The secret to client-supplier innovation cooperation that lasts

Romaric Servajean-Hilst (Interdisciplinary Institute for Innovation (i3-CRG), Ecole Polytechnique, Palaiseau, France)

Strategic Direction

ISSN: 0258-0543

Publication date: 13 February 2017



The purpose of this paper is to provide some keys to understand and manage the dynamic of client-supplier innovation cooperation.


The results presented in this paper are based on a mixed methods approach that combines interviews with practitioners, quantitative inquiry on 160 client-supplier innovation cooperations and 18-month ethnography within an Innovation-Purchasing department.


At the first stage of a relationship, when trust and familiarity are low, unstructured organization has to be avoided and elaborated partnership privileged. Later in a relationship, the power balance increases, so do trust and familiarity. In case of a power balance in large favor of the client, elaborated partnership presents the best performance in the first phases of the innovation project, and the unstructured organization allows better performance in the phases around market launch. If the power balance is favorable to the supplier, the exclusive partnership organization gives the best results for the relationship. Later, when trust and familiarity attain the highest levels, and when the power is balanced within the couple, elaborated partnership is best suited from design to industrialization phases. In upstream phases, project-type organizations can be substituted to exclusive partnership: both allow the relationship to reach the highest scores.


The paper offers levers for managing innovation cooperation at macro and micro levels, taking into account the impact of the client-supplier relationship.



Servajean-Hilst, R. (2017), "The secret to client-supplier innovation cooperation that lasts", Strategic Direction, Vol. 33 No. 2, pp. 18-20.

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