How important is marketing for small businesses?

Small businesses and start-ups share a few common problems. They have limited resources such as time, man-power, skills and financials. Therefore, they need to prioritise their business development activities in order to grow their business or to maintain market share. Consequently most businesses find themselves in the position where they have to make the most of their existing resources and are unable to acquire missing resources, mainly due to financial constraints. Very often, marketing is seen as being the business function that can be neglected as, in the eyes of some business owners, it has less benefits than for example the sales function. This is not to say that it does, but it is a wide spread perception of business owners.

Ad-hoc marketing leads to ad-hoc sales

Marketing typically isn’t a priority for a majority of small businesses and, if anything, only undertake ad hoc marketing activities as opposed to implementing a continuous marketing process.

Many start-up companies and small businesses fall short of a marketing function, either not seeing the necessity to change their ways or lacking the necessary marketing skills to bring about the changes that are needed to be a market-orientated company.

Whatever the reason, it is a very risky strategy as sales efforts are likely to be misdirected without up-to-date market information and without well-rounded market communications. The sales team will have a much harder time without marketing support. Even good sales people will quickly start to waste time by chasing the wrong prospects.

No short term success without long term marketing focus

Although the marketing function is designed to support the sales function (and vice versa), the longer-term approach of marketing requires patience which small or start-up companies sometimes lack. Short-term goals very often dominate in companies’ day-to-day operations; in particular in times of economic downturn. On the contrary, difficult economic situations could hold opportunities for companies. However, the instinct of companies is to firm up their sales rather than prepare for better times by improving their marketing.

There are ample reasons for the absence of a marketing function in small and start-up companies. Mostly it is linked to the misunderstanding about what marketing can do for the company, the lack of skills and missing financials. The lack of skills and misunderstanding usually go hand in hand. Giving to the company in question the tools and know-how to continue with their own marketing process.

Top 5 list of marketing skeptics

Here are some typical symptoms for the lack of market orientation in small businesses:

1) Companies often don’t have a dedicated marketing budget – How can a company be market oriented without marketing budget?

2) Marketing misunderstood – marketing is defined too narrowly, as simply websites and brochures

3) Marketing misunderstood – sales and marketing are synonymous

4) The marketing and sales function don’t work together well – Marketing is seen as subordinate to the sales function and hence has limited influence overall

5) Skepticism about what marketing can achieve – “Our customers don’t respond to marketing.”

Very often, a combination of the aforementioned reasons prevent companies from implementing systematic marketing activities. It would be wrong to ignore marketing and what it can do for the company. But how can start-ups and small companies change the situation and how can they do this without spending a fortune?

So what’s the solution?

Marketing very often can be done in-house but it should be supported by sound market research and concentrate on finding out what the customer wants to hear and how they want to hear it. The point that people usually get wrong about marketing is that they see marketing as a one-off intervention as opposed to an ongoing process. An ongoing process is necessary because different activities have to be undertaken repeatedly before marketing bears results otherwise a marketing effort goes unnoticed. This also applies to using the wrong marketing messages.

No matter what marketing activities a company is undertaking, whether it is branding, promotion, marketing communications, customer relations or pricing, any activity has to be undertaken repeatedly to ensure sustainability. In addition, marketing only works if it is done continuously and when synchronised with the sales activities of the company.

This, however, is easier said than done. To ensure this works, the sales and marketing functions and teams have to know what their exact roles are, avoiding overlaps and creating a culture where they both work together rather than against each other. Most importantly, the company needs to do marketing by conviction. Every individual in the organisation needs to be involved in the marketing of the company, from receptionists to managers, from the technical to commercial department. They all need to help with the marketing of the company rather than leaving it only to the marketing specialists. Besides that, what needs to be avoided at all cost is to start a marketing process that is based on gut feeling. The characteristic of a successful marketing campaign starts by researching the target markets and concentrating on the right marketing messages that the customers are expecting. 

This approach will be more productive, rather than providing an impersonal overview of all products and services that the company can offer. Once the right mindset is created in the company and the target adjusted, the marketing process that’s right for the company needs to be designed. This process has to be tailored to the company, their in-house strengths and budget.

Depending on what the conditions are, the company might elect to deliver some of the programme in-house and other parts through external suppliers. For instance, a company may not have the internal skills to undertake telemarketing activities. This should then be outsourced, rather than not implemented at all. Timing of the process is also very important as marketing activities, if undertaken in the right sequence, are more likely to be successful.

For example, when sending a brochure or any other piece of marketing collateral, follow it up with a telephone call, at the latest two weeks after the postal/email communication. This can increase the chances of success of the campaign. Another truth about marketing sadly also is that there is no silver bullet or a guarantee for success because the noise to signal ratio nowadays is very distorted. This underpins why marketing should be run as a process and part of the process is to find out what works and what doesn’t. Better even, learn from the mistakes and to do it better next time rather than being discouraged.

It is important to measure the success of marketing on an ongoing basis to be able to fine-tune the marketing activities and to find out what the right dosage is. A lot of money can be saved by adjusting your media plan.  

Lastly, get external help from a marketing expert if you are unsure where to start with this. Whichever way you do it, it is better to do something than to do nothing at all!

Call us on 024 7632 3120 or send us an email to if you have read this article and are unsure where to start or need a helping hand getting your marketing on track.