SME managers in many industries face the situation that they have to deal with a few important, large customer organisations that behave in an adversarial manner. These customers pit alternative suppliers against each other in order to achieve the lowest possible price, showing no intent to build future-oriented relationships with any of them. From the perspective of the SME, this kind of customer behaviour could even be described as harmful, since it often impedes the SME manager's long-term development of his or her business. This makes the balancing of adversarial customer relationships an aspect crucial to the long-term survival and success of the particular SME. In this article, we propose a three-fold approach through which SME managers could balance their relationships with this type of customer. Firstly, we review theoretical discussions about business relationships and adversariness, in order to develop our definition of "adversarial behaviour" and our conceptual frame of reference. Secondly, a narrative of a Finnish forestry contractor facing an adversarial customer is presented to highlight the typical challenges faced by SMEs in such situations. Finally, we propose our three-fold strategy through which the adversarial situation faced by the forestry firm could be balanced, and argue that this strategy is also applicable to SMEs in other contexts.
Journal of Selling and Major Account Management, 2001, Vol 3, Issue 4 (Summer), p. 33-51