Professor of Marketing Sandy Jap is one of the co-founders of the Emory Marketing Analytics Center and recently published a new book Partnering with the Frenemy: A Framework for Managing Business Relationships, Minimizing Conflict, and Achieving Partnering Success. She spoke with Business Librarian Saira Raza about her research and journey to academia.
GBL: You started out in sales and then decided to pursue a PhD in marketing. Was that something you always saw yourself doing, or was it something you discovered later on?
SJ: Getting a PhD was never anything that I thought about doing in advance. When I say I was in sales, it was very, very part-time, because I was also working for a bank. But what happened when I was working at that bank was I realized that I actually needed a master’s degree to get to the job that I wanted, something a little more satisfying than what I was doing and to give me more options. So that’s why I decided I would get a master’s degree, but my test scores were really, really bad. I couldn’t get into a good MBA program, but I had a really good GPA at the University of Florida. So they let me in because they knew me and they knew I was a really good student. And then while I was there, the faculty encouraged me to join the PhD program, and I discovered I really, really liked it! It was amazing! But it was something that I discovered in a very serendipitous way. There was absolutely no strategy, no plan whatsoever.
GBL: The core theme of your book is trust. What piqued your interest in this topic? And what attracted you to explore the “frenemy” dynamic in particular?
SJ: When I was completing my PhD and writing my dissertation, it was kind of the “heyday” of partnering. In other words, there was a lot of talk in the marketplace about how to create successful partnerships. There was this recognition that there was more to transactions than just the money part. You have to get the relationship part to work as well. There was a lot of talk at that time about trust. So I completed my dissertation related to that topic. I was also interested not just in how people build up relationships, but also in how they broke down because it seemed to me that this was a different phenomenon than just building them up. I ended up publishing a number of papers related to the dissolution or breakdown of relationships, and over time, about 20 plus years, I realized that there was a lot of my research that would help managers, but then no manager would ever read my technical papers. And they would never be able to figure out that the inverted quadratic in my estimation results actually had important implications for them. So that’s when I decided to write the book, to make that research more accessible and to be able to see the light of day.
GBL: Since about 2008 there’s been a huge decline in trust between customers and the market, especially the financial industry. Can you talk a little bit about how your research explains some of what’s going on and what needs to happen in order to get to a better place?
SJ: Usually “frenemy” is something between two parties that are partners that are transacting together. But I can definitely talk about this issue of lost trust, which generalizes even beyond that. What the research shows is that once trust is lost, it’s very difficult to regain or rebuild that trust. It’s not that it can’t be done, but it has to be done slowly and over time in incremental steps. Let me give you an example. What often happens is when you have a consistent or regular partner, you kind of know what to expect from them. So let’s say you have the wife who enjoys getting fresh flowers, and the husband who doesn’t like to give fresh flowers because he believes it’s a gift that is wasteful because they die in a few days. So after 10 years of marriage, he comes home, and he has a huge bouquet of roses for her. You can think of this as he’s trying to improve the relationship by building up the level of trust in her “love bank account.” But the problem with that is trust is not just like a bank account. Trust is more like the water level in a bathtub. He can’t just come along one day and make a big deposit and her trust and love will be very high. Instead, the way to build trust is to make small regular deposits over time. So if you think of a bathtub and the bath water level in the tub, it builds very slowly with regular deposits of water from the spigot. But once you release the plug, it will drain much faster than it will build up. And that’s the dynamic nature of trust. What that means then is trust is harder to regain or build up than it is to lose. If you’ve lost faith in the government and in the market and in the financial industry, it will take much longer to restore and gain that faith back. And even if they were to do some grand gesture to give you a really sweet deal on a house loan or something like that, your trust wouldn’t be rebuilt instantaneously. In fact, you might be worse off because you might be suspicious. So when your partner is too good and it goes way beyond your expectations, then you’re almost worse off. That means you really have to build trust in increments over time.
GBL: On that point, what you’re emphasizing is that there’s more to these relationships than just the economics. As an educator, how do you get that concept across to your students?
SJ: MBA programs are usually 99% focused on the economics of a business situation. And so students know that part very well. What I often do with my students in my channel strategy class is I will have them play a simulation with each other where they will have to work with another firm in order to make money. For example, you might be either a re-seller or a supplier. The re-seller is not able to manufacture the products it needs to go to market with, but it does all the marketing and is customer facing. The supplier doesn’t touch the customer, but they can always sell the product through the re-seller. So it forces them to have to work together, and what they will inevitably find when they engage in the simulation is that a lot of things can go wrong, and it has nothing to do with the economics of what they’re doing. It often has to do with their perception of what they believe their partner is like. They might mistakenly attribute a partner’s words or intentions as either good or bad. Or sometimes the partner may have some kind of a throw away statement that they totally took out of context. Or a partner may even fail to do something that is expected. For example, if a partner doesn’t speak with them frequently enough, they might start to think that partner is not interested. Whereas, the partner is thinking, I’m not going to bother them, I’ll allow them to make their analysis so they can make a good strong decision. A situation like that is completely misinterpreted. And that’s one of the key things that comes out of the simulation experience. Students realize that there are a lot of little inadvertent things that happen between us or that are said that really make our business hard. And maybe it’s just that one party is more price focused and the other one is trying to be a good partner and one party isn’t really that interested. Those kinds of missed connections help people to realize that even though they were just little things, they really did have an impact.
GBL: You’ve been at Goizueta for about 15 years now. What have been some of the highlights of your experience here?
SJ: What I like about Goizueta is that it gives me a lot of freedom to try and experience different things without a lot of bureaucracy. For example, I was able in about 2010 along with Doug Bowman to establish the Marketing Analytics Center in the Goizueta Business School, which is now a strategic priority of the school. They gave me the freedom to write a book for managers, which I thought was really important. They have allowed me to teach the classes and content I would like to teach. And they always rewarded me for engaging in research and knowledge creation and things like that. While at the same time, they are not overly burdensome in terms of the amount of service commitments and teaching commitments that they expect from me.
GBL: Aside from your own, what is your favorite business book and why?
SJ: Geez, I have to narrow it down to one! Let me think…there are so many that I really, really like. A large area of my work and research is on an issue called channel management strategy. And it’s basically how firms go to market, whether they do it directly through a sales force or through retailer or whether they go through distributors then retailers, etc. It’s a topic that many people don’t know about unless you went to business school. And even within the business school, a lot of students don’t know this because the class is not widely taught. So believe it or not one of my favorite books is a text book by Burt Rosenbloom called Marketing Channel Management. Usually this area of research is very hard for people to understand because there’s a lot of jargon, and if you’re not in that area, this stuff seems impenetrable. What I really like about this text book is it explains very clearly what this area of channel management strategy is all about, the trade-offs that you face, and why it’s important. I have sent a lot of people to that text book over the years who have had questions about strategy or how to think about it, or even as a primer to the area.
GBL: What are three words that come to mind when you think of the business library?
SJ: Very helpful librarians – every time I email you guys for help or advice, I always get an immediate response, and you guys always, always try to help me out. So that’s what I think of first. All of the librarians are so helpful. And even the document delivery, which I love, love, love because if I need something and I can’t find on my own, you guys will get it to me. The first five years I was here, I didn’t even know where the library was because I never had to leave my office. I think that’s so amazing! I tell everybody how helpful you guys are. When I finally discovered you guys were actually right across the street, I was amazed! I had no idea what that building was!