develop a viable digital strategy and an approach to refine the digital strategy periodically.

Table 2: Empirical insights on RM in B2B

Key Constructs Theory Sample Key findings Source
B2B RQ, drivers and dimensions

 

 
Influence of trust and relational embeddedness TAM Model, Trust theory The survey sampling frame included 284 buyers and sellers
  • Perceived ease of use will influence perceived usefulness of e-marketplaces
  • Trust and relationshal  embeddedness impact the  relationship performance
Chien et al. (2012)
Influence of affective and security-based trust   Surveys with purchasing managers of enterprises in various B2B sectors

(included qualitative and quantitative surveys.

  • The results indicate satisfactory psychometric properties of the new Affective Trust Scale (ATS).
  • It demonstrates the scale’s measurement invariance across business sectors. The research confirms the importance of affective aspects of trust and supports the reliability and validity of the measure.
  • Nomological validity assessment of the scale shows that sentiment of security-based trust impacts investment in business relationships.
Akrout, Diallo, Akrout, and Chandon (2016).
Trust, satisfaction and commitment influence in maintaining a long-term relationship (intention to stay)

 

Gestalt theory The survey sample of 238 firms in the financial services industry.
  • This study provides empirical support for the amalgamation of well-established individual dimensions (trust, satisfaction and commitment) into broader, more holistic dimensions as drivers of long-term relationship building.
  • B2B banking clients participating in this study appeared to regroup individual dimensions, in a heuristic fashion, to form new dimensions that influenced their attitude towards staying in a B2B relationship and it depends on Exchange partners for the success of the relationship
Theron,

Terblanche, and Boshoff (2013)

 

 

Relationship performance Dimensions (RELPERF)   Survey sample of

approximately 400 purchasing managers operating in a B2B e-marketplace.

  • Relationship performance is a high-order concept, composed of several distinct, yet related, dimensions: (1) relationship policies and practices, (2) relationship commitment; (3) trust in the relationship, (4) mutual cooperation; and (5) relationship satisfaction.
  • Findings reveal that the B2B-RELPERF scale relates positively and significantly with customer loyalty.
Lages,

Lancastre and Lages (2008)

The effect of RQ and switching costs on business customer loyalty   Survey sample consists of 151 hotel managers from 1 to 5-star hotels in Peninsular Malaysia.
  • This study supports the importance of RQ in increasing customer loyalty.
  • Overall, to maintain customer loyalty to the service provider, it is recommended that a service provider enhance all three aspects of RQ which are trust, commitment, and satisfaction.
Abdul-Rahman and Kamarulzama (2012)
Impact of trust and commitment on customer intention

 

  Survey sample consists of 280 firms in Athens.
  • The more the client trusts the service provider, the more affectively committed to the provider the customer becomes.
  • The greater the customer’s affective commitment in the relationship, the more the customer will be inclined to remain in the relationship.
  • The higher the perceived quality of the service offered by the service provider, the more the client will trust the provider.
Gounaris (2012)
Resource dependence, trust and relationship commitment   The survey sample includes 851 raw material and spare parts suppliers for the Taiwanese motor industry.
  • Resource dependence, trust, and relationship commitment are positively related to the continuity of the cooperative electronic relationship.
  • Communication has a positive impact on trust which in turn has an impact on relationship performance
Yeh (2005)
Relationship building dimensions in B2B   Survey data of 269 firms in Egypt.
  • The study shows that reliability/ fulfilment and non-deception are the most effective relationship-building dimensions.
  • In B2B, RQ has a positive effect on buyer repurchase intentions and loyalty.
Agag (2019)
Cooperation, adaptation, and atmosphere (International/Industrial Marketing and Purchasing Group)

 

IMP interaction model The survey sample includes 98 senior government engineers.
  • RQ, defined as a higher-order construct of cooperation, adaptation, and atmosphere, has a positive impact on service quality.
  • Four groups of variables were identified that describe and influence the interaction between buyers and sellers.
Woo and Knew (2003)

 

 

 

Interaction and benevolence as RQ drivers

 

 

 

 

RM theory The survey sample included 324 respondents who use professional service firms.
  • Interaction, and benevolence are positive drivers of RQ. Relationship value mediates the relationship between RQ, loyalty, and willingness-to-pay premium price.
  • The mediating role of relationship value is only significant in high-risk situations.
  • The mediating role of relationship value on loyalty is significant regardless of relationship duration.
Casidy and Nyadzayo (2019)

 

Co-creation and Integrity as an antecedent of trust in B2B   The survey sample included 455 directors, managers or other decision-makers within B2B industries

at both small business and large enterprise-level in the UK.

  • Co-creation is identified as an important antecedent of trust in B2B relationships.
  • The two most important antecedents of trust in a B2B relationship are co-creation and integrity.
  • Buyer business experience moderates the relationship between co-creation and trust.
Franklin and Marshall (2019).
Communication and satisfaction Media richness

theory, Dennis media synchronicity theory

The survey sample of 328 respondents drawn from firms in commercial printing and graphic

design industry.

  • The study indicates that personal communication has a stronger positive association than digital communication with dyadic contact (buyer and supplier contacts), social interaction, and reciprocal feedback, but a weaker positive association than digital with rationality.
  • Digital communication has a stronger positive association than impersonal communication with dyadic contact,

rationality, and reciprocal feedback, but a weaker positive association than impersonal with social interaction.

Murphy and Sashi (2018)
Influence of image, quality, satisfaction, and value on client loyalty   Survey sample includes

197 Spanish e-marketplace selling-side users.

  • The results indicated that satisfaction had no direct impact on client loyalty, but that the e-marketplace’s image and user-perceived quality and value are antecedents of its clients’ loyalty.
Janita and Miranda (2013)
 

RQ effects, interactions and relationship development through firm attributes

 

 
Role of RQ (trust, commitment, satisfaction) between relationship value, and loyalty   The sample frame included 260 B2B manufacturing companies three self-governing regions in

Spain (Valencia, Catalonia and Madrid).

  • Trust has a direct, positive effect on commitment. However, the greater trust would not increase loyalty but commitment does thus the effect of trust on loyalty is only indirect through the effect it has on commitment.
  • Loyalty was also positively affected by satisfaction with the supplier
Gil‐Saura, Frasquet‐Deltoro, and Cervera‐Taulet (2009)
Trust and dependence are mediators in Relationship building; customer commitment Social Exchange Theory The survey sampling frame included 577 firms in the timber distribution industry.
  • The study found that customer relationship specific investment, social bonding, relationship termination costs and customer expertise have effects on calculative and affective commitments via dependence and trust.
  • It also shows that interaction satisfaction strengthens the positive effect of dependence on calculative commitment and the positive effect of trust on affective commitment.
  • It suggests dependence and trust are mediators by which to understand the complicated relationship between buyers and sellers.
Chang, Wang, Chih, and Tsai (2012)
RQ as a mediator: Relationship strength and switching costs Relationship marketing theory The survey sample of buyers in 42 countries.
  • The paper confirms the influence of perceived value, switching costs and RQ (satisfaction, trust and affective commitment) on relationship strength.
  • RQ mediates the influence that perceived value has on relationship strength
Barry, Dion, and Johnson (2008)
Trust, commitment and behavioral intentions: Corporate reputation and customer behavioral intentions   Survey sample from 351 customers of three Chinese B2B service firms.
  • Results indicate that corporate reputation has a positive influence on both customer trust and customer identification.
  • Customer commitment mediates the relationships between the two relational constructs (customer trust and customer identification) and behavioral intentions.
  • Customer identification and customer commitment relate closely,

but they are distinct constructs in the B2B setting.

Keh and Xie (2009)
Role of RQ on a share of the business   Dataset drew from a survey of 948 client firm representatives of

a Portuguese hotel chain in a B2B services context.

  • Customer commitment directly drives a seller’s share of the business, and simultaneous interrelated changes in customer trust and satisfaction, as

well as customer perceptions of relational value, drive customer commitment, and so exert indirect effects on performance.

  • The model that proposes that a seller’s performance is strengthened by simultaneous interrelated improvements in customer trust, satisfaction, and commitment
Vieira, Winklhofer, and Ennew (2014).
The mediating role of RQ on actual sales and recommendation intention   Fortune-100 firm’s 18 key customer executives were interviewed using an in-depth interviewing technique.
  • The strategic mediating role of RQ relative to the key relational variables and both actual sales and recommendation intention is demonstrated
Huntley (2006)
Decision-making capability of interfirm contacts

 

Social network and exchange theory Sample data 446 B2B exchanges.
  • The results suggest that the value generated from interfirm relationships derives not only from the quality of customer ties (e.g., trust, commitment, norms), as is typically modelled, but also from the number and decision-making capability of interfirm contacts and the interactions among relational drivers.
  • Moderator analysis of customer characteristics suggests that increasing contact density benefits sellers that have customers with high employee turnover rates, whereas building relationships with key decisions makers generate the highest returns among customers that are more difficult to access
Palmatier (2008)
Phases of relationship development   Dataset drew from an interview of

20 firms in Quebec, Canada, and 10 in France

 

  • Long-term relationships between a professional consulting firm and its clients depend on the proper management of the relationship before, during, and after the project encounter.
  • It is essential to develop efficient relationship management practices for each phase of the model and to follow closely how this is done.
Filiatrault and Lapierre (1997)

 

Socialization episodes in developing the RQ between buyers and sellers   Data was collected at an international trade fair in Portugal and gathered

information about visitor-exhibitor interactions.

  • Key points include socializing behaviours useful to generate bonds and commitment and, ultimately, enhances the RQ.
  • Product importance moderates the relationship between information exchange and RQ, and relationship age moderates the relationship between social exchange and relationship quality
Sarmento, Simões and Farhangmehr (2015)

 

Rapport building   The study in-depth 14 qualitative interviews, salespeople in the representative firm’s conversation analysis of video-recorded real-life sales meetings, and follow-up interviews.

 

  • The results show that salesperson-initiated actions have little influence on rapport building and that strong initial rapport can compensate for potential interaction weaknesses later in the meeting.
  • There are a set of collaboratives

actions and related skills needed to build rapport and to move a relationship forward. Businesses should seek to refocus and develop their rapport building skills towards more customer-engaging collaboration.

Kaski, Niemi, and Pullins (2018)
Meditating role of customer satisfaction Cognition-affect-behavior

model,

The survey sample included 268 firms in the courier service industry.
  • Customer satisfaction mediates the relationship between customer value and customer loyalty, and customer satisfaction and loyalty have significant reciprocal effects on each other.
  • In particular, confirms the mediating role of customer satisfaction.
Lam, Shankar, Erramilli and Murthy (2004)
Role of sales process adaption in B2B   Nine qualitative inquiry are in-depth, semi-structured interviews with key informants.

 

  • The study shows how the buyer-seller relationship orientation affects sales process adaptation and its effects. representing a buyer-seller relationship.
  • The findings reveal that both the buyer and the seller have an impact on sales process adaptation. on sales process adaptation.
Viio, Christian Grönroos (2016)
 

Development of the relationships between service quality and RQ

 

 
Product quality, RQ, and customer loyalty   Data were gathered from managers responsible for purchasing in customer firms in Slovenia 477 via a web-based survey.
  • Findings illustrate that product quality influences positive and negative calculative commitment.
  • With regard to RQ, its “social” dimensions such as cooperation and trust have a much greater influence on commitment than its “technical” dimensions such as knowledge transfers and adaptation.
  • On the “social” side, cooperation and trust positively influence affective and normative commitment, with trust also positively affecting positive calculative commitment, while on the “technical” side the only significant link is between adaptation and normative commitment.
  • In addition to indirect effects, product quality also directly positively influences attitudinal and behavioral loyalty.
Čater and Čater (2010)

 

The service quality’s impacts on RQ dimensions (cooperate, adoption and atmosphere)   Empirical research based on 721 customers of the certification industry shows.
  • Process service capability impacts on RQ is significant, and result quality has a clear impact on cooperate and adoption of RQ are significant, whereas it has no significant impact on the atmosphere.
  • Moreover, Process interactive quality, potential service capability has no significant impact on RQ
Su-xian, Qin, Yong-tao, and Yan-wu (2010)
Service quality, trust, commitment and service differentiation in business relationships   Sample of business clients from a large European financial services firm.
  • Results indicated that service quality had an impact on trust, differentiation and relationship outcomes. Trust was found to drive service differentiation. Differentiation, in turn, drove commitment which ultimately had an impact on both satisfaction and word-of-mouth.
  • Importantly, it was found that service differentiation is a full mediator of the impact that service quality and trust have on client commitment towards the firm.
Chenet, Dagger, and O’Sullivan (2010)
Perceived service quality and RQ   The study population consisted of 68 cultural organizations that promote participation in and enjoyment of culture for the citizens of the province of Castello´n (Spain).
  • The results revealed a positive influence among the dimensions of RQ: satisfaction, trust and commitment.
  • Customers must feel satisfied with the service received and must trust the supplier if they are to make a commitment.
  • Customer satisfaction acts as the principal driver of RQ, generating trust and commitment.

 

Segarra‐Moliner, Moliner‐Tena, and Sánchez‐Garcia (2013)
RQ (trust, commitment, satisfaction and service quality) and the influence on customer loyalty

 

Composite loyalty approach This study uses the courier delivery service context in Australia and targets Australian Small to Medium Enterprises (SMEs). Used a mail survey and online survey for 306.
  • The 4 dimensions of RQ influence attitudinal loyalty, however, only satisfaction and perceived service quality influence behavioral loyalty results indicate that only the organizational level of RQ influences customer loyalty.
  • The employee level of RQ does not play a significant in influencing B2B customer loyalty in this study.
Rauyruen, and Miller (2007)

 

 

RQ and loyalty Behavioral loyalty, RM The survey sample included 408 physicians working in the public healthcare sector in Jordan.
  • The results revealed that both aspects of customer loyalty (i.e., behavioral and attitudinal) were affected positively by the overall dimensions of RQ (i.e., trust, satisfaction, and commitment)
  • Pharmaceutical companies in Jordan to focus on improving the RQ between their medical representatives and physicians due to the importance of such a factor in improving customer loyalty, which will reflect positively in managing their customers effectively and enhancing future business opportunities
Almomani (2019)
Role of RQ in SQ and business loyalty Using Grönroos’s conceptualisation: Theory of trust and commitment The survey sample of 234 advertising agencies’ clients.
  • The study integrates the concepts of service/product quality, relationship satisfaction, trust, and commitment in a business-loyalty model.
  • Secondly, the present study demonstrates the effect of RQ (and its determinants) on business loyalty.
  • Provides empirical evidence of the role of relationship satisfaction as a mediating variable between the constructs of service/product quality and business loyalty.
Caceres and Paparoidamis (2007)
Influence of service personnel and environment   An empirical study with a sample of 295 retailing customers in China.
  • The interactions with service personnel and with the service environment are shown to have a direct positive impact on RQ.
Qin, Zhao, and Yi (2009)
Service performance: Role of relational exchange Social Exchange Theory The survey sample includes 420 3PL service providers.
  • Service performance directly influences both social (i.e., trust) and economic (i.e., value) relationship outcomes and that these outcomes positively influence customer loyalty intentions.
  • Mediation analysis supports the hypothesis that the relationship between service performance and customer loyalty intention is fully mediated by relationship outcomes.
  • Further analyses indicate that characteristics specific to business customers— organizational relationship norms and industry competitive intensity—have important moderating influences.
Briggs and Grisaffe (2010)
Service quality and customer loyalty PZB SERQUAL model The survey sample included 373 representatives in Taiwan.
  • The study results show that (1) service quality positively impacts customer satisfaction, (2) customer satisfaction positively impacts customer loyalty, and (3) brand awareness positively impacts the relationship between service quality and customer satisfaction.
Huang, Lee and Chen (2019)
Impact of advanced technology on RQ in B2B

 

   
Influence of big data analytics on CRM and sales growth   Multi-industry dataset from 417 B2B firms.
  • The study reports that the use of customer big data significantly fosters sales growth (i.e. monetary performance outcomes) and enhances customer relationship performance (non-monetary performance outcomes).

The study empirically confirms that customer big data analytics improves customer relationship performance and sales growth in B2B firms.

Hallikainen, Savimäki, and Laukkanen (2020)
Web 2.0 influence in B2B firms   Marketing personnel from six Finnish industrial firms and four web 2.0 experts were interviewed
  • The web 2.0 provides firms with benefits still largely are unexplored, and believed that the importance of internet marketing will continue to grow.
Lehtimäki, Salo, Hiltula, and Lankinen (2009)
Impact of digital technology on B2B relationships Network approach A survey dataset of 30 B2B companies which have adopted digital technology and 18 semi-structured qualitative interviews in five industries.
  • B2B exchanges are far less analysed. It offers to identify three types of “digitalization” according to the nature of the most deeply impacted link.
  • Five cases of digitization in different industrial sectors and five companies providing digital solutions for businesses illustrate these three types.
  • This typology provides an alternative to analyses based on the nature of digital systems used by B2B companies.
Pagani and Pardo (2017)
Big data adoption in the B2B context Diffusion of innovation theory (DOI), institutional theory, configuration theory, and technology-organization-environment (TOE) framework. Survey of 179 managers in firms such as an online retailer, Internet service providers, banking and finance professional service provider, and IT in China.
  • The study proposes a model incorporating factors in technological, organizational and environmental contexts that may influence an organization’s decision to adopt big data strategies.
Sun, Hall, and Cegielski (2020)
Business analytics use in CRM Dynamic capabilities view Based on 170 samples from the firm-level survey.
  • Defines data management capability and customer response capability as major dynamic capabilities for business analytics use and CRM.
  • Confirms the significant effect of the actual use of technology in terms of business analytics in the context of CRM.
 Lee and Lee

(2019)

Customer involvement in big data analytics and the impact on B2B innovation Interactional psychology Survey data of 148 B2B innovation projects in firms such as construction

information technology and telecommunications energy and utility machinery and equipment healthcare and pharmaceuticals.

 

  • Customer involvement facilitates B2B product innovation.
  • Results show that customer need tacitness negatively moderates the relationship performance between CDP and new product performance while customer needs diversity yields a positive moderation effect.
  • Customer need tacitness is also found to positively moderate the relationship between CDA and new product
Zhang and Xiao (2020)
Use of sales personal social media in B2B settings Information communication The 111 samples were drawn from a large group of sales professionals in B2B industry selling.
  • Salesperson’s use of social media is found to impact information communication behaviors, which enhance salesperson responsiveness and customer satisfaction.
  • Also, salesperson responsiveness is found to have a positive relationship with customer satisfaction.

Social media plays an important role in communicating information to customers, but as an antecedent

  • enhancing salesperson behaviors to increase customer satisfaction rather than a direct factor.
Agnihotri, Dingus, Hu, and Krush (2016)
Social media use between different company sizes and turnover in B2B   An empirical survey of 125 B2B companies in the Finnish technology industry sector.
  • Reports potential and challenges of social media in B2Bs external use
  • Discovered social media use between different company sizes and turnover similar.
  • Found a number of external social media uses that were seen as important by B2Bs.
  • Found statistically significant correlations between social media use and potential”
Jussila et al. (2014)
The use of social media in sales: the role of customer engagement in social media   The sample frame of 220, from which sales executives were invited to participate, was obtained from two sources: a database of sales executives from the Sales Management

Association (Atlanta, USA), and a database of sales executives.

  • Organizational competence and commitment to social media are key determinants of social media usage in sales, as well as

individual commitment.

  • Customer engagement with social media also predicts social media usage in sales, both directly and (mostly) through the individual and organizational factors analysed, especially organizational

competence and commitment.

Guesalaga (2016)
Digital and social media marketing usage in B2B industrial section   Data were collected from a random sample of 145 Finnish B2B companies drawn A link to the online survey was sent via e-mail to the general manager or marketing director of each B2B firm in the sample.
  • B2B companies should update their capabilities with respect to digital marketing usage and measurement in order to adapt current practices to fit the characteristics of today’s digital media landscape.
Järvinen, Tollinen, Karjaluoto, and Jayawardhena (2012)

 

 

 

3.1 Factors that affect RQ in B2B

In mature B2B markets, relationship maintenance is imperative for firms wanting to increase their market shares and profits (Chang et al., 2012). This is because B2B relationships offer opportunities for firms to create competitive advantages and achieve superior results (Ulaga, 2003). For example, such relationships provide opportunities to build long-term relationships with customers, which are the essence of B2B marketing (Hutt and Speh, 2004), and improving business relationships can lead to improvements in organizational performance (Vieira, 2010). These relational efforts are commonly referred to as the behaviors and actions taken by business partners to develop and enhance mutual beneficial interactions (Grönroos, 2000).

Researchers have investigated such long-term relationships from both sides. For example, Ng (2012) has explored the factors that contribute to the successful development of supplier–distributor relationships using five dimensions of B2B relationships: time, structure, processes, substance and function, and value. Moreover, a large body of literature has investigated the various constructs that influence RM, such as trust, commitment, and satisfaction, as well as a higher-order combination of those constructs, that is, RQ (Athanasopoulou, 2009). It has been found that in the B2B context, RQ can develop from a buyer’s perspective, and the degree to which a buyer is satisfied with an overall B2B relationship over time can be influenced by product quality; service quality; prices paid for value received; the degree to which the B2B relationship functions as a partnership (Huntley, 2006); and other factors. Therefore, RQ is a key construct in the B2B relationship paradigm, and consequently, a large body of research has studied this construct in different B2B settings (Edvardsson, 2008). In particular, empirical studies have explored these factors and their influence on B2B RQ.

Prior research shows that RQ is a multidimensional higher-order construct that mostly includes, as aforementioned, trust, commitment, and satisfaction. According to Gestalt theory, these three factors overlap in certain services contexts such as the banking industry (Theron et al., 2013). Firms work to satisfy customers with each interaction to build stable long-term relationships and prevent customers from switching to other businesses; these dedication-based relationships derive from trust (Chang et al., 2012). For example, as Crosby et al. (1990) noted, a high RQ can ensure a lasting bond through the confidence that a service provider will continue to meet and exceed customer expectations (and will continually provide relationship satisfaction) and will not knowingly distort information or otherwise subvert the customer’s interests (and will maintain trustworthiness).

Thus, trust is a key construct in the development and management of long-term marketing relationships (Morgan and Hunt, 1994). To clarify, trust is the confidence between the two exchange partners that the other party is reliable and will act with integrity (Heffernan et al., 2008; Macintosh, 2009). Indeed, Doney and Cannon (1997) conceptualized trust as a company’s reputation and level of caring as recognized by a customer, which includes the business’s objective reputation and its psychological care for customers. This sentiment of security-based confidence impacts investments in business relationships (Akrout et al., 2016) and, through communication, relationship performance in the B2B context (Yeh, 2005). High levels of trust and relationship satisfaction are therefore associated with high levels of customer retention and organizational profitability (Wong and Sohal, 2002).

Similarly, commitment is an established determinant of RQ. It refers to the completion of requirements for long-term relationship maintenance (Geyskens et al., 1996). According to Ndubisi (2006), commitment is a central expectation, or norm, within business relationships and is essential to the creation and preservation of marketing relationships specifically (Lacey and Morgan, 2007). Indeed, it indicates a willingness to continue a relationship and serves to stabilize behaviors over time; at its core are a long-term view of a particular relationship and a desire to make short-term sacrifices in order to obtain long-term benefits (Segarra‐Moliner, 2013). As a commitment increases in strength, the relationship it involves increases in stability (Liang and Wang, 2006). Further, in a B2B context, the more a client trusts a service provider, the more committed the client is to the provider (Gounaris, 2005).

Similarly, customer satisfaction is an important variable in business relationships; as Sheth and Parvatiyar (1995) noted, it is perpetual as all participants should deliver high levels of satisfaction during each business transaction. It is one of the most frequently cited precursors of trust (Dabholkar and Sheng, 2012), mediated by the customer believes that a business is reliable and the services it provides offer long-term benefits (Smith, 2003). Moreover, it increases when a transaction exceeds expectations (Crossby, 1990). For example, as Lancastre and Lages (2006) found, RM activities offer added value to customers, even when the activities relate to routine products; through this, they promote customer loyalty and satisfaction. Such positive interactions lead to the long-term continuation of relationships and the improvement of relationship performance through satisfaction. Customer satisfaction with a business, or supplier, is therefore critical for the development of future business exchanges (Cannon and Perreault, 1999). Further, Opportunism (Dwyer et al., 1987); conflict; willingness to invest; the expectation of continuity (Kumar, Scheer, and Steenkamp, 1995); adaptation; and the transfer of knowledge (Cater and Cater, 2010) are also important. while, competence, relationship benefits, bonding, customization, the attractiveness of alternatives, and shared values are relevant RQ dimensions in the finance sector. Finally, as a study of the RQ of an IMP group found, cooperation, atmosphere, and adaptation are key RQ variables (Woo and Knet, 2003) as well. Evidently, a positive partnering atmosphere can motivate buyers to seek continued cooperation and collaboration from sellers (Huntley, 2006).

However, as Palmatier et al. (2006) noted, relationship satisfaction is only a customer’s affective response to a relationship; it differs from satisfaction with an overall exchange, and satisfaction with an overall relationship is just as important as it is an outcome of buyer-seller relationships (Smith and Barclay, 1997). Indeed, service providers can benefit from relationships with individual suppliers and customers if the service providers are regarded as competent, that is, if they are perceived to have satisfactory technological and general business skills (Ndubisi, Wah, and Ndubisi, 2007). Suppliers can demonstrate such skills by building relationships through social interactions with customers and indirect interactions with customers’ families and friends; in turn, these interactions can strengthen social bonds with customers (Shu, 2012). When a supplier ensures that a customer is pleased with each interaction and transaction, interaction satisfaction creates not only short-term profits but also long-term relationships and facilitates the pursuit of profit maximization.

In B2B marketing, interaction satisfaction occurs with high levels of satisfaction among, for example, purchasing managers, and these levels are established through cumulative interaction experiences and efficient cooperation with suppliers (Sohn et al., 2013). Indeed, these satisfaction levels depend on experiences relating to the ease of exchanging and collecting information; bargaining power; after-sales support; and smooth operations, all of which are important in B2B marketing. If interaction satisfaction persists long-term, then an intensive commitment relationship can be established. Such relationships are built on mutual benefits and trust; the frequency of past interactions; and collaborative activities, and these factors ensure relational embeddedness (Bonner and Walker, 2004). Consequently, transactional uncertainty decreases, trust between the exchange partners increases, and exchange partners are motivated to pursue long-term strategic alliances (Chien et al., 2012). Such long-term B2B success is therefore reliant on building and sustaining strong customer relationships and can benefit from customer loyalty and engagement (Rauyruen and Miller, 2007). Indeed, relationship strength is a key factor in loyalty orientation as establishing and maintaining long-term B2B relationships requires suppliers to establish high levels of customer loyalty (Berry and Parasuraman, 1991).

Such relationships also require suppliers to improve all three dimensions of RQ namely trust, commitment, and satisfaction (Abdul-Rahman and Kamarulzaman, 2012). Indeed, while other elements affect RQ and B2B relationships, Theron et al. (2010) found that trust, commitment, satisfaction (and communication) are more important than other factors when establishing high-quality relationships. In addition, Jiang et al. (2016) established that the key dimensions of RQ are social satisfaction, economic satisfaction, and long-term orientation. While, Casidy and Nyadzayo (2019) concluded that in a B2B professional services context, the key dimensions of RQ for a small-medium enterprise owner-manager include trust, competence, and perceived long-term orientation. Lastly, Lages et al. (2008) found that relationship performance is a higher-order concept composed of the distinct, yet related, dimensions of relationship policies and practices; relationship commitment; trust in relationships; mutual cooperation; and relationship satisfaction.

 

3.2 The effects and interaction of B2B RQ and relationship development

While RQ reflects the strength of a relationship between a buyer and a seller, it also reflects other interactions and influences other outcomes. For example, the perceived importance of a long-term relationship can strengthen the mediating role of its RQ (Huntley, 2006), and improvements to this quality can not only create loyal customers but also improve future interactions. In fact, when a firm maintains high-quality relationships, its customers can benefit from decreased levels of perceived risk and the fulfilment of long-term vendor interests (Crosby, 1998; Smith, 1998). Further, the development of trust and commitment is of strategic importance as both dimensions are directly associated with the creation of a high-quality relational atmosphere and directly influence behavioral intentions (Caceres and Paparoidamis, 2007). This is because, as aforementioned, B2B RQ is essential to establishing long-term relationships and maintaining consistent competitive advantages.

The quality of a relationship between, for example, a business customer and sales firm, is therefore a core factor in the management of the B2B relationships. The three key dimensions of RQ moderate these relationships and the business’s various outcomes, such as customer loyalty (Gil‐Saura et al., 2009); actual sales; and recommendation intentions. In particular, this mediation involves service quality and business loyalty. A study by Caceres and Paparoidamis (2007) found empirical evidence that relationship satisfaction also mediates the constructs of service/product quality and business loyalty. In fact, the study confirmed a significant effect of all components of RQ—relationship satisfaction, trust, and commitment—on business loyalty.

Similarly, a study by Change et al. (2012) found that dependence and trust mediate the effects of customer relationship investments, social bonding, relationship termination costs, and customer expertise on calculative and affective commitments. Indeed, the study found that interaction satisfaction strengthens the positive effects of dependence on calculative commitment and the positive effects of trust on affective commitment; further, through dependence and trust, the complicated relationships between buyers and sellers can be understood. Trust and commitment also impact customers’ behavior intentions (Keh and Xie, 2009), and organizational commitment mediates relationships between satisfaction and repurchase intentions. Studies have found that a number of business attributes support the development of relationships and, in turn, support RQ. It has been found that institution-based trust can be an initial step toward building the inter-organizational trust required for collaborative relationships (Pavlou, 2002). Therefore, overall, RQ can have a positive effect on both repurchase intentions and loyalty (Agag, 2019). RQ can also mediate the influence of perceived value on relationship strength (Barry et al., 2008) and can impact the anticipation of future interactions (Sarmento, 2015). For example, when the quality of a relationship is high, customers are more willing to recommend a seller’s offerings to colleagues and to purchase more from the seller (Huntley, 2006).

 

3.3 Service quality and RQ

The quality of a relationship and its effects are based on how the relationship has developed between a buyer and a supplier. Another common factor is service/product quality, which in turn enhances RQ. Both product quality and RQ must exist before a buying firm will commit to a supplier as different commitment dimensions influence customer loyalty (Čater and Čater, 2010). Indeed, empirical evidence shows that product quality influences attitudinal and behavioral loyalty in B2B relationships.

However, suppliers find it very difficult to differentiate themselves from their competitors solely on the basis of product quality due to recent technological improvements and increased competition (Ulaga, 2003). Thus, service quality also has an impact on trust, service differentiation, and relationship outcomes (Chenet, 2015). That is, service quality is a determining factor in satisfaction, and RQ can improve when customer-perceived market orientation acts as a precursor for service quality, satisfaction, and commitment (Segarra‐Moliner, 2013). High levels of service quality drive differentiation, which operates as a competitive advantage for firms (Rust et al., 2002).

Indeed, to enhance commitment, firms need to focus on differentiating their offerings and establishing a position at the “cutting edge” of their industries because clients are more likely to commit to a firm if its services are perceived to be different from what other providers offer (Chenet et al., 2015). Relationships do not survive with only emotional dimensions, such as trust and cooperation, because product/service sourcing is the primary reason many partners enter B2B relationships. Hence, without first receiving a quality core offer (product/service), customers eventually lose motivation to stay in a relationship (Čater and Čater, 2010).

In addition to these efforts, scholars have noted that firms must focus on the process of building relationships in order to increase RQ.  Given that relationship building is a process, the interactions between the buyers and sellers in fact are developed based on the experience of each phase of the relationship. For example, a study of consulting firms developed a four-phase model for the B2B relationship management process; the phases were before the project, at the beginning of the project, during the project, and after the project (Filiatrault and Lapierre, 1997). Another study found that the decision-making capabilities of inter-firm contacts and interactions that involve these capabilities are also crucial (Palmatier, 2008).

That is, according to SET and business buying behavior, service performance directly influences both social (i.e., trust) and economic (i.e., value) relationship outcomes, and these outcomes positively influence customer loyalty intentions (Briggs and Grisaffe, 2010). Thus, the exchange of information is particularly relevant to instilling trust, and social exchanges are particularly important to improving satisfaction, commitment, and RQ (Sarmento, 2015). The socializing behaviors of a firm can be used to generate relationships and commitment and, ultimately, enhance RQ (Sarmento, 2015), particularly through salespeople, the primary boundary spanners regarding customers in the B2B context (Homburg and Stock, 2004). There are a number of features of trust, particularly in a B2B context, that must be considered when building relationships (Blois, 1999), and rapport building is an essential requirement of establishing a relational foundation and engaging customers in new business relationships. Indeed, rapport is a harmonious relationship between participants that involves a mutual connection and understanding between or a perceived similarity to the other participants (Clark, 2003; Gremler and Gwinner, 2008). Finally, a study by Rauyruen and Miller (2007) revealed that RQ should also include service quality as a dimension and showed that along with trust, commitment, and satisfaction, service quality influences customer loyalty.

 

3.4 Advanced technology and its impact on RM in B2B

Technology is becoming yet another important aspect in building B2B relationships, facilitating stronger relationship development, and provision for value co-creation that would have an impact on RQ (Pagani and Pardo, 2017). Some of the emerging technologies that are progressively transforming RM are big data analytics, the use of artificial intelligence, and advances in communication technology. In fact, RM emphasizes the central role of customers for the strategic positioning of the company and it includes activities such as training employees to develop personal relationships with customers and communicating with customers through multiple channels (Jones et al., 2015). Evidence shows that technology can promote RQ because it can facilitate communication, collaboration, and knowledge sharing, thereby increasing trust, commitment, and satisfaction with the seller. For example, customers who are securely attached to the use of smartphone applications experience higher levels of trust (Roy et al., 2017). The dimensions related to technology attachment play a critical role in influencing perceptions of trust (Roy et al., 2017).

Accordingly, discussions on the big data-driven business model are becoming popular in the contemporary B2B context (Sun et al., 2020) as big data analytics is transforming customer relationship management and sales growth for B2B firms (Hallikainen, 2020). So, the advanced technologies such as big data analytics enable new opportunities for providing more personalized customer experiences (Morgan, 2018) improved opportunities for B2B customer relationship management (Nam, Lee, and Lee, 2019). Moreover, in customer relationship management, the emergence of big data analytics will enable a new wave of strategies to support the personalization and customization of sales and customer services (Anshari et al., 2018). Also, big data is useful to identify what customers actually expect from companies and to predict their future demands, thus driving financial performance in both products and services sectors (Yang, See-To, and Papagiannidis, 2020). More so, some applications of the same can be firm to optimize its marketing activities based on real-time information and in a timely manner, in order to better answer rapidly changing customer needs and preferences (Xu et al., 2016). This is because big data analytics enable better-personalized product recommendations, customized offerings, and price optimizations (Martin and Murphy, 2017).

Further, in the industrial selling context, buyers are using social media for their purchases as they compare products, research the market, and build relationships with salespeople. Salespeople can use social media in all steps of the selling process, from prospecting to follow-up (Andzulis et al., 2012). In B2B markets, social media channels such as Twitter may be used to prospect or find opportunities, while LinkedIn may assist in identifying names of true decision-makers and buyers within an organization (Itani et al., 2017). Social media can also be utilized to identify new business opportunities and new product ideas, to deepen relationships with customers, and to enhance collaboration not only inside but also between companies and other parties (Barker, 2008; Hoffman and Fodor, 2010; Gillin and Schwartzman, 2011). Salesperson’s social media usage can impact information communication behaviors, which enhance salesperson responsiveness and customer satisfaction. In other words, social media plays an important role not only by communicating information to customers, but also as an antecedent enhancing salesperson behavior that in turn increases customer satisfaction. This encourages managers to carefully assess goals related to social media usage of their sales force (Agnihotri et al., 2016). Overall, firms should take advantage of the availability of technology options platforms, such as social media and invest in innovative capabilities to handle big data, and blockchain technology, among others.

 

  1. Practical insights

The importance of RM, RQ, and technology adoption in B2B relationship is also well-lauded in practice. For example, McKinsey research suggests that a healthy data culture, i.e., an organizational culture that accelerates the application of data analytics, is becoming increasingly important for leading and lagging companies alike (Diaz et al., 2018). Buyers want to work with organizations that see beyond the deal (Gregg et al., 2020), this suggests that RQ dimensions go beyond trust, commitment, and satisfaction. A report published by Ferry (2020), highlights the importance of the business relationship, stating that, at its heart, selling remains the act of acquiring, growing, and retaining this relationship, regardless of the setting. This involves a series of “defining moments,” when a customer or prospect evaluates their seller, their experience, or their relationship against their expectations (Ferry, 2020). B2B firms used to more frequent face-to-face engagement need to revisit their processes, methodology, and skills to proactively drive the positive defining moments that create customer intimacy in changing environments.

A recent literature analysis by Jiang et al. (2016) established additional key dimensions of RQ namely social satisfaction, economic satisfaction, and long-term orientation. These emerging RQ dimensions are also relevant in the modern business environment, especially, during a crisis such as the one presented by COVID-19. More specifically, communication remains crucial in the digital world as more conversations take place in virtual settings to ensure transparency and fostering trust and commitment. Thus, it is important to create valid business reasons for virtual meetings to gain more commitment to your relationships (Ferry, 2020). Being in a virtual setting opens up avenues of communication that may not be available to you in a face-to-face meeting, which enables sharing of materials for use during and after the session, such as tip sheets, videos, book lists, and bespoke online materials.

According to a recent B2B Decision-Maker Pulse survey, sellers indicated that digitally-enabled sales interactions are now more than twice as important as traditional sales interactions (Gregg et al., 2020). In addition, a sales practice study conducted with 949 sales leaders from global B2B industries, and particularly strong representation from the technology, manufacturing, healthcare, professional services, and banking/finance sectors reports, found that only 31% of sales organizations said they effectively identify and gain access to decision-makers, while only 40% indicated that they successfully used questioning skills to reveal buyers’ realized and unrealized needs (Schenk, Dekiba, and Lunsford, 2019). This indicates that there is still a huge need for attuned RM strategies that align with the changing environments in B2B markets that are mainly driven by technology advancements.

Moreover, there is a need to call for new norms for building trust in the digital world, however, trust will remain as a key future dimension for RQ and in the current environment, full transparency is key (Hanisch and Wald, 2014). For example, research shows that many leaders feel liberated by the virtual environment and believe it provides a safe space in which they can be curious, open to different views, and willing to engage in dialogue (Gregg et al., 2020). This helps to create intimacy in a virtual environment. Thus, it is important that interactions are held in a safe place, and the aim should be as human and authentic as possible, which helps to create a safe space for conversations. Asking powerful questions, such as “What are your safety protocols” and “How have the past few weeks been?” can also stimulate discussion and build intimacy in such virtual environments.

B2B organizations can boost RQ by building infrastructure to safeguard their digital interactions with clients and by safekeeping the client’s data. As Ferbrache, the Global Head of Cyber Futures articulated, there is a need for new authentication and perhaps identity appropriate models of trust in our digital world (Ferbrache, 2020). Moreover, a KPMG research reports that features, loyalty and price can no longer be relied upon to secure or maintain sustainable commercial relationships and the benchmark for client satisfaction is continually being reset (Ranade, 2018). The importance and new methods of building relationships with the advancement of technology are indeed growing in B2B contexts.

Lastly, B2B marketers need to develop a viable digital strategy and an approach to refine the digital strategy periodically. There is also a need to redesign the infrastructure to make technology and processes more resilient as the environments and customer expectations change. Also, it is important to develop practices and behaviors specific to a new selling atmosphere and a virtual environment. For instance, there is a need for continuous training, invest in upskilling sales and marketing force because the sales team defines the firm’s values, so people have the clarity and guidelines to make decisions.

 

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