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Abstract

Relationship marketing research to date has focused for the most part on two sets of issues. First, what are the benefits of relationship marketing adoption? Second, how are marketing relationships built and maintained? Although these are important questions for researchers to address, we believe an understanding of the strategic impact of relationship marketing is equally important. We hold that relationship marketing should only be adopted when it offers, or contributes to, a firm's competitive advantage--a competitive advantage that, it is hoped, proves sustainable. As a first step toward better understanding the strategic role of relationship marketing, adopting a resource-based approach, we first clarify the role that resources gained through relationships may play in marketing relationships. Then we isolate and discuss the various kinds of resources that might be gained through relationships. Finally, we develop five propositions for assessing the strategic worth of these resources in marketing relationships.

Article Outline

* Strategic Role of Resources in Marketing Relationships

* Efficiently Acquiring or Developing Resources That Enhance Efficiency

* Combining Basic Resources to Create Complex Resources

* Positioning Resource Advantages in Competitive Situations

* Maintaining and Protecting Resources

* Types of Resources Gained in Marketing Relationships

* Financial Resources

* Legal Resources

* Physical Resources

* Human Resources

* Organizational Resources

* Relational Resources

* Informational Resources

* Sustainability of Relationship-Based Competitive Advantages: Critical Requirements of Resources

* Efficiency/Effectiveness

* Heterogeneity

* Imperfectly Imitable

* Imperfect Substitutability

* Imperfect Mobility

* Propositions for Evaluating Shared Resources

* Financial Resources

* Legal Resources

* Physical Resources

* Human Resources

* Organizational Resources

* Relational Resources

* Informational Resources

* Conclusions

* References

Proponents of relationship marketing encourage firms to seek partners for long-term marketing relationships; for example, focusing on customer retention rather than customer capture (Kotler 1991 and Vavra). However, it is clear that enthusiasm for relationship marketing should be tempered with concern for not only selecting appropriate partners, but also for engaging in relationships only when it is expected that relationship marketing is consistent with the firm's overall marketing strategy. In short, relationship marketing should be practiced when it offers, or contributes to, a firm's strategy for achieving a competitive advantage--a sustainable competitive advantage. These relationship-based competitive advantages (RBCAs) drive the success of relationship marketing. Indeed, as Ganesan (1994) notes, "most firms overlook the sustainable competitive advantage that can be created through long-term relationships." Similarly, we suggest, academics have neglected the search for explanations as to how to create sustainable competitive advantages based on relationships. Therefore, it is important that relationship marketing scholars begin to theorize how competitive advantages can be built through marketing relationships.

Although the strategy literature offers a variety of approaches that might contribute to understanding RBCAs, resource-based theory (Conner; Penrose and Wernerfelt) is especially promising. In the creation of sustainable competitive advantages, resource-based theory emphasizes the strategic importance of the firm's own resources, which are defined as any entity, tangible or intangible, that the firm has at its disposal to "enable it to produce efficiently and/or effectively a market offering that has value for some market segment or segments" ( Hunt and Morgan, 1995, p. 6). Basic resources--variously categorized as financial, legal, physical, human, organizational, informational, and relational (Barney; Hofer and Hunt)--are combined to create higher-order resources, or competencies, from which the firm can achieve a competitive advantage ( Foss, 1993; Hunt and Morgan; Langlois and Robertson, 1995; Prahalad and Hamel 1990 and Teece). Building on resource-based theory, scholars have examined the potential competitive advantage of competencies built on a variety of foundational resources. In marketing specifically, competitive advantages in services (Bharadwaj, Varadarajan, and Fahy, 1993) and market orientation (Hunt and Morgan, 1995) have been examined.

Problems arise, however, when the firm lacks a full complement of the basic resources necessary to create competencies and, through them, marketplace positions of competitive advantage. As Levine and White (1961) have noted, resources are often in scarce supply, creating the need for cooperative interorganizational exchange. Thus, organizations must acquire the resources through purchases in the marketplace (transactional exchange), the acquisition of firms having resources (vertical integration), creating or developing the resources internally, or through partnership with other organizations (relational exchange). Resource-based theory, therefore, can contribute to explaining the strategic nature of marketing relationships. Specifically, firms engage in relationships when compatible partners are identified whose complementary resources, when combined with their own resources, provide competitive advantages; that is, RBCAs.

There are numerous examples of marketing resource and contexts wherein sharing resources might provide organizations with competitive advantage. For example, the retail outlets provided by a relationship partner, as in many international alliances, may allow a firm

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