Mridula Gungaphul (Department of Management, Faculty of Law and Management, University of Mauritius, Reduit, Mauritius)
Mehraz Boolaky (Department of Management and Marketing, Bang College of Business, KIMEP, Almaty, Kazakhstan)
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– The purpose of this paper is to explore the importance that successful entrepreneurs in Mauritius attach to marketing in operating their business and how marketing is actually practised or is prevalent in their enterprises.
– This paper forms part of a broader study undertaken by the authors. The survey instrument is a personally administered semi‐structured questionnaire. A sample of 30 successful entrepreneurs for this paper is drawn judgmentally from the broader study.
– The results indicate that entrepreneurs surveyed use marketing to a large extent although some apply it unknowingly. Respondents tend to emphasize product development rather than improving product offering based on customer needs and wants. The results also reveal that some of the entrepreneurs practice marketing in mostly unconventional ways although there is evidence of convergence with traditional marketing in many respects. On the whole, the results of this survey indicate that entrepreneurs view marketing as an important function in achieving their business goals.
– This paper contributes to the scant literature on the importance and relationship of the marketing function with respect to entrepreneurial activities and small and medium enterprises in Mauritius. The findings of this paper confirm that entrepreneurs attach significant importance to marketing, although in certain areas such as the elaborate marketing mix they practice marketing in their own style. The paper helps entrepreneurs to realize how marketing can be an asset to achieving success in their business. Some success factors in marketing practice are highlighted to benefit future and potential entrepreneurs. The study also cautions entrepreneurs about some marketing practices to which they ought to pay more attention instead of taking them for granted.
Emerald Group Publishing Limited
© Emerald Group Publishing Limited 2009
Published by Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Mridula Gungaphul, Mehraz Boolaky, (2009) “Entrepreneurship and marketing: an exploratory study in Mauritius”, Journal of Chinese Entrepreneurship, Vol. 1 Issue: 3, pp.209-226, https://doi.org/10.1108/17561390910999506
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Section: Choose Top of page 1 Introduction << 2 Literature review 3 Research methodology 4 Survey results and find… 5 Further discussions 6 Limitations 7 Conclusion 8 Contribution and scope … References Further Reading Other sources About the authors
Over the past few years, research examining issues on the marketing/entrepreneurship interface has emerged as a rapidly developing area (Collinson and Shaw, 2001; Stokes, 2000; Hills, 1994; Gardner, 1991; Hisrich, 1989; Siu and Kirby, 1998; Gilmore et al., 2001; Brodie et al., 1997). However, academic research has still not been able to answer a number of questions about entrepreneurship and its relationship with marketing. Although marketing and entrepreneurship have their own characteristics, their interface recognizes some commonalities between the two (Carson and Covielo, 1996). Some studies have tried to differentiate marketing and entrepreneurship. For instance, Hills (1987) and Murray (1981) tried to make the difference between marketing orientation and entrepreneurial orientation in terms of similarities and environmental responses. Hills and Laforge (1992) found a number of similarities between the marketing and entrepreneurship disciplines. Some examples of these commonalities in both fields include innovation, and sharing the same attitude relating to their market and customer (Carson and Covielo, 1996). Based on the findings of these researchers, the disciplines of marketing and entrepreneurship can be viewed as similar rather than different.
Several authors have tried to analyse the application of entrepreneurial thinking to the marketing efforts of enterprises of all sizes (Bjerke and Hultman, 2002; Davis et al., 1991; Levitt, 1983). While various studies have found similarities between market orientation and the performance of the business (Narver and Slater, 1990; Jaworski and Kohli, 1993), it is still uncertain whether the market orientation concept is appreciated by the small business owner. Harris (1998) supports this view and contends that in reality, the dimensions of market orientation may not be applicable to the small business sector. As an example, he mentions that several key factors impinge on the ability of, for example, small hotels to focus on market trends and needs, i.e. market orientation. He cites other factors such as an unclear view of the customer, undifferentiated products, satisfaction with the actual state, limited resources, cost implications and short‐term profit. Other studies claim that small firms embark upon marketing in such a general and inappropriate way that it does not appear to have any significant impact on performance and as a consequence is not perceived to be useful (Carson, 1993).
The present study explores how Mauritian entrepreneurs view marketing and how they actually practice it in operating their business.
2 Literature review
Section: Choose Top of page 1 Introduction 2 Literature review << 3 Research methodology 4 Survey results and find… 5 Further discussions 6 Limitations 7 Conclusion 8 Contribution and scope … References Further Reading Other sources About the authors
Stokes and Blackburn (1999) argue that marketing in its traditional form is regarded as a planned process which stems out of a careful identification of market needs by formal research and through purposeful development of new offerings to the market place. The small business on its part involves informal, unplanned activity that relies on intuition and energy of the owner‐manager, to make things happen. Stokes and Blackburn (1999) further add that it is not surprising to realize that small business owners appear to give marketing a low priority compared to the other functions of their business and often consider marketing to be exclusively for larger firms.
Other research in this area indicates marketing issues and implementation of marketing decisions are not exclusive to large organizational settings although traditional management theory suggests that marketing orientation is expected to be less important for the success of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) because smaller enterprises have a smaller customer base, have less complex organizational structure and are usually quicker and more flexible in responding to market changes (Rojsek and Konik, 2004). However, Pelham and Wilson (1995) who conducted a longitudinal research on a sample of the US small enterprises found that marketing orientation was one of the few significant determinants, which directly affected profitability.
Entrepreneurship and marketing are two distinct areas of management. However, Omura et al. (1993) perceive that there is an overlap and difference between these two areas at the same time. The overlap exists in two areas: first, where market conditions are continuous and entrepreneurship supports the process of identifying unperceived needs; and second, in a discontinuous market where entrepreneurship directs marketing strategy to develop existing needs in a new environment. In the words of Collinson and Shaw (2001), the differences lie between the fact that traditional marketing operates in a consistent environment where market conditions are continuous and the firm is satisfying clearly perceived customer needs whereas entrepreneurship operates in an uncertain environment.
There has been little research on market orientation and marketing within SMEs in Mauritius, despite the fact that small businesses form a significant part of the Mauritian business environment. Given the diversity of views regarding the relationship between marketing and entrepreneurship, it is useful to find out what importance Mauritian entrepreneurs attribute to marketing and to explore whether or not entrepreneurs apply the marketing concepts in operating their business in the Mauritian context. An overview of Mauritius and some statistics pertaining to SMEs in Mauritius are mentioned later in this study.
We now explain the terms “entrepreneurship” and “marketing” as referred to in this study.
There is still no consensus on the definition of entrepreneurship despite numerous research studies in this area. The term “entrepreneurship” comes from the French verb entreprendre and the German word unternehmen, both meaning “to undertake”. For over 200 years, the term “entrepreneurship” has resisted precise definition (Herbert and Link, 1988), and even today it still lacks a universally accepted definition. Early definitions of entrepreneurship were mainly provided by economists and tended to stress the assumption on risk, supply of financial capital, ownership and co‐ordination of factors of production (Cantillon, 1931; Knight, 1921). For Collins and Moore (1964), the emphasis of entrepreneurship was on the efforts of an individual who goes against the odds in translating a vision into a successful business enterprise.
Carton et al. (1998) state that entrepreneurship is the pursuit of a discontinuous opportunity involving the creation of an organization (or sub‐organization) with the expectation of value creation to the participants. The entrepreneur is the individual (or team) that identifies the opportunity, gathers the necessary resources, and is ultimately responsible for the performance of the organization. Therefore, entrepreneurship is the means by which new organizations are formed with their resultant job and wealth creation.
Our definition of entrepreneurship closely matches the definition proposed by Carton et al. (1998) and views entrepreneurship as the initiative of an individual that identifies an opportunity and gathers the necessary resources to start a small business, taking the risks associated with the initiative. We define the small business as one in which one or two individuals are required to make all the critical managerial decisions such as finance, accounting, personnel, purchasing, processing or servicing, marketing, selling, without the aid of internal specialists and with specific knowledge in only one or two functional areas as proposed by Berryman (1983).
In Mauritius, the small business sector is widely acknowledged to be an important contributor to employment creation and the nation’s overall wealth. Given the increasing competition from both local and international firms, small businesses are likely to face greater threats for survival. It is important to provide customers not just with goods and services but with products that would satisfy their needs and wants profitably and better than competitors, as acknowledged by the marketing or marketing orientation concept. We believe that marketing plays a key role to ensure profitability and success and thus we hypothesise that the success of entrepreneurs surveyed in this study is largely due to the implementation of the marketing concept.
2.2 Marketing and its importance to SMEs
As stated earlier, the crucial role of marketing in small businesses should not be ignored. Day (2000) pointed out that the small firm is too important, too dominant and too much about creating future business generation for marketing practitioners and educators not to consider how to help it survive. Marketing is often seen as a business function along with others such as manufacturing and financing. Bjerke and Hultman (2002) state that it is often difficult for a small enterprise to separate these functions since these entrepreneurs employ few persons and it is quite common to see that every member of the enterprise knows something about each business function, including marketing.
A market‐oriented firm is one which successfully applies the marketing concept. A review of the literature on marketing shows that there are several definitions, for example “Marketing is the process of planning and executing the conception, pricing, promotion, and distribution of ideas, goods, and services to create exchanges that satisfy individual and organizational objectives” (Wilson and Gilligan, 1999, p. 3). According to Kotler (2003), the marketing concept is supported by four pillars: target market, customer needs, integrated marketing and profitability. In other words, the marketing concept states that if a business is to achieve profitability, the entire organization must be oriented towards satisfying consumer needs, wants, and aspirations. As a result of growing competition in the environment, in which both large and small firms operate and attempt to survive, there has been an increased interest in marketing orientation. The works of Kohli and Jaworski (1990) and Narver and Salter (1990) are very often used by the majority of researchers to derive their definitions of marketing orientation (Blankston and Stokes, 2002).
These definitions advocate an operational and strategic approach to marketing that has been associated with the activities that large organizations undertake when practising “marketing”. Unfortunately, the literature does not readily provide a definition of marketing in the entrepreneurial or SME context. Simpson et al. (2006) spell this out by stating that attempts to define or discuss marketing in SMEs often link marketing with entrepreneurial behaviour. According to Chaston and Mangles (2002), researches carried out on marketing in SMEs have been limited to the application of classical marketing models used in large businesses as opposed to small businesses. It is also believed that marketing in SMEs is usually practised through networking (Gilmore et al., 2001) or a combination of transaction, relationship, interaction and network marketing (Brodie et al., 1997). Narver and Slater (1990) propose that market orientation comprises three components, namely: customer orientation – a sufficient understanding of target buyers, so that continuous superior value can be created for them; competitor orientation – understanding short‐term strengths and weaknesses and long‐term capabilities of both current and potential competitors; and inter‐functional co‐ordination – the co‐ordinated utilization of company‐wide resources for creating superior value for customers. Do small enterprises incorporate any or all of these marketing practices in their operations or day to day management? Research has still not been able to answer precisely these questions, specifically those related to how small businesses apply marketing and thus insufficient knowledge remains about marketing in SMEs (Simpson et al., 2006).
We hold that marketing has something to offer to entrepreneurial activities and indeed to SMEs as recognized by some studies whose findings confirm that successful small enterprises are those that identify and analyse customer needs and competitive products and services and attempt to satisfy these needs to the delight of their customers. For example, Donckels and Segers (1990) substantiate the ability of new technology small enterprises to identify and exploit market opportunities that would enhance regional growth potential. Larson (1991) identifies SMEs that are achieving market advantage from the management of product and service development. Boag (1987) analyses market performance and marketing control systems in early growth companies and his findings indicate that there is a high correlation between marketing activities and the degree of success in SMEs in terms of sales, sales growth, cumulative cash flow and profitability. We concur with these findings of Boag (1987) and we thus propose for the purpose of this study that there is a critical impact of a marketing orientation on the performance of small businesses and that marketing does play a significant role to ensure survival and success of entrepreneurial ventures.
2.3 Entrepreneurial activities in Mauritius
Mauritius is situated in the south of the Indian Ocean at some 800 kilometers east off the coast of Madagascar. It is an island of about 1,865 square kilometer and has a population of just over 1.2 million. Entrepreneurial activities in Mauritius started when the French and the British settlers colonised the island, some 200 years back (Gungaphul and Boolaky, 2003). Slaves were brought in from Africa and indentured labourers from India to work mainly in sugar cane plantations and farming. The French and British settlers sold some of the sugar cane fields to the labourers on their departure from the island. Recently, the children of the indentured labourers have inherited these plots of land, which are still cultivated with sugar cane and other crops that are sold to sugar mills and vegetable sellers, respectively. Some of these lands are now also used for farming and outputs are used for personal consumption or for selling in markets or to hotels and restaurants. Chinese immigrants who set‐up retail businesses during those days owned most corner shops in the country and presently several of these corner shops have been transformed into mini or super markets (Boolaky and Gungaphul, 2001).
Mauritius has now diversified from a mono‐crop economy to an industrializing economy to face challenges from competition and globalisation. The government is providing strong support for expansion and development of SMEs and micro enterprises and is placing much emphasis on the role of SMEs as a means of job creation and social development; in turn, more and more people are starting up their own businesses and taking advantage of facilities offered to them. In his 2007/2008 budget speech, the Minister of Finance of Mauritius stated:
This trend confirms our conviction that the SME sector can be an effective vehicle for longer term job creation, for broadening the circle of opportunities, for poverty reduction and for lifting the economic, financial and social status of the unemployed and the working poor.
While there are no clear statistics (partly due to the fact that many small enterprises operate in the informal sector) to confirm the percentage of firms which make up the SME sector in Mauritius, the latest Central Statistics Office (2008)report indicates an increase in the number of small businesses during the period 2002‐2007. There was an estimated 91,980 small businesses in 2007 compared to 74,930 in 2002, representing an increase of 23 per cent. The growing number of new venture creation in turn causes drastic 19 per cent increase (from 175,790 in 2002 to 208,800 in 2007) in employment in the entrepreneurial sector and these figures exclude those operating in the informal sector. It is a fact that SMEs have already overtaken large establishments in job creation and are positively contributing to social and economic development. What explains this success? Perhaps, it is the specificity of Mauritius in the entrepreneurial context: the smallness of the island, with people living close to each other rather than vast separation or isolation in terms of distance, enables more people to know each other formally and informally. People have a tendency to be rather more readily influenced by each other, the hospitable Mauritian culture at work. Charismatic salespersons or entrepreneurs thus have a significant power to influence sales thereby explaining the success of entrepreneurial success in IT, beauty products, world books, etc.
Although Mauritius is an acknowledged model of economic and social development in the entrepreneurial area and this has subsequently generated some research and publications on entrepreneurship and SMEs in general over the years, little is known about the practice of marketing, if any, or the importance of marketing in the SME sector in Mauritius. This study tries to bridge this gap.
3 Research methodology
Section: Choose Top of page 1 Introduction 2 Literature review 3 Research methodology << 4 Survey results and find… 5 Further discussions 6 Limitations 7 Conclusion 8 Contribution and scope … References Further Reading Other sources About the authors
The study is essentially an empirical one as there has not been much academic research undertaken in the area of marketing and its relationship to entrepreneurship in Mauritius. The study forms part of a broader study undertaken by the authors and that explored entrepreneurial orientation in three islands of the Indian Ocean. Marketing orientation was one area explored with entrepreneurs who considered their business successful.
As stated earlier, the main objectives of this study are to determine the importance that successful entrepreneurs attach to marketing in operating their business and to explore how marketing is actually practised or is prevalent in their enterprises.
3.1 Sample and data collection
A convenience sample of 30 small successful business entrepreneurs in Mauritius surveyed in the original study was chosen for this study. The indicators of success were: a growing business, very motivated and forward looking entrepreneurs and those entrepreneurs who reported that they were successful. The sample consisted of entrepreneurs from six sectors namely, auditing, bakery, computer, contract, food and tourism. All 30 entrepreneurs were met face‐to‐face and a semi‐structured questionnaire was used as survey instrument. Participants were guaranteed confidentiality and anonymity in order to encourage participation. Interviews lasted one hour on average.
3.2 The questionnaire and measurement scale
The questionnaire consisted of two sections. Section A contained 12 questions related to marketing activities as identified in the literature. An adapted market orientation scale developed by Narver and Slater (1990) was used to determine the importance respondents in our survey attached to marketing orientation. The scale items were presented as five‐point scales, where 1 indicated “to no extent at all” and 5 indicated “to a very large extent”. The reliability analysis of the adapted scale was conducted. The Cronbach’s alpha test for the 12 items showed strong alpha values of 0.789 and above and an aggregate value of 0.83 (Table II). According to Nunnally (1978), alpha values above 0.7 indicate sound and reliable measures.
Section B of the questionnaire explored the demographic characteristics of the entrepreneurs and their businesses, such as background details of the business and the entrepreneur, as well as basic business data such as industry sector, ownership structure, prior employment, and history of the business.
SPSS 13.0 was used to analyse the quantitative data. An analysis of the frequency of responses to the questionnaire and the mean of individual variables were undertaken in order to describe and understand the sample. In order to identify any significant differences in sub‐sample characteristics and responses t‐tests were conducted. The quantitative data collected were summarised and presented in the “Findings” section.
4 Survey results and findings
Section: Choose Top of page 1 Introduction 2 Literature review 3 Research methodology 4 Survey results and find… << 5 Further discussions 6 Limitations 7 Conclusion 8 Contribution and scope … References Further Reading Other sources About the authors
4.1 Sample characteristics
Table I presents the demographic characteristics of the respondents of the survey. It is noted that the majority, namely 24 of the 30 respondents in the study sample are in the 30‐59 age group, indicating that a high number of mature “working age” adults are engaged in the small business sector in Mauritius. It is worth noting that four respondents are still running their businesses past the normal retirement age in Mauritius. Male entrepreneurs slightly dominate the sample, 17 male against 13 female. With regards to education, the majority have at least attended secondary school (16 out of 30 respondents). It is worth mentioning that six respondents have attended university and only three respondents hold vocational qualifications. Of the respondents, 50 per cent were in business for more than five years and 17 of them employed between six and ten employees. The food sector is highly represented in the study sample (11).
4.2 Marketing practice
The main objective of the survey was to investigate the importance that entrepreneurs attach to marketing practices in their business. We also tried to identify whether the surveyed entrepreneurs were adopting the marketing concept beyond normal selling (as marketing is usually misunderstood by those who have no prior marketing knowledge). A total of 12 variables related to the marketing orientation and adapted from the work of Narver and Slater (1990) were used and respondents were asked to rate the extent to which these applied to their enterprise on a scale of 1 (to no extent at all) to 5 (to a very large extent). Table II provides a descriptive of the twelve variables. All variables (except for one, namely seeking information for continuous improvement) show high‐mean values, suggesting that they are indeed considered important by the entrepreneurs surveyed. We note that “relationship building” with a mean value of 4.73 ranks first and thus indicating that entrepreneurs do give lots of importance to establishing good relationship with their customers. The less prominent variable “information for continuous improvement” with a mean of 3.87 could be explained from the fact that some entrepreneurial products and services depend to a large extent on tradition, implying maintenance of original recipes or success factors, perhaps the very reason as to why some entrepreneurs manage to survive stiff competition. Otherwise, the results obtained for other variables in Table II tally with our expectations that marketing indeed plays a significant role in entrepreneurial operations. We discuss the implications and significance of a few variables listed in Table II in the following sub sections.
4.3 Customer satisfaction and preferences
The majority (53.3 per cent) of respondents believe that customer satisfaction is to a very large extent important to their business. The option “to a little extent” was only chosen by 6.7 per cent of respondents. The survey also reveals that customer satisfaction varies with age, level of education and sector of activity. On the whole, respondents share the view that it is important to offer products that truly satisfy customer needs. Our findings on customer satisfaction confirm the findings of Menzioci (1991). His study suggests that the marketing concept is part of the managerial philosophy of small business owner‐managers, which emphasizes customer satisfaction. All surveyed respondents put the customer at the very heart of their business, stressing the importance of being responsive to customers; they all consider interests of other stakeholders as well.
A one sample t‐test was carried out on the five items listed (Tables III and IV). The one‐sample t‐test procedure tests whether the mean of a single variable differs from a specified constant (3 in this case, corresponding to the neutral point on the scale 1‐5). A low significance value (typically below 0.05) indicates that there is a significant difference between the test value and the observed mean. Our study shows a significance value of 0.000 indicating a significant difference between the two means and thus showing that entrepreneurs do give importance to all the variables listed. The confidence interval for the mean difference does not contain zero (last two columns in Table IV), this also indicates that the difference is significant, implying that entrepreneurs surveyed are not indifferent to the variables listed.
We may therefore say that there is significant difference for all five items (customer needs requirements, customer preferences, customer expectations, customer satisfaction and relationship building) implying that entrepreneurs in SME in Mauritius do give importance to these.
4.4 Relationship building and network
Table V shows that all respondents agree that relationship building (M=4.73) is important to a large extent (26.7 per cent) if not to a very large extent (73.3 per cent). Upon probing, it was revealed that many of the entrepreneurs maintained personal contacts with their customers. This was especially true for the female respondents. Network contacts helped them to know their customers better and anticipate their needs and wants through informal discussions. When confronted with the question of how they managed to build their existing customer base in the area, respondents were surprised to realize the extent of growth and explained that growth was mostly due to referrals from their existing customers. Thus, promotion and target marketing seem to occur more by accident than formal attempts to develop them.
It is acknowledged that entrepreneurs rely upon social relationships (Webster, 1992) for organizing and acquiring resources to build new companies and develop social ties with various people that provide referrals to customers, suppliers, vital information and potential employees who are more likely to support the venture. Our findings concur with these suggestions. A good number of the entrepreneurs surveyed (43 per cent) mentioned that their networks represented the source of their customer base. Others included their suppliers and distributors as well in their list of networks. The survey revealed that the networks were a good source of information and advice, which were used to take market decisions and to evaluate the effectiveness of these decisions. This finding supports previous studies by Joyce et al. (1995) and Szarka (1990) as to the use of personal contact networks for information gathering. For example, to more than 63.3 per cent of respondents, networks provided valuable information to the entrepreneurs regarding products or services that were in demand and from which target groups were identified. Based on the information obtained from their customers, the entrepreneurs readily customised relevant products or services and offered them to the target market, thus, influencing the latter to make the right marketing decisions and to remain loyal. Tables VI and VII show the one sample t‐test results and suggest that there is significant difference from the mean value and thus confirming that the surveyed entrepreneurs are not indifferent to relationship building.
Table VIII indicates that the majority of entrepreneurs (76.7 per cent) consider “research and planning” as important to some extent only. This was confirmed during the face‐to‐face interviews: very few (10 per cent) entrepreneurs conducted any formal research or planning with regard to finding new markets or opportunities, although most of them readily admit that they have to do it. “High or additional cost”, “lack of time” and “no idea where to get information from” were factors cited for not undertaking formal marketing research. The interviews also revealed that entrepreneurs owed their success to a great extent to informal planning. The findings with regard to research and planning contradict the findings by Hill (2001), which suggest that SMEs engaged in fairly sophisticated marketing planning and many of the enterprises were committed to three year marketing plans.
Innovation is considered important in the majority of the cases. Table IX shows that at least 66.7 per cent of respondents view innovation as important to a large extent in their businesses. However, during our discussions with the entrepreneurs it was revealed that many of them (57 per cent) regarded innovation as a reactive rather than proactive process, that is, they tended to wait for their products to stop selling or to go out of stock before they would innovate. However, they were prompt to react to suggestions made by their customers to improve or enhance product and service features. Reasons provided for not being involved in formal ways to innovate were mainly due to lack of finance, know‐how and the comments “why innovate when we are successful”.
4.6 Product/service development
During the interviews, respondents were questioned on the processes that they undertook for improving existing product/service and developing new ones. Their responses indicated that the starting point was usually a product or an idea and from there they tried to identify a market for it. Change was more often prompted by the existence of a new product concept, or competitive pressures, rather than from identifying customer needs. As mentioned earlier, change would also come from suggestions made by their customers. From the various definitions of marketing, it is noted that an evaluation of market needs is first carried out before the development of new products. Clearly, there is a difference in marketing practice and entrepreneurs tend to be more product‐ and selling‐oriented than marketing oriented.
4.7 Marketing mix
Most entrepreneurs surveyed (72 per cent) did not define their own marketing mix in terms of products, pricing and place decisions, although they sometimes included promotion as also concluded in the studies of Stokes (2000). Of the respondents, 60 per cent had no elaborate documents or pamphlets to describe their product features and benefits. This description is normally given orally or through existing loyal customers who readily share whatever information they have about the products or services to the people they bring in or refer to the entrepreneur in question. The preferred marketing approach used by entrepreneurs surveyed relates to the establishment of personal relationships and networks. Promotion is more often taken care of through word‐of‐mouth. Of the entrepreneurs, 60 per cent surveyed strongly favoured personal relationships in establishing their customer base. About 67 per cent stressed the amount of time they personally spent talking and listening to their customers. To them, personal attention was the very reason their business continued to flourish. Even when it comes to pricing, final prices are decided on basis of negotiation and relationship with customers. Regular and/or loyal customers benefit more often than not from special preferential prices. Pricelists where they exist are mere indication of what is expected or what is legally required. Our survey result on this specific marketing mix issue aligns with the findings of Scott et al. (1996)that reveal that talking to people and finding out what their problems are, what they want, and what they like tend to be something that small business owners are very good at and may be the source of competitive advantage.
5 Further discussions
Section: Choose Top of page 1 Introduction 2 Literature review 3 Research methodology 4 Survey results and find… 5 Further discussions << 6 Limitations 7 Conclusion 8 Contribution and scope … References Further Reading Other sources About the authors
This study reveals that entrepreneurs in Mauritius rely to a large extent on word‐of‐mouth as a communication and promotion medium; they hardly advertise their products. They trust their network and loyal customers to the extent that they directly or indirectly rely on the latter to propagate positive word‐of‐mouth and hence broaden their customer base. Although word‐of‐mouth advertising is a powerful tool, it is not without limitations. From our personal experience, customers may not want other people who are somewhat close to them to know about the products they have purchased as they might simply not want other people to own similar products as theirs. People might also distort the facts and in such cases the entrepreneur has little control over word‐of‐mouth as suggested by Dean and Lang (2008). Still negative word‐of‐mouth messages may arise because the first experience of a new customer might have gone wrong during the service encounter. Thus, this negative experience is communicated to others. In this respect entrepreneurs are well advised to follow up with their customers if anything goes wrong, they should not leave it to chance. They should put in place a system of feedback, be it formal or informal.
Further, our findings reveal that a good number of entrepreneurs surveyed (33.3 per cent) do not embark on formal innovation processes. While it is true that people are always on the look‐out for innovative products and services, it is also true that for some entrepreneurial products and services people do not expect and do not want changes in them. In fact in such cases, if undesirable changes are introduced customers might simply move elsewhere. One classic example of such a product concerns food items. It is not uncommon to hear, “No matter how many different versions there have been over the years, I’ve always stuck to the original one.” Examples in Mauritius are some eating places which started very small but have now expanded into larger scale restaurants. For instance, Comlone and Bar Cha‐Cha are well known for their homemade recipes and a special fried fish, respectively, and the taste has remained the same since they first started their business. The number of customers, with a majority of loyal customers, has never ceased to increase.
This study also shows that Mauritian entrepreneurs value networking and build their business on basis of networks they have been able to create and maintain. They willingly refer you to some of the contacts in their network to procure products and services that they do not store or provide. Likewise, we have observed that there is reciprocity in the networks. For instance, the auto mechanic refers his customer to the spare parts supplier and in return the spare parts supplier refers customers to the mechanic. This is an interesting phenomenon in entrepreneurship that ought to be researched further to understand its dynamics as networking seems to be undertaken by the entrepreneurs mainly because they have resource constraints. Thus, instead of carrying out formal research which could be costly and time consuming, the entrepreneurs network to gain market share, find new market opportunities and build market knowledge, very often at no cost. Our survey does reveal that quite a number of entrepreneurs in the sample have been depending on the same networks for a very long time; this may not necessarily be to their advantage as this dependence can sometimes limit the growth of their business.
Section: Choose Top of page 1 Introduction 2 Literature review 3 Research methodology 4 Survey results and find… 5 Further discussions 6 Limitations << 7 Conclusion 8 Contribution and scope … References Further Reading Other sources About the authors
Our findings are drawn from a sample of 30 entrepreneurs that to some extent represents a low figure. However, we have taken adequate precautions to generate quality data instead of mere quantity data and in this respect sample size might not be a dominant factor as evidenced by other similar studies. Hence, we have some confidence in stating that the findings of this study may be generalized to some extent with appropriate care. Nonetheless, it would be very useful to replicate this study with less successful entrepreneurs to determine whether similar applications of the marketing practice occur in their settings. The findings might be stronger or weaker in contexts where levels of education, formal training, prior work experience (or combinations of these approaches) are not the same.
In addition, we did not query respondents on objective measures of success or performance such as profit and loss statement, sales turnover, return on investment, etc. Because such measures of performance may influence entrepreneurial approach to marketing, researchers may wish to consider incorporating the issue of more objective measures of performance into future studies that examine the effects of marketing orientation on performance and success related to entrepreneurship.
Section: Choose Top of page 1 Introduction 2 Literature review 3 Research methodology 4 Survey results and find… 5 Further discussions 6 Limitations 7 Conclusion << 8 Contribution and scope … References Further Reading Other sources About the authors
The survey reveals that the majority of the 30 entrepreneurs interviewed for the study view in their own way that marketing is being very important in their operations. They emphasise the importance of talking and listening to customers; to them, this is how information is obtained about the needs and wants of customers. Maintaining close relationship with customers also enables personal contacts and networks to develop and thus broaden the customer base.
The findings of this study are very interesting and revealing about marketing orientation as practised by entrepreneurs. This study supports the view that a good number of entrepreneurs do not practice marketing activities and formulate marketing strategies in the same formal way as that of larger organizations. The entrepreneurs surveyed do practice marketing in their own way which is, however, consistent to a good extent with what marketing orientation implies. This is exemplified by “relationship building”, which ultimately generates a group of loyal customers (the long‐term perspective of marketing). Networks are very much favoured to enlarge customer base and gather information. Entrepreneurs surveyed tend to give priority to product innovation as directed by customer needs and wants; product innovation tends to be reactive rather than proactive. In some cases, innovation or product development are almost not prioritised because some of these entrepreneurs believe that their success is dependent on what they consider a traditional product or service.
To survive and to be competitive, an enterprise should attract and retain its customers and this is normally done through marketing. The saying goes that an entrepreneurial small firm succeeds due to marketing and fails due to bad management (Bjerke and Hultman, 2002).
8 Contribution and scope for further research
Section: Choose Top of page 1 Introduction 2 Literature review 3 Research methodology 4 Survey results and find… 5 Further discussions 6 Limitations 7 Conclusion 8 Contribution and scope … << References Further Reading Other sources About the authors
This study contributes to the scant literature on the importance and relationship of the marketing function with respect to entrepreneurial activities and SMEs in Mauritius. It may also help entrepreneurs to understand how marketing can be an asset to achieving success in their businesses. Some success factors in marketing practice are highlighted to the benefit of future and potential entrepreneurs and there are some caveats intended to caution entrepreneurs about some practices to which they have to pay more attention instead of taking them for granted.
Our exploratory findings could also be used as a basis for extending marketing theory by drawing upon relationship marketing, networking, and innovation amongst others (Kotler, 2003). Research indicates that these variables form an integral part of the holistic marketing approach. For example, our findings indicate that entrepreneurs pay a lot of attention to relationship building. It would be very interesting to explore further how this relationship is built and strengthened. Specifically, the following questions might be addressed: is relationship built through charisma and or special and sustained efforts on the part of the entrepreneur or simply a matter of getting on at first sight? This is particularly important because it might provide some insight to entrepreneurs as to what they might be expected to do and learn in order to ensure repeat purchase of products or services and sustainable growth.
As in other empirical research efforts, the results presented in this study are limited by a number of factors that can somewhat be addressed in future studies. In the first place, our sample consisted of only 30 entrepreneurs who considered their enterprises and efforts as being successful. Their success is seen to relate to their personal efforts more than their formal education and training. It would be interesting to know how entrepreneurs with different demographic profiles such as more advanced academic qualifications, more experienced in business, etc. fare on the marketing front and what importance they give to marketing orientation. It might not be surprising to find that those who are more learned and formal might not receive the same degree of success and hence fail to derive entrepreneurial satisfaction and motivation.
Likewise, future research may be devoted in surveying less successful and even unsuccessful entrepreneurs to establish to what extent these categories of entrepreneurs had the same philosophy about marketing and whether absence of for example relationship building and product development and or a high degree of formality (such as application of rigorous pricing, lack of patience to listen to customers and make them feel comfortable, etc.) could explain reasons for failure. Again, the managerial implication of this is significant as it suggests that people could be trained to be entrepreneurs through appropriate courses in marketing, interpersonal skills, etc.
The attempt made in this study is to examine entrepreneurship and its link with marketing in a small island like Mauritius where people more often than not know each other and network with each other more easily than in larger countries. In this respect, it would be useful to replicate this study in larger countries to explore the extent of networking, word‐of‐mouth and other variables discussed in this study as being more or less uniform components of the marketing concept that has been acknowledged to be applicable across all organizations irrespective of size. Future research should attempt to investigate actual negative word‐of‐mouth communication to determine if it is configured in a manner similar to that portrayed in our study.
Table I Demographic profile of respondents (total 30)
Table II Descriptive statistics on information of marketing practices
Table III One‐sample statistics
Table IV One sample test
Table V Relationship building
Table VI One‐sample statistics – relationship building
Table VII One‐sample test – relationship building
Table VIII Research and planning
Table IX Innovation
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Mridula Gungaphul is a Senior Lecturer in the fields of Marketing and Management at the Faculty of Law and Management, University of Mauritius. She is also a part‐time PhD candidate registered at the University of Mauritius working under the supervision of Professor Mehraz Boolaky. She holds an MBA from the UK and has worked in the private sector for two years before joining the University of Mauritius in 1999 as lecturer. Among her publications is a co‐authored chapter in a book entitled Mauritius: Towards a Knowledge Hub and Society, Knowledge Management in Developing Economies: A Cross Cultural and Institutional Approach published by Edward Elgar Publications, UK. Mridula Gungaphul is the corresponding author and can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Mehraz Boolaky is a citizen of the Republic of Mauritius and a full time Professor of the Bang College of Business, KIMEP, Almaty, Kazakhstan. He holds a PhD in Management since 2000. He worked in senior managerial positions in the private sector from 1980 before joining academia (University of Mauritius) in 1993. In academia, he quickly climbed the hierarchies and was appointed Dean of the Faculty of Law and Management of the University of Mauritius in 2003. He has been a visiting professor in several well‐known universities in Malaysia, Madagascar, Morocco, France, the UK, Seychelles, and Reunion Island sharing his industry and academic experience with executives and students of diverse cultures. His most recent publication (2007) is a co‐authored chapter, “Mauritius: towards a knowledge hub and society” in an edited book on Knowledge Management in Developing Economies: A Cross Cultural and Institutional Approach published by Edward Elgar Publications, UK.