Thomas Hollmann, North Carolina State University
Cheryl Burke Jarvis, Southern Illinois University
Mary Jo Bitner, Arizona State University

Qualitative field research based on long depth interviews with business-to-business customers who defected from a supplier relationship is used to develop an integrated theoretical framework explaining how the defection decision process unfolds over time in business-to-business relationships. The authors develop a taxonomy of events, both internal and external to the relationship, that are proposed to create “defection energy,” or the motivation to move a customer from relationship status quo toward a defection decision. The framework illustrates how these internal and external events interact with the organization’s and the individual decision maker’s goals, practices, and values to engage a dynamic anchoring and updating mechanism based on accumulated defection energy that drives the process toward a decision threshold. The research offers marketers insights to improve defection management, including an understanding of how organizational and individual customer needs shape relationships; that defection decisions build as a result of multiple events over time, requiring a longer-term perspective on defection; and that defection decisions can be influenced by events outside the core product or service delivery process, suggesting that these decisions need to be understood within the broader context of the overall relationship.


Hollmann, Thomas, Cheryl Burke Jarvis, and Mary Jo Bitner (2015), “Reaching the Breaking Point: A Dynamic Process Theory of Business-to-Business Customer Defection,” Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, 257-278.