Relationships with external partners can provide several benefits for firms. To obtain such benefits, firms must develop competencies and capabilities that enhance their ability to create and capture value in inter-organizational collaborations. In this article, we focus on one of these capabilities: alliance proactiveness. Drawing on configuration theory, we examine the performance effects of alliance proactiveness within the broader context of the firm and its market environment. Using a sample of 68 firms involved in technology transfer, we examine the interplay between alliance proactiveness and two major sets of factors—organizational factors and environmental factors—to identify configurations sufficient for market performance. The findings of a fuzzy-set Qualitative Comparative Analysis indicate the co-existence of alternative configurations for market performance that differ in their particular composition but are consistently sufficient pathways to market performance. Knowledge of these configurations yields novel insights into the complex pattern of causal factors and helps develop factor constellations in which alliance proactiveness is indeed effective and enhances market performance.
Many firms form intricate webs of relationships (Möller & Halinen, 1999), involving multiple and diverse alliances with different partners (Wassmer, 2010), to improve their resource base and cope with increasingly demanding environments. For example, in the information technology industry, IBM and Twitter recently formed an alliance to mutually share access to technological platforms for collecting customer data, cloud technologies, and knowledge about data analysis (IBM, 2014). A possible reason for these activities is that “[n]ow more than ever, many of the skills and resources essential to a company's future prosperity lie outside the firm's boundaries, and outside management's direct control” (Doz & Hamel, 1998, p. 9). External networks can provide several benefits for firms, including legitimacy attributions, access to information, sources for organizational learning, and the provision of resources and capabilities necessary to compete effectively in increasingly dynamic and competitive markets (Hitt, Ireland, Camp, & Sexton, 2001). To realize such benefits from relationships, network literature (e.g., Forkmann, Henneberg, Naudé, & Mitrega, 2016; Mitrega, Forkmann, Ramos, & Henneberg, 2012; Ritter & Gemünden, 2003, 2004) and alliance management literature (e.g., Anand & Khanna, 2000; Kale, Dyer, & Singh, 2002; Lambe, Spekman, & Hunt, 2002; Schilke & Goerzen, 2010) underscore the need to develop firm-level competencies or capabilities that enhance firms' ability to generate and capture value in inter-organizational relationships. In this research, we focus on one of these capabilities—namely, alliance proactiveness. Alliance proactiveness refers to firms' efforts “to identify potentially valuable partnering opportunities, and to initiate preemptive actions in response to identified opportunities” (Sarkar, Echambadi, & Harrison, 2001, p. 702). The ability of firms to identify alliance opportunities and form access relationships into relevant resources and know-how is one of the key factors of alliance success (Lambe & Spekman, 1997; Park, Chen, & Gallagher, 2002). When firms are unable to develop needed resources internally, external partners may provide such inputs and add to or complement the internal resource basis to fill resource gaps (Teng, 2007). The selection of partners influences the mix of available skills and resources and affects firms' abilities to achieve strategic objectives (Geringer, 1991). Firms that are proactive in forming alliances enjoy first-mover advantages in the strategic factor market of alliance partners—that is, “the set of potential collaborator firms that are compatible and possess required strategic resources” (Sarkar, Aulakh, & Madhok, 2009, p. 587), which can lead to higher market performance (Sarkar et al., 2001).