In a so-called “new network economy”, SMEs’ success in competitive markets could be achieved by strategies which are designed to allow firms to more easily share and develop resources (e.g. information, processes, and competences) with a wide range of potential stakeholders. Relationship-based strategies emphasize that to achieve competitive advantage firms should identify, develop and enhance an efficient portfolio of relationships (Zolkiewski and Turnbull, 2002). It is argued that small firms rely on maintaining effective business relationships to a greater extent than large firms but their processes of developing market relationships are not as well understood or researched. Many of the business relationship models have been constructed in the context of Anglo-Saxon developed economies and large organizations, the universality of these models in an intercultural and/or SME context has not been verified. Corresponding with this gap in theory, the main objective of this research is the identification of effective mechanisms for use by SMEs in business relationship development throughout Europe. The objectives of the research are to explore the following issues:
· The tactics used by SMEs to develop business relationships;
· The main obstacles faced by SMEs in building relationships;
· The effects of maintaining business relationships on SMEs;
· The extent of the entities with which relationships are built by SMEs;
· The influence of competition intensity and cultural differences on SMEs’ relationship-building processes.
The main empirical basis will constitute primary qualitative data gathered from the United Kingdom and the Central-European countries of Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. This data will be analysed and used to refine understanding of theory. Dissemination will take place through peer-reviewed and practitioner journals, seminars and conference presentations.
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