The aim of this paper is to understand the process of value creation in business-to-business (B2B) contexts from the perspective of small- and medium-sized firms (SMEs). Small businesses are challenged to compete and collaborate with larger firms. While the “sharks” dilemma (often the most dangerous sharks also have the most valuable resources) focuses on specific defences, the authors emphasize a value generation perspective.
The concept of asymmetric relationships is taken as a reference and examined using a longitudinal multi-case study.
The authors results demonstrate how small firms not always assume an inferior, defensive position. Ambitious and growth-oriented SMEs learn to collaborate with larger partners and exhibit a proactive attitude towards relationship management. They understand the importance of developing social ties. They foster frequent and informal communication with their customers, favouring personal visits as a means to receive advice for directing their research efforts and exchange information and views. Such ties help them to develop shared plans and goals.
In asymmetric relationships, partner selection models should help firms to concentrate their efforts in a reduced group of key partners. These models should include not only economic performance indicators – variables such as flexibility and autonomy – but also innovation and improvement in processes, image, prestige and positioning, access to markets and stability.
The authors found insight into a novel concept: dual-value appropriation, where partners do not split the pie of the total value generated, as frequently proposed in the literature, but fully appropriate a different and unique value from the relationship. The authors further highlight the important role played by the committed champions in developing communication and trust.
Jesús Cambra-Fierro expresses his gratitude for the financial support received from the Spanish Government CICYT (ECO 2011-23027) and from the Regional Government and FEDER’s funding (Generés S09).
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