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Rethinking Customer Solutions: From Product Bundles to Relational Processes

Rethinking Customer Solutions: From Product Bundles to Relational Processes

Kapil R. Tuli, Ajay K. Kohli and Sundar G. Bharadwaj

JM Insights in the Classroom

Teaching Insights:

Insight 1: Whereas most suppliers think of solutions as customized and integrated product bundles, customers tend to think of them as comprised of four relational processes of (1) requirements definition, (2) customization and integration, (3) deployment, and (4) post-deployment support.

Insight 2: It is important for a solution provider to choose customers who are likely to be adaptive, willing to share information about their operations, and guide the solution provider about their internal politics that could derail the solution.

Insight 3: A solution provider can encourage its autonomous business units to provide effective solutions through (a) shared performance metrics and context-specific team leadership, (b) solution documentation and retention of customer-facing employees, and (c) articulating a solution’s work flow and responsibilities.


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Related Marketing Courses: ​
Business-to-Business Marketing; Marketing Strategy; Services Marketing

Full Citation:
Tuli, Kapil R., Ajay K. Kohli, and Sundar G. Bharadwaj (2007), “Rethinking Customer Solutions: From Product Bundles to Relational Processes.” Journal of Marketing, 70 (3), 1-17.

Article Abstract
This study draws on depth interviews with 49 managers in customer firms and 55 managers in supplier firms and on discussions with 21 managers in two focus groups to propose a new way of thinking about customer solutions. Extant literature and suppliers interviewed for this study view a solution as a customized and integrated combination of goods and services for meeting a customer’s business needs. In contrast, customers view a solution as a set of customer–supplier relational processes comprising (1) customer requirements definition, (2) customization and integration of goods and/or services and (3) their deployment, and (4) postdeployment customer support, all of which are aimed at meeting customers’ business needs. The relational process view can help suppliers deliver more effective solutions at profitable prices. In addition, field research suggests that the effectiveness of a solution depends not only on supplier variables but also on several customer variables. Supplier variables include contingent hierarchy, documentation emphasis, incentive externality, customer interactor stability, and process articulation. Customer variables include adaptiveness to supplier offerings and political and operational counseling that a customer provides to a supplier. Several of these variables underscore the importance of suppliers developing social capital with customers. The authors discuss implications for solution suppliers and identify areas for further research.  

Special thanks to Kelley Gullo, a Ph.D. candidate at Duke University, for her support in working with authors on submissions to this program. 

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Kapil R. Tuli is Lee Kong Chian Professor of Marketing, Singapore Management University, Singapore.

Ajay K. Kohli is Regents Professor, Gary T. and Elizabeth R. Jones Chair and Professor of Marketing, Georgia Institute of Technology, USA.