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Addressing how small suppliers cope with large customers: using the dual dimension of a product portfolio and customer buying center

Sylvie Lacoste (EXCELIA Business School, CERIIM, La Rochelle, France)
Fouad Ben Abdelaziz (NEOMA Business School, Mont-Saint-Aignan, France)
Meriem Youssef (University of Sousse, Sousse, Tunisia) (IHE, Logistics and Innovation Technology Research Center, Paris, France)

Journal of Business & Industrial Marketing

ISSN: 0885-8624

Article publication date: 21 March 2022

Issue publication date: 2 January 2023




This paper is about customer relationships from the perspective of small suppliers. More precisely, this paper aims to examine the relational implications through a product portfolio model with the main participants of the buying center (buyer/business manager).


The study first uses an in-depth qualitative data analysis to explore how elements of small suppliers’ relationship with such large customer’s main actors are affected by the nature of the product (categorized between strategic, bottleneck and non-critical items). From the results, an empirical model is drawn of small suppliers’ relational strategies in a product-centered and buyer/business manager relationship typology. To analyze the results of the empirical model, a quantitative analysis is performed, using the fuzzy set qualitative comparative analysis approach.


This study contributes to deepen the supplier–customer relationship analysis, from a product-centered and customer dyadic perspective (buyer and customer business manager). The findings highlight three different small suppliers’ relationship strategy with a different level of involvement of the different participants of the buying center.


Few studies so far analyze vertical asymmetric relationships from a triadic perspective composed of the small supplier, the buyer and the business manager – hence, this study contributes to unveiling some of the relationship complexity within a triad of actors and how small suppliers can navigate through this complexity according to their product or service positioning.



Lacoste, S., Ben Abdelaziz, F. and Youssef, M. (2023), "Addressing how small suppliers cope with large customers: using the dual dimension of a product portfolio and customer buying center", Journal of Business & Industrial Marketing, Vol. 38 No. 1, pp. 188-207.



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