Exploring business-to-business relationship quality in the IT services industry

  • Ryan O'Sullivan

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


With buyers more informed today than in the past and services providers finding it more difficult to differentiate their offerings, the quality of the relationship is more important than ever. In the context of the relationship between IT Services vendors and their global clients, with contracts spanning many years and often valued in hundreds of millions of British Pounds, the significance of maintaining good quality relationships cannot be understated. This study’s aim is to identify key components that define a good quality Business-to-Business relationship in this sector.
This study’s philosophy is that of interpretivism applied to an inductive methodology. The data collected is from 11 ‘elites’ using semi-structured interviews which focus on the best individual (one-to-one) and best vendor (organisation-to-organisation) they have worked with. To consider the impact of the Coronavirus pandemic on relationship building, a follow up study with six participants is included. Braun and Clarke’s (2006) thematic analysis is used to analyse the data, and Nahapiet and Ghoshal’s (1998) three-part interpretation (structural, cognitive, and relational) of Social Capital Theory provides the framework. In relation to structural capital, the original study finds a preference for face-to-face meetings in the client’s office at an individual level as well as an aversion to corporate hospitality at a company level. However, the follow up study finds that the since the pandemic in-person interaction is less important when maintaining existing relationships.
In relation to cognitive capital, on an individual level there is no evidence of shared hobbies or shared interests, but character traits such as shared personality are important as are a strong work ethic and a solid technical knowhow. For relational capital, greater depth is provided to the definition of trust, with ability further defined as having credibility and being effective, and integrity further defined as honesty and being committed. Along with benevolence and client orientation, these form the six components of trust.
This study concludes that the key to building strong business relationships is to work on a project that is important to the client, with a focus on the value the individual from the vendor side brings with regards to their technical and industry knowledge, and how they can tangibly support the client in achieving their objectives. On the corporate side the focus is only on the quality of the outcome for the client and delivering without exception.
Date of AwardNov 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Portsmouth
SupervisorSianne Marie Gordon-Wilson (Supervisor) & Elizabeth Georgina Rogers (Supervisor)

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