Beyond the ‘trusted advisor’: The impact of client-professional relationships on the client’s selection of professional service firms
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Relationship based advantages and competitive advantages are often assumed to belong to different paradigms in management research. While authors have pointed out that companies compete and have relationships at the same time, relatively limited research has been done which integrates these perspectives. This study integrates the resource based view (RBV) with a stakeholder and interconnected view on firms and takes a customer oriented perspective on value creation to propose an ‘open’ version of the RBV. In taking this view, the relational and competitive perspectives of strategy are integrated in a way that offers a contribution to existing theory. Based on this theoretical starting point, this study answers the following research question: How do client-professional relationships impact the client’s selection of professional service firms? Through a combination of in-depth observation and key informant interviews with buyers and suppliers, more than 200 purchasing processes were included as empirical evidence. Three main sources of relationship benefits were found: contextual knowledge, chemistry and past satisfaction. While trust was extensively mentioned among the professionals, it was not emphasized by buyers. This study in fact suggests that buyers have professionalized and largely moved ‘beyond’ relying on ‘trusted advisors’ for professional services. In addition to the benefits, two main sacrifices were identified: lack of work effort and knowledge loss. These two sacrifices to an extensive degree seemed to restrain buyers from continuing their existing relationships.