be a successful marketer without studying marketing on an academic level.

The point, though, is that there’s scope to differentiate yourself from your peers, and your competitors, if you do study marketing in some capacity. In fact, Mark makes this claim in his column, We must fight the Philistines on the value of marketing training.

The only silver lining in all this depressing ignorance can be found in the ancient and enduring concept of differentiation. The more the marketers around you think that ‘side hustle’ and ‘street smarts’ outweigh proper marketing training, the more you can stand out by getting yourself a decent marketing education.

If you’re a marketer looking to level-up and tackle bigger, more fulfilling challenges, Marketing Week’s Mini MBA in Marketing looks like it could be a great first step. It certainly does to me, which is why I’m now enrolled in the April intake.

I’m excited to be part of the 2000+ alumni that have taken the course, and whose syllabus is derived from the MIT Sloan MBA programme Professor Ritson taught during his time there.

And of course, having a piece of paper to bang down on that metaphorical desk during conference calls is also a bonus.

If that still doesn’t convince you that rounding out your experience with marketing training will make you a better marketer, I’ll leave you with some words from the man himself.