This paper assesses the supply of business advice using new empirical evidence from a large‐scale survey of SMEs. The chief focus of the paper is on a comparison of suppliers that operate in different environments of regulation, contract and reputation. The paper argues that interaction intensity varies with the level of information asymmetry of these different environments, between different types of service supplier and their clients. Interaction intensity between suppliers also varies as a result of the level of trust they enjoy: for example, the low trust enjoyed by consultants appears to encourage higher intensity of interaction which improves the tailoring of the service to the client's needs and enhances impact. The paper assesses interaction intensity using the existence of site visits and/or a written brief/contract as indicators. Although these measures have limitations, the paper demonstrates clear and significant differences between suppliers in terms of interaction intensity, use of contracts and impact in three broad categories: private‐sector consultancy (low trust, high intensity, high impact), business associations (high trust, low intensity, moderate impact) and government support agencies (moderate trust, moderate to high intensity, moderate or low impact). Multivariate estimation methods demonstrate that significant differences in interaction intensity, use of contracts and impact by client type are much less important than differences in supplier type. This indicates that suppliers generally develop more into niche service fields or groups of services rather than niches related to types of firm.
British Journal of Management – Wiley
Published: Dec 1, 1999
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