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A definition, model, and empirical analysis of business‐to‐business relationship quality

Maria Holmlund (Department of Marketing, HANKEN Swedish School of Economics and Business Administration, Centre for Relationship Marketing and Service Management, Helsinki, Finland)

International Journal of Service Industry Management

ISSN: 0956-4233

Article publication date: 14 March 2008




The aim of this research is to provide insights into quality in a business‐to‐business relationship setting. The objectives are to review related relationship quality studies, to put forward first a definition and then a model of perceived business‐to‐business relationship quality, and afterwards to illustrate and deepen this model with empirical data from a typical business‐to‐business relationship.


The whole study rests on accumulated theoretical insights from service management combined with IMP literature which have been used together with empirical findings in an abductive manner to expand the scope on quality to encompass dyadic quality perceptions in a business relationship setting.


The definition and model do not so much depend on completely new elements, but instead the contribution lies in the way that current insights and empirical data have been combined into a conceptually dense and comprehensive entirety. Focusing on the process character of a relationship and the content of quality perceptions in a relationship, several new conceptualisations are developed and illustrated with empirical data. These are: unit and span of perceptions; comparison standards; variation in interactions; technical, social, and economic quality dimensions; process and outcome quality domains; four different hierarchical levels for categorising business interactions; and a dyadic analysis of perceived relationship quality.

Research limitations/implications

The proposed definition and model were developed for analysing typical ongoing business‐to‐business relationships.

Practical implications

The study offers a tool for analysing and improving relationships, setting priorities in quality improvements, and selecting counterparts.


This is the first published study that expands the scope on quality, embracing interactions in the whole business relationship and two companies' perceptions of their relationship.



Holmlund, M. (2008), "A definition, model, and empirical analysis of business‐to‐business relationship quality", International Journal of Service Industry Management, Vol. 19 No. 1, pp. 32-62.



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Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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