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Publisher : Elsevier - Science Direct (الزویر - ساینس دایرکت)
Journal : International Business Review, Volume 18, Issue 1, February 2009, Pages 26–37
The network surrounding a firm's foreign clients has large influence on its ability to act in the market. How firms can utilize the knowledge supplied by client networks is therefore of great importance to their business with clients. Many studies show the usefulness of foreign clients and suppliers, whereas less attention has been given to the usefulness of knowledge supplied by clients’ network, such as clients’ clients, clients’ supplementary suppliers and competitors to the firm. This study contributes to international business research on networks by investigating the knowledge supplied by client networks for a firm doing business with a specific foreign client on a sample of 494 firms. A LISREL analysis demonstrates that knowledge supplied by client networks is more useful the more experienced the firm. Client networks are also more useful the more knowledge the firm has of its client, the more the firm needs knowledge of its clients and suppliers, the higher the cost of the client relationship, and the more standardized the product. A major conclusion is that the client network knowledge is more useful the further a firm's collaboration with the client, presumably as a result of the new, and more embedded business that the firm develops with the client. Implications are that client networks are resources that can be important competitive advantages for the internationalizing firm.
Studies have found that international business relationships are surrounded by business networks (Blomstermo, Eriksson, Lindstrand & Sharma, 2004, Welch & Wilkinson, 2005), political networks (Welch & Wilkinson, 2004), and supply networks (Walter, Müller, Helfert & Ritter, 2003). In a foreign expansion, the internationalizing firm often seeks to develop business with a client, either via direct export, or via some other establishment form. Several studies identify the strategic importance of understanding a foreign client's network (Bridgewater, 1999; Gilmore, Carson, & Rocks, 2006), but, to our knowledge, no studies have so far studied the usefulness of client networks for development of business with the clients. Client network ties are those that have a direct business exchange with the client, but not with the firm (see Fig. 1). Examples of client network ties are clients’ clients, competitors, clients’ complementary suppliers. As can be inferred from studies of network ties by Johanson and Mattsson (1987), client networks are an important source of knowledge and information to firms. Client networks may supply knowledge about competitors, supply chain linkages, or market research of demand for clients’ products (Lindstrand, 2003).In international business related decision making not all knowledge is perceived to be equally useful (Cavusgil, 1985), some types of knowledge are more useful than other types. The reason for some knowledge being more useful than others has many explanations, such as firm internal processes (Shahana & Tuzhilin, 1998), uncertainty (Wilkinson & Young, 2005), or the market focus (Blankenburg Holm & Eriksson, 2000). When doing business with a client, a firm may find knowledge about client networks useful. Thus, to advance network studies in international business, there is a need for researching the perceived usefulness of knowledge supplied by client network ties in international business. Based on the internationalization process model (Johanson & Vahlne, 1977), the experience effect establishes a connection between firm experiences and firm internal processes (Delios & Beamish, 2001). However, the nature of this connection is still a ‘black box’, even though several studies reveal a relationship between experience and outcome, such as performance (e.g. Barkema, Bell, & Pennings, 1996; Erramilli, 1991; Hitt, Hoskisson & Kim, 1997; Lou & Peng, 1999). The perceived usefulness of knowledge has been found a kind of perception that is a strong predictor of behavior (Davis, Bagozzi & Warshaw, 1989, Venkatesh & Davis, 2000). Perceived usefulness can be considered a mediating variable between perception and behavior, which is central to the understanding of how experiences make firms develop and use knowledge in firms internal processes (Eriksson, Johanson, Majkgard, & Sharma, 1997). For this reason, the research presented in this paper used an empirical research design that frames the perceived usefulness of a client's network ties within an ongoing international business relationship with a client. An ongoing international business relationship is a current decision-making situation that is of great importance to the internationalizing firm, and may concern an international expansion via export, or other modes of establishment. The purpose of this paper is thus to study the ‘perceived usefulness’ of client networks for international expansion with a client. A delimitation of this study is that performance is not studied. Previous research has found a link between international business network development in general and performance (Blankenburg Holm, Eriksson, & Johanson, 1999). Future research can study the link between performance and the perceived usefulness of knowledge supplied by a client's network. The paper begins with a discussion of the knowledge in firms. Thereupon, the issue of perceived usefulness of knowledge and the network connections in firms are presented. Based on the above, five hypotheses are developed and tested with the help of LISREL. The data and results are then presented, and we conclude with a discussion of some future research issues.
نتیجه گیری انگلیسی
In this paper, we have investigated the perceived usefulness of knowledge from client networks. In our opinion, there exists an important gap in current research in international business. This concerns our knowledge of the usefulness of business information supplied by firms’ client networks. Our purpose was to fill this gap in the current body of research on the network approach to international business and the usefulness of market knowledge. Based on research on networks and usefulness of knowledge in international business, five hypotheses were generated and tested on a sample of 494 international firms. Hypothesis 1–2 focused different characteristics of the client relationship, and their effect on the perceived usefulness supplied by client networks. In broad terms, hypotheses 1 and 2 demonstate that more knowledge development in a client business relationship leads to greater perceived usefulness of knowledge supplied by the client network. This is a strong support for the learning effect in a firm's relationships with clients. Hypothesis 1 proposed a positive relationship between the involvement in an ongoing business relationship and the perceived usefulness of knowledge from the client network. This is supported. A great involvement with clients in business relationships leads to a more embedded mode of knowledge accumulation, which involves coordination with client networks. The knowledge supplied by client networks is, consequently, perceived as useful. Findings on H2 are that a more standardized main product supplied to clients leads to greater use of knowledge supplied by client networks. This does not support hypothesis 2, which stipulated a negative relationship between degree of standardization of product supplied by firms and the perceived usefulness of knowledge supplied by client networks. The logic underlying hypothesis 2 is that supply of standardized products, implies a programmed and repetitive decision situation. Little, if any, new knowledge is needed. In such decision situations, firms generally know their market, clients, competitors and distribution channels. However, decision situations concerning the marketing of products on new and/foreign markets involve a high degree of uncertainty and risk. Decision-makers may perceive a need to develop new business strategies and tactics. The current theory-in-use in firms may need either major modification or a total re-modeling. The firms may need new knowledge. Programmed and routine decision processes are not adequate for such business decision situations. Client networks supply knowledge that is novel and different. However, for reasons that we can only speculate on, firms perceive their client networks as more useful the more standardized the product. We may speculate that the nature of adaptive learning is highly situation specific, implying learning about idiosyncratic investments. Such learning often involves a second order learning, where the theory-in-use is re-structured, and such learning is difficult to accomplish in real life (Argyris and Schön, 1978). This result calls for more research. Is there a limit to which kind of knowledge can be supplied by client networks? What kind of mechanisms in the firm affect the use of client networks in learning about idiosyncratic business problems? We also examined the effect of local market experiences. Hypothesis 3 stipulated a relationship between cost of cooperation in the ongoing business relationship and the perceived usefulness of knowledge supplied by client networks. This is supported in the data. There is a positive correlation between cost of cooperation and the perceived usefulness of knowledge supplied by client networks. In our interpretation, as the cost of cooperation in a business relationship in markets increases, managers seek knowledge that can reduce these costs. Usually this knowledge can be found in the firm's previous experiences of and daily activities in business networks. The knowledge needed is frequently also novel, non-routine, uncertain, and consequently open to alternative interpretations, politics and controversy. In costly client relationships and projects, decision-makers, therefore, perceive knowledge supplied by client networks as more useful. H4 stated that the greater the need for knowledge about ties to other clients and suppliers is, the greater the perceived usefulness of knowledge supplied by client networks. This was supported. The knowledge supplied by client networks seems to complement the knowledge supplied by a firm's ties to other clients and suppliers. This could be because the knowledge supplied by client networks is perceived to be useful for the reduction of uncertainty in ties to other clients and suppliers. Client network ties may span structural holes (Burt, 1982) and can thereby supply knowledge that decreases the uncertainty in ties to other clients and suppliers. Similarly, the perceived usefulness of knowledge supplied by the client network may vary with what Menon and Varadarajan (1992) called action-oriented use, knowledge-enhancing use, and affective use of knowledge. To shed more light on these issues, more research is suggested. Furthermore, we suggest more research on whether the perceived usefulness of knowledge supplied by client networks is related to the stages in the international business decision-making process. We need to improve our knowledge about whether the perceived usefulness of knowledge supplied by client networks varies with the stages in the decision process, namely, problem definition, generation of alternatives, evaluation of alternative courses of action, and choice of alternatives, for example. Finally, we examined a firm variety of country markets and its effect on the usefulness of knowledge supplied by client networks. Hypothesis 5 focused on the effect of generalized knowledge from many markets on the usefulness of knowledge supplied by client networks. H5 hypothesized a positive relationship between variation and the perceived usefulness of knowledge supplied by client networks. H5 is supported in the data. Our results show that the more the variation in country markets in a firm's operations, the greater the perceived usefulness of the knowledge supplied by client network ties. Thus, variation or diversity in operations, per se, is sufficient to cause an increase in the perceived usefulness of client network ties. Firms with a greater variation in operation are engaged in a variety of differentiated networks and may have a larger number of network ties. This does improve the perceived usefulness of knowledge supplied by the client network. To summarize the findings of this paper, we find support for that knowledge at the level of the ongoing business relationship, local markets, and varied country markets all have a positive effect on the perceived usefulness of client network ties. This result corroborates the strategic importance of knowledge of client networks in international business. This paper has taken a first step in identifying the importance of the client networks, and much future research is needed. This paper implies that perceived usefulness of client network ties increases performance. However, the performance associated with perceived usefulness of customer networks is difficult to measure, since the performance should relate to the relationship currently being analyzed. Accounting data is not available. The questionnaire instrument used here asks a set of questions on perceived benefits, satisfaction, cost, and benefit from the current business relationship. Based on analysis of correlations, client network ties improve a firm's ability to do business in new markets, decrease the cost of relationship development, and increase benefits from international business relationships. Other limitations of this paper include the sample's focus on firms in small countries with a high degree of international business, and the focus on SMEs. There is a need for further research to study larger firms, and firms that are from larger country markets, where the domestic sector better matches the international. In this paper, we identify three types of client network ties that supply useful information. These are vertical, horizontal, and competitor ties. Future studies could investigate the relative importance of these three types of ties. Another issue for future research is to include more types of client networks, such as institutional actors. These findings have implications for internationalization decision-makers in a number of ways. It seems as if experiences tend to increase the firm's use of new knowledge. This may be consistent with the grafting of core strategies, and the use of business models. This is done as firms gain experience both within an ongoing business relationship, within a market, and in their business globally. For firms the knowledge from client networks is a part of their business models and core strategies. Based on the above discussion, we may speculate that the perceived usefulness of client ties and client network ties may be complementary. Decision-makers perceive knowledge supplied by client network ties to be useful in non-programmed, non-routine, and new marketing situations. In more programmed and routine marketing decision situations, on the other hand, knowledge supplied by client network ties is perceived to be less useful. However, knowledge supplied by ties to clients may be more useful in such conditions. On this issue, we suggest more research. More research is also needed to test if our findings are sensitive to cultural differences among nations. Similarly, the usefulness of networks may differ by industry, and this needs to be researched further. The biotech industry is known to have large networks of firms, whereas many manufacturing industries have smaller networks. While the research presented here the findings that show the usefulness of the knowledge supplied by client networks, much further research is needed on foreign clients’ networks.