Interview with Prof. Michael Kleinaltenkamp
Michael Kleinaltenkamp. Professor of Business and Services Marketing, Freie Universität Berlin.
Michael Kleinaltenkamp is a Professor of Business and Services Marketing at the Marketing Department of the School of Business & Economics of Freie Universität Berlin (Germany) and the director of the “Executive Master of Business Marketing” program since 1992. In November 2013 he was awarded an honorary doctorate of the University of Rostock (Germany).
He published in leading marketing journals like the Journal of Marketing, Industrial Marketing Management, Journal of Business Research, Marketing Theory, Journal of Business and Industrial Marketing, Journal of Service Management and Journal of Service Theory and Practice. Furthermore, Michael Kleinaltenkamp is the co-editor of the textbook series “Mastering Business Markets” at Springer to which he contributed several book chapters. Since January 2018, he is also the new co-editor of the Journal of Business and Industrial Marketing (JBIM).
Since 2004 Michael Kleinaltenkamp serves as a permanent Visiting Professor of the European School of Management and Technology (esmt), Berlin (Germany), and since 2012 as a Recognised Teacher at Cranfield University School of Management (UK). He has also been a Visiting Scholar at the School of Marketing of the University of New South Wales, Sydney (Australia), at the Graduate School of Business and Law, RMIT University, Melbourne (Australia), and at UWA Business School, University of Western Australia, Perth (Australia). Moreover, since 2016, Michael Kleinaltenkamp is the Chair of the B2B Marketing Special Interest Group (B2B | SIG) of the European Marketing Academy (EMAC).
Michael, can you please tell us about your main areas of research?
My research focusses on business-to-business and services marketing, relationship marketing and marketing theory. Currently, I am engaged in several projects that are dealing with the usage of products and services in customer organizations and its impact on customer perceived value, relational outcomes and re-buy decisions. One special area of interest here is how the phenomenon that typically multiple actors use certain products or services in a firm influences their usage experience and the resulting value in use. In analogy to the buying center, we call this multitude of individual actors the usage center. It comprises all actors that draw on a focal resource within a usage process. In this context, we are also investigating how the customers themselves and the quality of the resources they bring into the usage processes impact the value in use they experience for them individually and for the firm. Moreover, we see that activities of value auditing which are conducted by the supplier, the customer, or both have an influence on customers’ value perceptions in this regard. We would like to understand better how this value auditing impacts value in use and how a supplier firm can manage it actively and successfully.
Your article “How Business Customers Judge Solutions” co-authored with Emma Macdonald and Hugh Wilson has been published in the Journal of Marketing and has attracted interest from the academic community. What are the main contributions of this paper?
Whereas some providers typically think of solutions mainly as a bundle of products and services, customers judge the quality not just of the supplier’s inputs to the solution but also of their own. Customers also evaluate the quality of the resource integration process through which a joint team decides how to manage assets and responsibilities. Another key element is the quality of value auditing processes, which track and optimize value creation over time. Furthermore, value in use in an organizational setting comprises the meeting not just of organizational goals but also of individual goals, extending business marketing literature on value.
Hence, to shift towards solutions, manufacturers need to do far more than price a product/service bundle. They need joint resource integration efforts with customers to make decisions such as where the boundary between firms should lie; they require competences in optimizing not just their own processes but also those of the customer; they need to continually audit and enhance benefits from the solution, rather than simply meeting the contract; and they require market research that extends beyond the customer’s judgement of the supplier to include the customer’s judgement of their own inputs.
As you know, the theme of the International Conference CBIM2018 is “Sustainable business models: integrating employees, customers and technology”. How relevant it is that employees, customers and technology can be integrated into the marketing strategies of companies? How can it be implemented effectively?
This is indeed an important topic that is especially very much related to our research in the field of solution business. However, from my personal view, many firms are much better in collaborating with their customers than they do internally. Implementing marketing strategies faces a variety of firm-internal challenges: Many business sectors and functions are affected, it has a strong influence on the behavior and the activities that are performed by many different people, it encompasses deliberately intended changes, which are not necessarily self-explanatory, and many people in different roles have to be motivated. Hence, for strategy implementation to be an effective, a variety of information needs to be communicated. Communication is key! See your employees as if they were your customers!
What message do you have for young researchers in B2B marketing?
B2B marketing is multifaceted and inspiring field that is by far more interesting than the world of B2C marketing – although, superficially, it is sometimes not as shiny and glimmering. However, as the problems to be investigated are often complex and in many cases a certain technological proficiency is needed for their understanding, researchers need to dive deep into the specific fields. These specificities often lead to longer project terms that may conflict with the duration of many PhD programs. But that should not scare you. In contrast, go for it! Find the right supervisors that have the necessary proficiency and access to firms, so that they can support you in your research and can help you to circumnavigate the cliffs. You will find a world that is not only rich in fascinating research problems and interesting insights but that that is also connected to the real business world. Being aware of those challenges especially for young marketing scholars, we at EMAC’s B2B SIG are taking a number of initiatives to encourage and support doctoral students and the next generation of researchers to explore B2B marketing phenomena.
From your perspective, which are the main future challenges in B2B Marketing?
Unfortunately, the practical relevance of B2B marketing stands in a sharp contrast to its academic consideration within the top marketing journals. Revenues in B2B markets represent 70 to 80 % of the GDP of the developed countries. However, in the top marketing journals, only 5 to 10% of the articles deal with B2B marketing. One of the main reasons for this development is that there is a lack of easy data availability, while the journals are keen on publishing papers based on large data sets. However, B2B marketing research deals with firms, and their representatives often do not have the time or the willingness to share their—from a business perspective sometimes critical — information with the researchers. In addition, the special meaning of customer relationships, the often smaller number of customers and the specialties of B2B markets and value chain structures are further reasons why traditional methods of data gathering often fail. Hence, to increase the visibility of B2B marketing research in the top journals, we need to elaborate more on the methods we use to generate generalizable insights, which often stems from qualitative data. I am sorry to say that, from my personal impression, many of the studies I have seen do not refer to the methodological state of art in this respect. Especially in the field of management research, a large number of methodological approaches have been developed in order to make qualitative research not only relevant but also rigorous, from research design and selection of cases to interview techniques, coding procedures, test of inter-coder reliability to data analysis and presentation of results. Marketing scholars in the field of B2B marketing applying qualitative research need to make more use of these insights and methodological approaches, not least since they are also dealing with the behavior of organizations. Moreover, my feeling is that high-quality qualitative research in many cases is even superior to quantitative research as it allows in much more detail and with a better understanding of the practical circumstances to uncover causal relationships which otherwise are ‘only’ statistically estimated but often not really proven.
You will host the CBIM2019 together with the 9th BMM-EMAC, the Biennial International Conference on Business Market Management. What will be the theme of the 2019 conference?
The overall theme of the conference will be “The Beauty of B2B Marketing”. We would like to showcase why B2B marketing is such a fascinating field and why it is so important and fulfilling to do research in this area. I am already looking forward to welcoming all of you in Berlin from June 27 to 29, 2019.