Sales and distribution coopetition

Heads: E. Pellegrin-Boucher

Coopetition is a strategy which allows to combine cooperation and competition advantages. When coopetition concerns sales and distribution, or business development, it is sometimes analysed as commercial coopetition or sales and distribution coopetition (Pellegrin-Boucher, Le Roy, Gurau, 2018).

It could be internal – within an organisation – for example when different distribution channels are both in cooperation and in competition. It corresponds as well to cooperative relationships between competitors that join forces to sell products or services together. This kind of practice is particularly widespread in the IT sector and every B to B line of sector, with or without tender procedure (public procurement, services, cultural and creative industries, etc.). We can think of Microsoft, IBM, Oracle, SAP or Orange, Cisco, Intel, Google that maintain large networks or ecosystems of competing partners. Recent studies have found that commercial coopetition grows in other sectors and that it represents the largest number of coopetition cases.

The “Observatoire des Alliances, des Partenariats et de la Coopetition” (Observatory of Alliances, Partnerships and Coopetition) – OBSAP – emphasised the importance of these strategies and their spread within companies. It is in particular the case with SMEs as a result of the need to reach a critical size, to offer a larger range of products to clients and to win new markets (Blavet, Pellegrin-Boucher, Le Roy, 2019). But commercial coopetition now concerns all companies and all business sectors even though this strategy has been very little studied. To overcome this lack of research we propose to study two main dimensions:

  1. Specificities and forms of strategies. The first research focus aims to investigate different types of commercial coopetition into different business lines. It is a question of analysing characteristics and specificities. The objective is also to understand steps and dynamics of these relations in specific and complex environments: public procurement, industry or cross-industry business ecosystems, multi-partner sales and distribution alliances and partnerships, etc. What are the determinants and forms of these relationships? Are there specificities related to the sector, the nature of the activity (products and services) or the type of business (large groups versus SMEs or VSEs, etc.)? What are the links between coopetition and CSR, ecology, ethic, etc.? Finally, we would like to analyse their impact on company’s performance, clients’ satisfaction, but also in terms of creativity or innovation (managerial innovation, products innovation, green innovation, etc.). What are the implications of commercial coopetition on firms’ business model?
  1. Commercial coopetition management. The second research focus is the management of these complex and paradoxical relationships. Cooperating with a competitor cannot be improvised. That’s why managers should be aware of the difficulty of implementing this type of strategy. Moreover, it is a strategy that generates tensions most of the time. These tensions can arise within the organisation between individuals from different services or between individuals belonging to separate businesses. The questions that demand answers are: what are these tensions? How to reduce or manage them? What are the impacts in the organisations? It seems also important to be interested in people who manage these relationships even though researches on alliance and partner managers are still rare (Bell et al, 2013 ; Blanchot, 2006 ; Kin, 2016 ; Pellegrin-Boucher et al, 2010 ; Simoons, 2014). It would be relevant to develop a thorough knowledge of this profession at the border of the organisation. The emergence of these new professions in innovative sectors (IT, IoT, telecoms, etc.) raises questions about the role and contribution of these actors in business agility (Pellegrin-Boucher et Fenneteau, 2007). Finally, from a managerial point of view, it would also be appropriate to develop a strategic approach to the tools and methods that make it possible to effectively manage these particular coopetitive situations.