Implications of customer and entrepreneurial orientations for SME growth

PURPOSE. The aim of this paper is to empirically investigate how the business orientations of customer orientation (CO) (represented by responsiveness to customers) and entrepreneurial orientation (EO) (represented by proactiveness, innovativeness and risk‐taking) impact the growth of SMEs. DESIGN/METHODOLOGY/APPROACH. This study uses a quantitative empirical approach, using structural equation modeling with the software package AMOS to analyze the results of 660 surveyed SMEs from Austria. FINDINGS. This analysis reveals that EO is positively related to SME growth but CO shows a negative association with growth. Moreover, this analysis suggests that SMEs grow the most if they exhibit high EO and low CO. RESEARCH LIMITATIONS/IMPLICATIONS. This analysis shows that CO, interpreted as a purely responsive and reactive construct, cannot be considered a strategy that leads to sustainable SME growth. If an SME desires growth, EO is needed to fuel these growth aspirations. In spite of these findings however, this study shows that SMEs tend to respond to a scarcity of financial resources with more CO and less EO, which then leads to less or even negative growth. PRACTICAL IMPLICATIONS. Sustainable firm growth seems impossible without an EO. However, this does not mean that CO is not of any value for SMEs. Being non‐entrepreneurially oriented does not mean that a firm is automatically customer oriented. So, it is not only about implementing CO or EO since there is still the third option: implementing neither. ORIGINALITY/VALUE. This paper contributes to the ongoing scholarly conversation on the value of different orientations to firms and takes the view that the conversation on CO and EO has mis‐specified business performance in seeking to understand their performance consequences. By looking at firm growth, relevant to the longer‐term performance of a firm, EO might drive growth because of its emphasis on innovation to renew the firm's growth trajectory whereas CO might stifle growth owing to its myopic focus. Thus, this study addresses calls in the business and entrepreneurship literatures to more fully understand how SMEs can capture value from their customer and entrepreneurial orientations.