Buyer-seller relationship development episodes: theories and methods
Paul H. Schurr
School of Business, University at Albany, SUNY, Albany, New York, USA
Abstract Purpose – For the beneﬁt of those who want to address gaps in our understanding of business relationships, this paper seeks to conceptually frame investigation into critical interaction episodes that fundamentally strengthen orfatally weaken relationship development. It also considers the importance of non-critical episodes in business relationships. Particular attention is paid to the enduring yet frequently modiﬁed critical incident technique associated with Flanagan. Design/methodology/approach – Episode relationship theory, the qualitative/quantitative debate, and the critical incident technique (CIT) literature areselectively reviewed and critically assessed. Findings – First, because business relationships tend to persist, episode research must advance beyond relationship dissolution studies and progress into investigations of how different types of interactions change relationships. New types of episodes need to be studied, such as the generative, degenerative, and neutral episodes discussed here. Also,functionally distinct characteristic and non-critical episodes are conceptualized. Second, the methods review suggests that useful qualitative methods deserve more attention. Third, though CIT research is prevalent in the marketing literature, it is at present incompletely adapted to business marketing research and needs development along the lines suggested in this article. Originality/value – Theinteraction perspective on business relationships is given a dynamic framework at the interaction episode level while keeping the connection to the more macro relationship development models that conceptualize relationship states and processes. Keywords Business analysis, Critical incident technique, Qualitative methods, Modelling Paper type General review
An executive summary for managers andexecutive readers can be found at the end of this issue.
How do episodes in business relationships foster trust? Create conﬂict? Spark commitment? Looking down from our research observation balloons, we see networks clearly. To a lesser degree we are obtaining good resolution on the state of business relationships. However, we just cannot seem to put episodes, let alone patternsof interaction, into focus. The interactionist perspective says buyers and sellers in business marketing engage in social and economic exchanges ˚ leading to working relationships (Hakansson, 1982). Macneil (1980) theorizes that the social component of relationships is all-important, for it compensates for imperfect legal contracts. That is, to sustain an ongoing commercial relationship,adjustments are required that adapt commercial exchange to changing circumstances. Legal contracts are insufﬁcient for this purpose because it is impossible to perfectly predict the future and build legal remedies into a contract – hence, the importance of working relationships that can make adjustments. That social interaction is embedded in business relationships we have no doubt (Granovetter, 1985). TheThe current issue and full text archive of this journal is available at www.emeraldinsight.com/0885-8624.htm
marketing literature contains many articles about the state of a business relationship. Various research questions have been addressed. Is trust necessary for cooperation and commitment? How does the level of communication inﬂuence conﬂict? Unfortunately, there is a signiﬁcant gap inour understanding about the nature of critical interactionepisodes and the effects they have on buyer-seller relationships. First, we lack a system for characterizing and grouping key episodes. That is, how can we typify episodes? Because of this deﬁciency, the second problem is our incomplete understanding of the effect episodes have on relationships. For example, is conﬂict over obligations a...
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