Different recipes for success in business relationships

Ghasem Zaefarian, Christoph Thiesbrummel, Stephan C. Henneberg, Peter Naudé

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Companies need to manage business relationships successfully in order to stay competitive. Drawing on configurational logic, this study shows that companies can improve their relationship performance through leveraging the structure of their business relationships. However, relationship structures must align with the company's business strategy. To date, research has focused on individual characteristics of business relationships, but little is known about relational configurations, namely the interplay between different business relationship characteristics on the one hand, and the firm's underlying business strategy on the other. We apply Hoffmann's (2007) strategy typology, namely shaping, adapting, and stabilization strategy types, to operationalize different business strategies. Drawing on a sample of 658 business service companies and employing fuzzy set qualitative comparative analysis (fsQCA), this study confirms the existence of different recipes for success, that is, multiple equifinal configurations leading to relationship performance. For each of the three business strategies, different combinations of relationship characteristics are successful, each encompassing a distinct configuration of core and periphery conditions. While firms following an adapting strategy should stress behavioral commitment above all other relationship characteristics, the two remaining business strategies instead rely predominantly on different factors such as trust and communication. This study contributes to business marketing theory and practice by highlighting different ways to develop business relationships successfully.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)69-81
Number of pages13
JournalIndustrial Marketing Management
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2017


  • Business relationships
  • Business strategies
  • Configuration theory
  • fsQCA


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