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Title: A re-evaluation of the relevance to key account management to the UK higher education sector
Author: Harden, G. R.
Awarding Body: Nottingham Trent University
Current Institution: Nottingham Trent University
Date of Award: 2010
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This research set out to explore the nature of business-to-business (B2B) relationships in the UK higher education postgraduate sector. More specifically, it sought to address the strategic issue of how relationships between a UK business school (in this case, Nottingham Business School) and its corporate clients could be organised and managed effectively over the longer-term in order to provide, maintain or, where appropriate, enhance the mutual satisfaction of all parties concerned. It is argued that such research is relevant and timely given that revenue generated from commercial activity (third stream income) is considered increasingly vital to UK business schools as they attempt to remain financially solvent in a toughening market that is faced with the additional threat of longer-term reductions in Higher Education Funding Council grants (Watling et al., 2003; Prince, 2004; Prince, 2007). It is not only commercial activity that would appear to be a relatively underdeveloped activity in most new universities (Prince, 2004). B2B literature shows little or no research into business relationships within the UK corporate education sector (Murray and Underhill, 2002). Additionally, Ellis and Mayer (2001) and Wright (2004) are typical of those calling for more research across different B2B sectors. Having scoped the research problem (Document 1) and undertaken a critical review of the B2B relationship marketing literature (Document 2), exploratory qualitative research in Document 3 focused on NBS lecturers with responsibility for managing both open and client-specific postgraduate programmes. Whilst previous commercial experience and academic expertise were thought to lend weight and respectability to the client manager’s position, social and inter-personal aspects were felt to exert a greater influence on the relationship. However, a number of barriers are likely to hinder the successful development of commercial relationships. Some of these are external (e.g. sudden and unexpected adverse trading conditions or a more general economic downturn), others are more or less self-inflicted (e.g. lack of senior management support or a tendency to overload the client manager job role). Client managers were also more likely to adopt a positive attitude to business development if they were rewarded appropriately. Document 4 enabled some of these issues to be explored further through quantitative survey-based research that benefited from the inclusion of a number of corporate clients as well as client managers from other higher education institutions. An initial review of the B2B relationship marketing literature had identified a number of dimensions that were thought vital to relationship formation and development: attraction, atmosphere, social bonds, trust and commitment. Of these, social bonds were thought to have the greatest impact. However, the research suggested that it was actually the attraction dimension that figured most prominently, with all parties appearing to value intuition (or ‘gut feel’), personal chemistry, a sense of humour and a charismatic personality as core ingredients in relationship formation. Interestingly, closer economic ties were considered more relevant than social bonds. The research also tackled a number of issues ranging from the strategic development of the relationship portfolio through to operational matters such as whether appropriate incentives (financial or otherwise) should be offered to client managers. Whilst it was reassuring to note that half of the respondents believed senior managers provided reasonable support and investment for commercial relationships, this support did not necessarily extend to financial and other incentives for client managers themselves. From the outset, this study was designed to conclude with an exploration and reappraisal of the strategic relevance to a UK business school of the Key Account Management concept. Thus, Document 5 focused on the relevance of the concept for Nottingham Business School, as seen through the eyes of the academics adjudged to be occupying key account management roles. On the face of it, many of the elements of KAM appear to have the potential to be adapted to fit a business school environment. Nevertheless, this study suggests that the KAM journey is likely to be a long, arduous and challenging one. Indeed, KAM represents a bold strategic move for an organisation like Nottingham Business School and would require significant investment in both people and support systems in order to flourish. Unfortunately, there is no guarantee of a short-term return on that investment. Equally, when the potential barriers to KAM implementation are considered - particularly the longer term problem of encouraging commercial flair and developing business acumen in an entrenched academic culture - the task confronting senior managers would appear to be a challenging one. Consequently, it would be no surprise to see a KAM strategy overlooked in favour of a simpler, more cost-effective alternative.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (D.B.A.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available