The secret to client-supplier innovation cooperation that lasts

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Purpose The purpose of this paper is to provide some keys to understand and manage the dynamic of client-supplier innovation cooperation. Design/methodology/approach The results presented in this paper are based on a mixed methods approach that combines interviews with practitioners, quantitative inquiry on 160 client-supplier innovation cooperations and 18-month ethnography within an Innovation-Purchasing department. Findings At the first stage of a relationship, when trust and familiarity are low, unstructured organization has to be avoided and elaborated partnership privileged. Later in a relationship, the power balance increases, so do trust and familiarity. In case of a power balance in large favor of the client, elaborated partnership presents the best performance in the first phases of the innovation project, and the unstructured organization allows better performance in the phases around market launch. If the power balance is favorable to the supplier, the exclusive partnership organization gives the best results for the relationship. Later, when trust and familiarity attain the highest levels, and when the power is balanced within the couple, elaborated partnership is best suited from design to industrialization phases. In upstream phases, project-type organizations can be substituted to exclusive partnership: both allow the relationship to reach the highest scores. Originality/value The paper offers levers for managing innovation cooperation at macro and micro levels, taking into account the impact of the client-supplier relationship.

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Clients et fournisseurs ne se posent plus la question de savoir s’ils doivent coopérer en innovation mais plutôt comment réussir cette coopération. Dans ces relations, les problématiques liées à l’innovation sont couplées avec celles liées à la relation client-fournisseur, alors qu’elles sont traditionnellement gérées séparément. L'objectif de la thèse est de comprendre comment se construit, au cours du temps, la performance d’une coopération verticale d’innovation, en considérant aussi bien les interactions inter-entreprises qu'intra-entreprise. Pour cela, nous avons mêlé recherches qualitatives et quantitatives, en nous référant aux courants théoriques orientés ressources, à la théorie des coûts de transaction et au marketing relationnel. A partir de la littérature et d’entretiens, nous avons élaboré un modèle conceptuel constitué de quatre éléments interconnectés : la configuration de la dyade, l’atmosphère de la relation, le projet d’innovation et la performance de la relation. Auprès de 160 fournisseurs coopérant en innovation avec un client, ce modèle a été testé et validé statistiquement. Une participation-observante au sein d’une Direction Achats-Innovation a permis d’observer une coopération d’innovation de 20 mois avec un fournisseur. Cette coopération a été narrée et analysée à l’aide du modèle conceptuel. La première contribution de la thèse est donc le modèle qui permet (1) de caractériser une coopération verticale d’innovation à partir de variables appropriées et (2) d’expliquer par itération sa dynamique. Il est complété par une proposition de mesure de la performance de cette relation. Une autre contribution est la démonstration de la complémentarité entre confiance et mécanismes de contrôle inter-entreprises. Cette thèse a permis d’étendre le champ de la gouvernance des coopérations verticales d’innovation au-delà de l'analyse du projet d’innovation, et de caractériser une fonction en développement, décisive dans ces contextes : les Achats-Innovation. La thèse donne ainsi quelques clefs pour mieux appréhender la gestion des coopérations d’innovation client-fournisseur, en considérant les enjeux liés à la relation comme à l’innovation. --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- The question now is no longer whether clients and suppliers need to cooperate in innovation; it is: how to make such vertical cooperation relationships successful? The challenge is that the issues related to innovation are coupled with those linked to the client-supplier relationship – whereas traditionally they are managed separately. The objective of the thesis is to understand the dynamics of vertical innovation cooperation performance, considering inter-firms and intra-firms interactions. In order to do so, we mobilized a theoretical framework based on resource-based views, transaction cost theory and relationship marketing, and mixed qualitative and quantitative methods. Using literature and data gleaned from interviews with practitioners, we first built a conceptual model made up of four intertwined elements: the dyad configuration, the relationship atmosphere, the innovation project and the relationship performance. Thanks to a survey with 160 answering suppliers describing a cooperation with one of their clients, we tested this model and validated it statistically. We then took part, in a twenty-month participating-observation, of a vertical innovation cooperation, embedded within the Innovation-Purchasing Direction of the client-firm. This cooperation was narrated and analyzed using our conceptual model. The first contribution of the thesis is the conceptual model that (1) characterizes a vertical innovation cooperation based on appropriate variables, and (2) iteratively explains its dynamic. It is completed by a proposal of relationship performance measurement. Another contribution is to have demonstrated the complementarity between trust and interfirm control mechanisms. This thesis extends the realm of vertical innovation cooperation governance beyond the analysis of the innovation project. It also characterizes Innovation-Purchasing as a new developing function which is found to be important in such contexts. Therefore, this thesis provides some keys to better understand the management of innovation cooperations between clients and suppliers, taking into account both innovation and relationships stakes.
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6.1 INTRODUCTION Firms are increasingly adopting open innovation strategies in their innova-tion activities (Huston & Sakkab, 2007; Kirschbaum, 2005; Van den Biesen, 2008). In the last two decades, several factors pushed companies to source technologies from external parties and monetize their unused technologies through licensing agreements or spin-offs. The increasing complexity of tech-nologies (Brusoni, Prencipe & Pavitt, 2000), the (typical), over-utilization of own R&D personnel (Clark & Wheelright, 1990), the specialization of technology players such as universities and high tech start-ups and the emergence of more effective technology markets with new types of interme-diaries and technology services companies as main growth accelerators are important drivers of the popularity of open innovation among practitioners (Chesbrough, 2003a, 2006a). Research on open innovation has been burgeoning in the wake of the increas-ing role of open innovation in companies. Yet, despite its popularity, the actual performance effects of open innovation are not well understood. R&D col-laboration with external partners is an important element of outside-in open innovation activities. Over the past years, several studies have examined the performance effects of R&D collaborations. These studies have almost exclu-sively focused on the firm level. So far, no consensus has been reached in the literature (see Tsai etal., 2009 for an overview). Some studies show that R&D collaborations improve firm performance (e.g.: