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Managing customer/distributor relationships via e-business channels - evidence from a UK chemical manufacturer

Simpson, Lydia (2015) Managing customer/distributor relationships via e-business channels - evidence from a UK chemical manufacturer. Masters thesis (MSc), Manchester Metropolitan University.

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Abstract

Purpose Chemical registration processes in the UK, Europe and sometimes beyond are extremely challenging and expensive for the resource constrained SME. Chemical manufacturers are expected to draft dossiers thousands of pages long and pay extortionate costs to register chemicals and chemical products. Whilst there is a reduction in fees for SMEs, this is just a small fraction of the overall cost, costs which are high even for the larger competing firms. Larger firms have teams of people dedicated to and responsible for regulatory matters and still often outsource consultants, whereas SMEs may have one or often no personnel experienced in regulatory affairs. This has all lead to some SMEs being driven from the marketplace, resulting in an un-level playing field in the chemical industry. Due to the tough registration processes, in order to avoid being driven from the industry and being forced to remove products from the marketplace, many chemical SMEs internationalise business. This means that contacts abroad often work with the manufacturer to register products, which can often take months or even years. Therefore, relationships with these partners must be strong and long lasting. Relationship Marketing aims to build and manage long term relationships with business partners, which is why this is the focus of this research. Due to the geographical distance between the SME and many of their customer/distributors, often building relationships can be challenging. Therefore, the aim of this study is to understand the parameters for managing these relationships via e-business. Design/Methodology The study takes a case study approach using interviews. Interviews were carried out face-to-face or where this was not possible, via telephone or Skype. Participants were managers/directors from the chemical SME and eight other participants who are distributor partners and chemical customers of the SME. Participants are a mixture of UK and internationally based firms in order to gain a wider, international perspective. Findings The study revealed that customer/distributors believe a good business relationship is one where the two firms can be partners working to mutual goals and achievements. This kind of partnership means that one firm is not in charge of another or in charge of the relationship. The study also revealed that whilst e-business can enhance business relationships, speed up processes and help to maintain communications between the firms, the two parties prefer to meet face-to-face at least every 6-12 months. Findings revealed that face-to-face meetings are much more effective in discussing important regulatory matters or solving any issues or complications. Practical Implications There is a contribution to academic RM literature by adding a new SME, B2B voice to deepen the understanding of RM through e-business. Findings will help the case firm in understanding their customer/distributor needs and help them to provide an increased level of service. The results will also assist the case firm in the development and build of an e-portal. Originality This is a unique study, taking a fresh insight into relationship marketing via e-business systems. Keywords Relationship marketing, e-business, partnership, customer/distributors, SME, chemical industry, manufacturing.

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