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Developing business relationships by SMEs in the intercultural environment

Final Report Summary - B2BRELATIONSHIPS (Developing business relationships by SMEs in the intercultural environment)

Business relationships are especially important for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), because they are a way of overcoming resource constraints (Holmlund and Kock 1998; Robson and Bennett 2000). This study followed the suggestion that dealing with the dark side of buyer-seller relationships is an under investigated field of research (Hibbard et al. 2001; Holmlund and Strandvik 2005) and it was concentrated mainly at exploration of main obstacles to and effects of relationship building by SMEs and tactics used by SMEs to develop business relationships and handle relationship problems. The cultural factors influencing the development of business relationships were also discussed.
The field research was conducted in United Kingdom (UK) to complement the research results obtained previously in Poland and Czech Republic. Taking into consideration the sensitive nature of this area of investigation, the qualitative study using semi-structured, depth face-to-face interviews and a purposive sample was employed to explore the research problem. In total there were 22 managers of SMEs interviewed which resulted in about 350 pages of interview transcriptions and more than 60 narratives referring to incidents critical for business relationships.
The interviews' results suggested that SME managers use both social networks and business networks to achieve business objectives and they usually explore social ties (eg. school friends) while setting up and developing the business. The social dimension of business partnerships appears to be embedded in its commercial aspects and the most important benefit that the manager may have from these relationships is the access to favourites from other business people and overcoming the limitations of formal structures and procedures.
The interviews revealed some tactics effective in improving a company's position within business network. These tactics comprise: using personal referrals, participating in so-called networking events, disseminating so-called open book of cooperation and case studies of past partnerships and using various Internet communities (eg. Linkedin).
Respondents experienced various disturbances in their business partnerships referring to relationship partner, relationship nature or the context of relationship (eg. global financial crisis). The tactics helpful in dealing with opportunism comprise so-called tit-for-tat, mainly showing initially pro-joint gain attitude, monitoring partner's behaviours and then taking lessons/behaving accordingly. It is also suggested to control emotions, take responsibility and intensify communication with the relationship partner when the problem is revealed.
The potential socio-economic impact of the project is dependent on spreading the good practices of building business relationships and dealing with relationship problems by disseminating research results in the form of scientific papers and presentations at conferences organized by European educational institutions and business associations. The results of the project are being used in the professional training organized within postgraduate studies for Key Account Managers at University of Economics in Katowice, Poland and will also be disseminated within MBS at undergraduate, postgraduate and professional levels. Moreover, the project resulted in establishing working relationship between scholars from Manchester Business School and University of Economics in Katowice which fosters conducting further international research projects. The project might be treated as an example to be followed by other young scholars from Poland and other Post-Communist EU countries who are interested in increasing their professional capabilities and international connections. The Marie Curie fellowship was already discussed by the Fellow as the case study at conference in Bielsko in 2010 and there was interview conducted with the Fellow and published in Polish Science Voice in January 2011.