Entrepreneurial networking and the development of marketing capabilities in SMEs. A study of Irish entrepreneurs
Gliga, Gabriela Maria
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It is widely accepted across the marketing, entrepreneurship and strategic management literatures that relationships and networks are instrumental for the growth and performance of SMEs. In particular, in the entrepreneurial marketing domain, the literature suggests that networking enables the practice of marketing within the typical resource-confines of SMEs. However, there is limited knowledge of the extent to which entrepreneurs engage in networking and a lack of understanding of how exactly entrepreneurs do ‘marketing by networking’. As the literature firmly acknowledges that marketing capabilities are essential mechanisms in achieving firm competitiveness, the overarching question driving this research is: How does entrepreneurial networking contribute to the development of marketing capabilities in SMEs? To address this research question, the study specifically explores: 1) the role of the entrepreneurs’ mindset and human capital on the development of the entrepreneur’s networking capability (also referred in this thesis as entrepreneurial networking capability); 2) the networking activities that entrepreneurs engage in (forms of networking); and 3) the types of marketing capabilities SMEs can develop through entrepreneurial networking. Entrepreneurial marketing and relevant research streams from marketing, entrepreneurship and management were the domains of literature examined from which a conceptual framework with supporting propositions was developed to address the research objectives of the study. Within a qualitative approach, empirical data was generated through semi-structured interviews with 27 Irish entrepreneurs, combined with graphical representations of each of the entrepreneurs’ networks. A further series of semi-structured interviews was conducted with 9 representatives of Irish-based networking support organisations. This study offers a number of contributions to theory and insights for practice and policy. Firstly, from a theoretical perspective, the main contribution of this study is advancing the entrepreneurial marketing literature. The research results indicate that entrepreneurial networking capability (defined as the set of activities and routines implemented by the entrepreneur with the aim of initiating, establishing, maintaining and leveraging relationships for the benefit of the firm) is critical for the development of marketing capabilities and thus an essential element of entrepreneurial marketing in SMEs. Secondly, the study also advances knowledge within the realm of network-based research in the entrepreneurship literature with new insights in relation to the role of the entrepreneur’s persona (his/her characteristics) in networking processes and classifies different forms of entrepreneurial networking (i.e. personal, operational, strategic). Thirdly, adopting a holistic approach in exploring specialised, cross-functional, architectural and dynamic marketing capabilities, this research contributes to the marketing capabilities literature and brings fresh evidence of marketing practice in SMEs. From a practical standpoint, this study emphasises the importance of networking for entrepreneurs and their firms and provides several valuable insights into networking ‘best practice’, as well as into the specifics of developing a firm’s marketing capabilities through entrepreneurial networking. From a policy-making point of view, the findings of the study indicate that government agencies and private organisations supporting SMEs have an important role in educating entrepreneurs in relation to networking, as well as in the facilitation of networking opportunities which are responsive to the entrepreneurs’ needs.
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