Relationship quality between small and medium-sized enterprise partners during threatening times: the role of contact frequency and social exchanges

N. Leila Trapp*, Poul Erik Flyvholm Jørgensen, Gert Tinggaard Svendsen, Line Skov

*Corresponding author af dette arbejde

Publikation: Bidrag til tidsskrift/Konferencebidrag i tidsskrift /Bidrag til avisTidsskriftartikelForskningpeer review


Purpose: The United Kingdom’s European Union membership referendum, which marked the end of UK membership in the European Union, created much uncertainty amongst those British and European business practitioners who were accustomed to conducting trade with partners across The North Sea. This exogenous threat to business was subsequently compounded by another serious threat: the COVID-19 pandemic. Knowing that business-to-business (B2B) relationships are particularly important for the success of small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), and that exogenous threats in the business environment can threaten these relationships, the purpose of this study is to examine whether frequent contact and social exchanges between partners on a range of topics, during threatening times, are positively linked to the relationship qualities of trust, satisfaction, and commitment.
Methodology/approach: Guided by an explorative, expert interview with a Danish SME owner-manager (OM) who has a great deal of experience conducting business with UK partners, a questionnaire was developed to examine two variables which seemingly play central roles with regard to supporting business relationships during threatening times: contact frequency (how often partners are in contact), and contact scope (how often B2B partners talk together about topics which are social in nature). The questionnaire was administered to 193 Danish SME owners and managers who had British business partners at the time of the BREXIT referendum and the COVID-19 pandemic.
Findings: The questionnaire revealed a positive relationship between contact frequency and relationship satisfaction and commitment, as well as a positive relationship between contact scope and relationship commitment. However, no significant relationships were found between contact frequency nor contact scope, on the one hand, and the level of trust between business partners on the other.
Research implications: This study has underscored the usefulness of studying social exchanges, and not just information exchanges, as they are an important, relationship-strengthening aspect of B2B communication. Indeed, while the central role played by informational exchanges in building quality relationships, including trusting relationships, is well-documented, this study increases our understanding of the value of social exchanges to business relationship quality; in particular, their noteworthy link to B2B partners’ willingness to go to great lengths to maintain relationships during challenging times.
Practical implications: Our findings indicate that simply being in contact with B2B partners and speaking about topics that are not directly related to business is not, on its own, a sufficient means of establishing trusting relationships; however, it is nonetheless worthwhile to take the time to nurture personal relationships with B2B partners. Just a modest amount of contact is positively related to relationship satisfaction, as well as relationship commitment, which can be crucial when unforeseen and threatening times inevitably arise in the business environment.
Contribution of the paper:
Besides enhancing our understanding of the value of frequent and social exchanges in terms of relationship quality, this paper also illustrates a useful means of studying social aspects of business relationships, which are notoriously difficult to study. This is accomplished via a questionnaire study in which respondents are asked to concretely reflect upon and report on the frequency and nature of their contact with specific B2B partners.
TidsskriftJournal of Business-to-Business Marketing
Sider (fra-til)187-200
Antal sider14
StatusUdgivet - aug. 2023


  • SMEs
  • business-to-business relationships; social exchanges; relationship quality; SMEs; communication; relationship commitment; relationship satisfaction
  • relationship commitment
  • social exchanges


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