Previous research has shown conclusively that the three characteristics of successful firms are a focus on strategy, teams and marketing. Many people take it for granted that a business has good marketing but all too often that assumption has disguised a lack of basic marketing skills. So why are growing firms all avid marketeers? Firstly, marketing is often confused with selling; they are very different animals. If the purpose of business is to get and keep a customer then marketing is about deciding what you should do to achieve that purpose. In other words, marketing is about developing products or services which will satisfy customer wants. Selling is about getting people to buy your product.
The second issue is that marketing often seems to be made complicated. The average growing business, however, needs a simple, yet powerful, toolkit.
Global marketing strategy, as taught to MBAs, is intellectually attractive but limited in its effectiveness for the average entrepreneur. It is ironic that the marketing profession has not been able to sell its tools to growing businesses.
A study for Warwick Business School's Small and Medium-sized Enterprises Centre, "Marketing Success in Fast Growth SMEs", heralds the need for common sense in running businesses.
Marketing is about knowing who we want our customers to be today and tomorrow; it is about understanding who our competitors are, today and tomorrow; it is about knowing what is going on in the marketplace and in the industry!
Robert Craven is director of training programmes at Warwick Business School's SME Centre. 'Marketing Success in Fast Growth SMEs', by Al Halborg of Coventry University Business School and Don McPhie and Professor David Storey of Warwick Business School's SME Centre, was published after work with the Marketing Council.
Nine simple steps
The report, based on studies of real businesses, draws nine lessons:
1. The outside professional can be the catalyst to focus the business on the importance of marketing.
2. Simple, basic techniques are required, for example, segmenting the market or using existing information.
3. Focusing on the customer will improve business performance
4. The discipline of putting the customer first brings with it systematic planning, prioritising, and measuring effectiveness.
5. Focusing on customer needs changes the whole outlook of the business as it reviews all its functions.
6. New rules and regulations have created opportunities for those seeking them.
7. By focusing on customer needs and marketing issues, businesses can establish a competitive advantage as they are able to focus their operations on what is really required of, and from, them by the customer.
8. Changed outlook - marketing can become the central business function, which increases the firm's competitiveness.
9. Staff must adopt the new philosophy.