Trust formation at the growth stage of a business-to-business relationship: a qualitative investigation



Publication Details

Dowell, D., Heffernan, T. & Morrison, M. (2013). Trust formation at the growth stage of a business-to-business relationship: a qualitative investigation. Qualitative Market Research: an international journal, 16 (4), 436-451.


Purpose: Trust is known to have three dimensions: ability/competence, integrity/contractual and benevolence/goodwill. Yet what develops these three dimensions of trust is relatively unknown, particularly at the different stages of the relationship lifecycle. The primary goal of this paper is improving understanding about the development of these three elements of trust. Hence, this research is undertaken within the critical growth phase of the relationship lifecycle.

Design/methodology/approach: A qualitative approach was deemed most appropriate to achieve the deep understanding needed for this type of exploratory study. Using a relationship dyad, which contained a retail manager and wholesale salesperson as the unit of investigation, 18 in-depth semi-structured interviews were conducted. This constituted nine case studies, which were analysed using content and thematic analysis. A purposive case selection method was used to ensure variance of cases and provide rich data.

Findings: The most interesting findings relate to how trust is developed and how this varies for the different forms of trust. For ability trust, the crucial factors in its development were performance, expertise and communication. With respect to integrity trust, honesty, integral actions and candid response were found to influence the development of trust. For benevolence, trust actions and attitudes emerged as key factors for the development of trust.

Research limitations/implications: Trust has been found to be a key component of relationship marketing success. This research extends this through providing understanding of the elements of trust and what drives the development of these elements, thus providing insights at a level more usable for the practitioner.

Originality/value: It is generally agreed that trust is a multidimensional construct; however there has been limited research on how to develop each of the three elements of trust. This research provides insight into how to develop trust, at a crucial time in the relationship growth stage. It is at this stage that partnerships can flourish or fade, hence trust is vital. Therefore, the development of ability, integrity and benevolence trust is important. This is not an issue that has been researched frequently in the literature; this paper helps to provide understanding of the key factors which develop these three elements of trust.

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