The purpose of this paper is to explore the important and distinctly under‐researched topic of first customer references, for which a basic descriptive framework is created. The paper also tests the framework, validating it by means of new insights obtained from a longitudinal case study.
The present work is an embedded single longitudinal case study with two levels of analysis units: the company and its customers. Pattern‐matching logic and time‐series analyses are used. The idea is to compare the observed patterns with those introduced through the basic descriptive framework. Each case is analyzed, after which a cross‐case analysis is conducted over the specified time horizon. Programming theory is used to describe the iterative nature of the phenomenon of market entry, although natural language is used instead of formal notation.
The longitudinal case study demonstrates various operational aspects of the framework in practice. The study indicates the correct business operations setup model after each customer case. The case study generally reveals, from the perspective of competence marketing, that there are no failed customer cases if experimental knowledge has been gained.
In order to evaluate capabilities of start‐up technology companies to enter the market, all customer cases should be evaluated, even the failed ones. Successful customer references may provide only a partial picture of the gained capabilities.
This paper explores the important and distinctly under‐researched topic of first customer references, for which a basic descriptive framework is created and will be of interest to companies trying to enter the very competitive business‐to‐business market for complex products.
Ruokolainen, J. (2008), "Constructing the first customer reference to support the growth of a start‐up software technology company", European Journal of Innovation Management, Vol. 11 No. 2, pp. 282-305. https://doi.org/10.1108/14601060810869893
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