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Inertia, uncertainty, and exploratory partner selection

Jie Liang (School of Management, Xi'an Polytechnic University, Xi'an, China)
Nan Mei (College of Art and Media, Tongji University, Shanghai, China)

Journal of Business & Industrial Marketing

ISSN: 0885-8624

Article publication date: 22 November 2018

Issue publication date: 7 October 2019




The purpose of this paper is to examine the following research question in partner selection decisions in business-to-business strategic partnerships/collaborations literature: How do inertia and uncertainty affect partner selection? Explicitly, the paper analyzes how inertia of previous alliance selection routines and uncertainty of entire market movement shape firms’ preferences regarding exploratory partner selection (i.e. selecting new partners who never collaborate with the focal firm).


Grounded on inter-firm partnerships, partner selection and network theory literature, the study empirically tests a fine-grained sample of 511 open-end funds initiated by 61 fund management firms in China. To do so, it runs Tobit regression for main analysis and applies a variety of sensitivity analyses to check the robustness.


Results show that inertia in previous partner selection has a negative effect on exploration. Importantly, these inertial forces impact domestic firms but not international firms. Market uncertainty also affects exploratory partner selection: short-term market uncertainty encourages exploration, whereas long-term uncertainty inhibits it. These effects also depend on firms’ type: long-term market uncertainty has a negative effect on exploration for international firms but not for domestic firms. Both types of firms exhibit a stronger tendency toward exploration when they encounter short-term uncertainty. However, this inclination is stronger in international firms.


Earlier research has examined how inertia affects exploitation but largely overlooked its effect on exploration. A critical examination of firm and environment level factors provides a deeper understanding of why and when firms have inconsistent preferences for specific partner selection strategies. Thus, this study offers a unique perspective for understanding firms’ exploratory partner selection by focusing on two important characteristics of focal firms: one internal (inertia) and one external (market uncertainty) in nature.



This paper forms part of a special section “Institutional environment and collaborations/consolidations in B2B”, guest edited by En Xie, Zhi Yang and K.S. Reddy.

The authors would like to acknowledge the grants from Soft Science Research Program of Shaanxi Province of China (Grant No. 2018KRM155) and the Doctoral Scientific Research Foundation of Xi’an Polytechnic University of China (Grant No. 107020340).


Liang, J. and Mei, N. (2019), "Inertia, uncertainty, and exploratory partner selection", Journal of Business & Industrial Marketing, Vol. 34 No. 6, pp. 1281-1296.



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