Emotions in B2B relationship recovery

Deirdre Fleming, Felicity Kelliher, Jaana Tahtinen

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Emotions in B2B Relationship Recovery

Deirdre Fleming, Jaana Tahtinen, Felicity Kelliher

The role of emotions in business-to-business (B2B) relationships as a research focus is gaining interest among business marketing scholars (Kiely, 2005; Anderson & Kumar, 2006; Kemp et al., 2018; Tuzovic et al., 2022). Within management and consumer marketing research, emotions been studied in various contexts for over 40 years, however, within business marketing, the ‘rational’ businessperson has remained the most common view despite calls for more focus on the emotional side of B2B relations (e.g. Bagozzi, Gopinath, & Nyer, 1999; Musarra, 2022).

Some of the early adopters is sales research. Strutton, Pelton, & Lumpkin (1993) studied salespersons’ ability to gain the trust, placing the focus on the customers’ emotions. Later, Verbeke & Bagozzi (2003) shifts the focus on salespeople and their embarrassment, triggered by either the customer or the salesperson themselves. On the other side of the dyad, Kemp, Borders, Anaza, & Johnston (2018) show how emotions influence the industrial buyers’ decision-making in every stage of the process. In this stream, the rationale for studying affect and emotions relates mostly to the salesforce performance and managing the buyers’ emotions, but also to well-being at work (e.g. Bande, Fernández-Ferrín, Varela, & Jaramillo, 2015).

Both parties’ and all boundary spanners’ emotions during long-term relationships appear rather late into this research field; examples include Andersen and Kumar (2006) and Tähtinen and Blois (2011). Although a small number of studies have shed light on both actors’ emotions and their role at different phases of business relationships, much is still to be discovered.

This study addresses the role of emotions in B2B relationship recovery, a process during which the relationship is being saved from ending. This process remains the least studied of business relationship phases. This focus connects two understudied aspects; emotions and B2B relationship recovery. The research asks; i) what are the emotions evident in B2B relationship recovery?, and ii) What roles do these emotions play in B2B relationship recovery?

This study is exploratory, using a grounded theory approach and narrative interviews of owner-managers of small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs). These narratives are about business relationships that were in danger of ending, but instead were restored. The stories were told without the interviewer asking anything about the emotions that were involved, thus, their verbal expression, such as the following, are natural parts of the stories, experienced and/or expressed at the time.“… well I probably lost it a little bit, and … he lost it completely, “Don’t speak to a supplier like that” and “I am your customer, and how dare you speak to me …” Owner manager, SME

We take a holistic view and are interested in what role both negative and positive emotions play in; i) the decision to try to restore the relationship, and ii) in the other actions that unfold during a process of restoration. Negative emotions seem to be mostly triggered by the reasons the relationship runs into severe troubles (as in the example above) or unsuccessful attempts of recovery, and positive emotions are mostly triggered by successful recovery actions.

This study follows Lazarus (1991) and views emotions as an inherent part of all healthy human beings, critical in how we interpret and navigate our surroundings. Thus, the context and the situation trigger and shape human emotions. Emotions are short lived, they consist of an evaluation of the current situation and bodily sensations and tend to guide our subsequent actions (Frijda, 2007; Salmela, 2006). However, not all emotions that are experienced become expressed, particularly if the person perceives that the situation and the expression rules guide her/him into doing emotion work, in other words hiding one’s emotions or expressing another emotion instead. Based on our findings, we do not always act the way the experienced emotion suggests and those emotions that were not expressed may come to the surface later on (see Tähtinen & Blois, 2011), offering a more diverse view to the phenomenon.

At this point, the end results of the study are yet to be found. The aim of the study is to offer as comprehensive picture as possible on the various roles that emotions play in B2B relationship recovery.


Andersen, P. H., & Kumar, R. (2006). Emotions, trust and relationship development in business relationships: A conceptual model for buyer–seller dyads. Industrial Marketing Management, 35(4), 522-535.

Bagozzi, R. P., Gopinath, M., & Nyer, P. U. (1999). The role of emotions in marketing. Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, 27(2), 184-206.

Bande, B., Fernández-Ferrín, P., Varela, J. A., & Jaramillo, F. (2015). Emotions and salesperson propensity to leave: The effects of emotional intelligence and resilience. Industrial Marketing Management, 44, 142-153.

Frijda, N. H. (2007). The laws of emotion. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Publishers.

Kiely, J. A. (2005) Emotions in business-to-business service relationships, The Service Industries Journal, 25(3), 373-390.

Kemp, E.A., Borders, A.L., Anaza, N.A. and Johnston, W.J. (2018). The heart in organizational buying: marketers’ understanding of emotions and decision-making of buyers. Journal of Business & Industrial Marketing, 33(1), 19-28.

Lazarus, R. S. (1991). Emotion and adaptation. Oxford University Press.

Musarra, G., Kadile, V., Zaefarian, G., Oghazi, P. and Najafi-Tavani, Z., 2022. Emotions, culture intelligence, and mutual trust in technology business relationships. Technological Forecasting and Social Change, 181, p.121770.

Salmela, M. (2006). True Emotions. The Philosophical Quarterly 56, 382–405.

Strutton, D., Pelton, L. E., & Lumpkin, J. R. (1993). The relationship between psychological climate and salesperson-sales manager trust in sales organizations. Journal of Personal Selling & Sales Management, 13(4), 1-14.

Tähtinen, J., & Blois, K. (2011). The involvement and influence of emotions in problematic business relationships. Industrial Marketing Management, 40(6), 907-918.

Tuzovic, S., Mulcahy, R. and Russell-Bennett, R., 2022. A hostile tale of disclosure and betrayal: Business perceptions of offshoring services. Industrial Marketing Management, 102, pp.74-88.

Verbeke, W., & Bagozzi, R. P. (2003). Exploring the role of self-and customer-provoked embarrassment in personal selling. International Journal of Research in Marketing, 20(3), 233-258.

Original languageEnglish (Ireland)
Title of host publicationIMP Conference
PublisherIMP Conference
Number of pages3
Publication statusPublished - 28 Aug 2023


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