Guest article by Laura Colm, finalist of the 2022 SERVSIG Best Dissertation Award.

Due to increased competition and commoditization threats, a growing number of manufacturing firms is turning to solution-offerings, with the aim of integrating products and services to provide an innovative and differentiated response to their customers’ requests. Despite its attractiveness, such a business model change is not easy to implement, and the expected success often fails to materialize (Fang, Palmatier, and Steenkamp 2008; Nezami, Worm, and Palmatier 2018). In fact, the shift from a product to a solution not only entails changes in internal strategies and structures but also represents a radical change in the supplier-customer relationship. For instance, solutions imply a more intense co-creation between solution-actors, change their role within the relationship and necessarily unfold over time, thus requiring a continuous bilateral adaptation. However, despite the great attention that the solution-topic gained over time, solution development has not yet been sufficiently investigated from a supplier-customer relationship standpoint (Tuli, Kohli, and Bharadwaj 2007). 

This gap ultimately inspired my Ph.D. research and allowed me to deep-dive into a fascinating and relevant topic, both from an academic and a managerial standpoint. My Ph.D. position got sponsored by a worldwide leading B2B company that was undergoing a transition process from being a “traditional” manufacturer to becoming a solution-provider, and I also got the amazing opportunity to get in touch and exchange thoughts with the welcoming and insightful SERVSIG community.

So, the research I conducted for my dissertation entitled “The development of solution-offerings from a relationship management perspective” (with my supervisor Prof. Torsten Bornemann and with Prof. Andrea Ordanini), adopted a relational governance-perspective to investigate the following questions: (1) Which are the governance tensions associated with solutions development at the relational level?; (2) Which are the counteracting governance mechanisms that actors should match to those tensions, in order to successfully resolve them?; (3) How do governance tensions evolve over the solution development process and how should mechanisms be adjusted accordingly?

Working on the solution development topic and focusing especially on the relational-governance aspect of it, has taught me (and made me understand even better!) the importance of the human component when it comes to the implementation of complex projects, in which a services logic becomes predominant. For this reason, I am continuing to further explore product-service solution development and the underlying supplier-customer relationship also in my current research, e.g., against the backdrop of increasing market uncertainty (due to Covid-19, international conflicts, supply chain constraints, electrification, etc.) and in the light of growing digitalization and omnichannel trends, as these have a strong impact on how companies and managers jointly develop solutions. Should anybody share my interest in this fascinating domain, I would be delighted to exchange thoughts, as well as share my experience with prospective Ph.D. students from the service community that might consider product-service solutions as their research focus.

Laura Colm
Researcher in Marketing and Sales
SDA Bocconi School of Management

Photo credit: Dylan Gillis