Interview with Thomas Ritter
Thomas Ritter is Professor of Market Strategy and Business Development. Thomas Ritter’s main research interest is in firms’ commercial capabilities and business models, i.e. the way firms earn profits. This overall interest can be divided into studies on customer insight and market segmentation, customer value creation and value modelling, customer relationship management, and market strategy development. Projects are either on the operational, execution level (how are things done) or on the executive level (how to lead the market-oriented and customer-centric firm). Thomas’ work has been widely published in journals including International Journal of Research in Marketing, Journal of Business Research, Industrial Marketing Management and Journal of Business and Industrial Marketing. His ideas can also be found in digital articles at Harvard Business Review, California Management Review and MIT Sloan Management Review.
In 2020, you and Carsten Lund Pedersen published some interesting articles on the impact of the coronavirus crisis on business-to-business firms in Industrial Marketing Management and Harvard Business Review Online that have received a lot interest. Can you tell us about this paper?
Already in March 2020, we realized both the potential amplitude and length of the impact that the emerging coronavirus crisis may has on business. We also could see that the impact will vary significantly amongst firms. Thus, we started to investigate how we could capture and analyze the emerging strategic issues—and which kind of managerial implications we could derive. We published our ideas and findings in April 2020 in two digital articles on Harvard Business Review and models and cases in Industrial Marketing Management in June 2020. And yes, there has been great interest in this work with all pieces topping the most-downloaded and most-read lists for some time.
The basic idea is that we need to divide “the big crisis” into relevant small crisis. Firms do not get corona but parts of their business get affected by the consequences of corona-infused restrictions and chances. For instance, there is a huge difference for strategic response if your customers are not allowed to travel, or your suppliers’ service staff is not allowed to travel. Both situations are severe but both need different solutions. Similarly, not all business models are in a state of a crisis, and not all parts of a business model. We need to understand which part faces what kind of challenge. We were amazed by the variety of challenges, the extent of no challenges, and the different responses by executives. The project has been very interesting and insightful for us—and given the great interest in our work happily so also interesting for many.
Thomas, please tell us more about your research?
One of the great experiences was the executives’ willingness to participate in online interviews at short notice. This is the one study that took least time to conduct as everyone agreed to meet us online within days. We also were able to work with executives from around the world and by that had access to insights from regions that were already affected by the consequences of the coronavirus issues, regions with emerging restrictions, and regions where the crisis not even had started.
How do you see the future challenges of B2B marketing?
One of the main topics of business-to-business marketing has been the role of personal relationships and interactions between multiple actors on both the buyer and the seller side. Given the dramatic changes that in particular contact and travel restrictions have imposed, both executives and academics have much to learn on how to operate in such environments. Likewise, concepts such as solution selling have to be re-considered. There are many great challenges—but I also saw many great challenges in B2B marketing to engage with over the past 25 years. In that respect, B2B marketing is a great field to work with regardless the circumstances.
What are the main opportunities in business markets?
Societies need functioning business markets, and business markets need functioning societies. We all can contribute to understand business markets better, and to develop them. It is hard to point at single opportunities—the great thing is that there is plenty to work with.
You have attended CBIM International Conference several times and served as guest speaker? Why would you recommend participating in CBIM2021?
The CBIM International Conference has always been a great place to meet and discuss ideas. Friendly and ambitious, cozy and insightful, social and professional. Or in other words: a great conference for meeting interesting colleagues and for developing ideas and agendas in an enjoyable atmosphere.
What message do you have for young researchers on marketing?
Despite the focus on tenure track and top-level publications, try to enjoy research and only engage in topics that are interesting for you. I fully support high ambitions and performance but only as a result of personally engaging research. There is lots of talk about that research must matter in society. I agree—and it must matter for the researcher.