You've learned marketing by doing it, and now you'd like some formal education to fill in the gaps. Well, we've shopped the sales-and-marketing offerings of the top 15 "executive ed" programs nationwide. We looked for weeklong (or shorter) courses, challenging curricula, innovative instructors, a classroom mix of small and large companies, and lots of practical tips.

We also spoke with recent participants, many of whom gushed about what they had learned from other attendees. "The big guns will teach you what not to do," joked one. Listening to peers' war stories proves "you're not messing up as badly as you thought," says another. Participants can expect an intense week of late nights spent reading and sharing sales secrets. -- Karen E. Carney

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School: Northwestern's Kellogg School , Evanston, Ill., 708-467-7000

Course: "Increasing Sales Force Productivity"
One week

Class size: 75. Most from big companies (Baxter, GTE), but 30% had less than $30 million in sales.

Teachers: Kellogg marketing professors "were accessible and took a real interest in our companies," says Larry Malcolmson, president of MD Buyline, a $15-million medical-technology company in Dallas.

Take-home wisdom: Hard-and-fast methods for calibrating sales force's size, structure, pay, and effectiveness. Malcolmson called a summit of his sales reps to test the surveying techniques he had learned: "Once we heard their concerns, we could change their compensation package using the formulas."

School: Duke's Fuqua School of Business , Durham, N.C., 919-660-8011

Course: "Strategic Marketing"
One week

Class size: 20. AT&T, MCI, and large pharmaceutical companies well represented.

Teachers: Eight of Fuqua's top professors and lecturers.

Take-home wisdom: "You come away seeing the difference between what you thought the customer wanted and what he or she really wants. It's about managing and measuring customer expectations," says Jim Jenkins, VP of a $40-million division of Rinker Materials, based in West Palm Beach, Fla.

School: U. of California's Haas School , Berkeley, Calif., 510-642-4735

Course: "Competitive Marketing Strategies for Service Businesses"
One week

Class size: 20. Many from banks and utilities. "With three employees, our company was the smallest, but we weren't intimidated," says Vincent Foust, president of the State Bank of Lancaster in Kansas.

Teachers: Capable specialists "on the cutting edge of marketing." A cofounder of Southwest Airlines brought his company's case study to life.

Take-home wisdom: "It defines this thing called 'marketing' and helps you to develop your own marketing knowledge base," says Foust. Good material on pricing.

School: Emory Business School , Atlanta, 404-848-0500

Course: "Marketing Strategies and Analysis for Competitive Advantage"
One week

Class size: 20. Seventy-five percent are mid- to upper-level managers. Few small-company CEOs.

Teachers: "Excellent" Emory faculty solicited "biggest marketing challenges" beforehand.

Take-home wisdom: "I have a binder full of printouts from the computer-simulation game, which played a big part in the learning," says John Bailey, managing director of $3-million Jabexco, a food exporter in Kingston, Jamaica. "We learned about the importance of maintaining a competitive advantage -- by controlling strategic plans and making smart research-and-development and buying decisions."

School: U. of Wisconsin Management , Institute, Madison, 608-262-8890

Course: "Market Analysis for Competitive Advantage"
Three days

Class size: 30. Sixty percent were large-company sales VPs; 40%, small-company CEOs.

Teachers: Dedicated program director with hands-on marketing experience, and a marketing consultant.

Take-home wisdom: Heavy on management sage Michael Porter's SWOT gauge -- strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats. Lots of handouts, a workbook, and magazine clips on target marketing. "We were looking for marketing tools to share with our employees so they could be more valuable to our customers," says Myles Kelly, vice-president of the Marketing Audit, a 10-employee business-intelligence consulting firm in Philadelphia. "We sure found some."

Source: Schools, students. Courses offered in spring or fall or both; cost includes everything but travel, unless noted. Class size and teachers refer to past year. *Covers only course materials, some meals. n