New product development commercialisation of Industry 4.0 products: evidence from a B2B Italian SME

  • Andrea Sabatini
  • Sara Bartoloni
  • Gian Luca Gregori
Keywords: industry 4.0 product; commercialization; SME; new product development


Purpose of the paper: The Industry 4.0 paradigm entails tremendous business opportunities. However, SMEs are struggling to effectively commercialize new products embedding Industry 4.0 technologies. Therefore, the study aims at exploring how SMEs manage the commercialization of Industry 4.0 new products to provide a thorough understanding of the main issues and barriers they face.

Methodology: The study adopts a single case study of an Italian SMEs. Data have been analyzed through an abductive approach. The novelty of the topic calls for an explorative study consistent with the methodologies adopted.

Results: The study finds several barriers and issues related to internal and external factors. Barriers and issues might be overcome if SMEs develop external partnerships to compensate their typical scarcity of resources. The firm faced the coronavirus pandemic, which highlighted further threats hidden into the commercialization process.

Research limitations: The study design is qualitative in nature, limiting the generalization of the findings. The internal perspective and the specific study contexts also offer new avenues for future. research.

Practical implications: The study provides several insights to support SMEs in their commercialization processes of new Industry 4.0 technological products. The study highlights the pivotal role of strategy and planning as well as marketing activities.

Originality of the paper: The study contributes to the new product commercialization and Industry 4.0 literature by unravelling potential issues and barriers that innovator SMEs might encounter when commercializing new products that fall into the Industry 4.0 paradigm. The article provides a novel perspective as the extant NPD literature focuses on start-ups or large corporations, while the Industry 4.0 literature has been neglecting the commercialization process.


ARIKKA-STENROOS L., SANDBERG B. (2012), “From new-product development to commercialization through networks”, Journal of Business Research, vol. 65, n. 2, pp. 198-206.

AARIKKA-STENROOS L., SANDBERG B., LEHTIMÄKI T. (2014), “Networks for the commercialization of innovations: A review of how divergent network actors contribute”, Industrial Marketing Management, vol. 43, n. 3, pp. 365-381.

AARIKKA-STENROOS L., LEHTIMÄKI T. (2014), “Commercializing a radical innovation: Probing the way to the market”, Industrial Marketing Management, vol. 43, n. 8, pp. 1372-1384.

AARIKKA-STENROOS L., JAAKKOLA E., HARRISON D., MÄKITALO-KEINONEN T. (2017), “How to manage innovation processes in extensive networks: A longitudinal study”, Industrial Marketing Management, n. 67, pp. 88-105.

AGOSTINI L., NOSELLA A. (2019), “The adoption of Industry 4.0 technologies in SMEs: results of an international study”, Management Decision, vol. 58, n. 4, pp. 625-643.

AKANMU A., ANUMBA C.J. (2015), “Cyber-physical systems integration of building information models and the physical construction”, Engineering, Construction and Architectural Management, vol. 22, n. 5, pp. 516-535.

ALDRICH H., AUSTER E.R. (1986), “Even dwarfs started small: Liabilities of age and size and their strategic implications”, Research in Organizational Behavior, vol. 8, pp. 165-198.

ASHTON K. (2009), “That ‘internet of things’ thing”, RFID Journal, vol. 22, n. 7, pp. 97-114.

BAG S., TELUKDARIE A., PRETORIUS J.H.C., GUPTA S. (2018), “Industry 4.0 and supply chain sustainability: framework and future research directions”, Benchmarking: An International Journal, Vol. ahead-of-print No. ahead-of-print.

BOLLWEG L., LACKES R., SIEPERMANN M., WEBER P. (2020), “Drivers and barriers of the digitalization of local owner operated retail outlets”, Journal of Small Business and Entrepreneurship, vol. 32, n. 2, pp. 173-201.

BOUWMAN H., NIKOU S., DE REUVER M. (2019), “Digitalization, business models, and SMEs: How do business model innovation practices improve performance of digitalizing SMEs?”, Telecommunications Policy, vol. 43 n. 9 pp. 101828.

BURRITT R., CHRIST K. (2016), “Industry 4.0 and environmental accounting: a new revolution?”, Asian Journal of Sustainability and Social Responsibility, vol. 1, n. 1, pp. 23.

CARTER W., JACKSON G. (2018, July), “Clockspeed and Cooperation: Incumbent Motives to Participate in the Market for Ideas”, Academy of Management Proceedings, vol. 2018, n. 1, p. 10340.

CHESBROUGH H., VANHAVERBEKE W., WEST J. (Eds.) (2006), Open innovation: Researching a new paradigm, Oxford University Press on Demand.

CHRISTENSEN C.M. (2013), “The innovator’s dilemma: when new technologies cause great firms to fail”, Harvard Business Review Press, Boston, Massachusetts.

COOPER R.G. (2008), “Perspective: The stage-gate® idea-to-launch process-update, what’s new, and nexgen systems”, Journal of Product Innovation Management, vol. 25, n. 3, pp. 213-232.

COOPER R.G. (2019), “The drivers of success in new-product development”, Industrial Marketing Management, n. 76, pp. 36-47.

CORBIN J., STRAUSS A. (2015), Basics of qualitative research, Sage: Thousand Oaks, CA.

COVIELLO N.E., JOSEPH R.M. (2012), “Creating major innovations with buyers: Insights from small and young technology firms”, Journal of Marketing, vol. 76, n. 6, pp. 87-104.

CRAWFORD C.M., DI BENEDETTO A. (2008), New products management, Tata McGraw-Hill Education, New York.

DAS S.S., VAN DE VEN A.H. (2000), “Competing with new product technologies: A process model of strategy”, Management Science, vol. 46, n. 10, pp. 1300-1316.

DE MASSIS A., KOTLAR J. (2014), “The case study method in family business research: Guidelines for qualitative scholarship”, Journal of Family Business Strategy, vol. 5, n. 1, pp. 15-29.

DE SOUSA JABBOUR A.B.L., JABBOUR C.J.C., FOROPON C., GODINHO FILHO M. (2018), “When titans meet-Can industry 4.0 revolutionise the environmentally-sustainable manufacturing wave? The role of critical success factors”, Technological Forecasting and Social Change, vol. 132, pp. 18-25.

DUBOIS A., GADDE L.E. (2002), “Systematic combining: an abductive approach to case research”, Journal of Business Research, vol. 55, n. 7, pp. 553-560.

DURST S., HINTEREGGER C., TEMEL S., YESILAY R.B. (2018), “Insights from the later stage of the new product development process: findings from Turkey”, European Journal of Innovation Management, vol. 21, n. 3, pp. 456-477.

EISENHARDT K.M. (1989), “Building theories from case study research”, Academy of Management Review, vol. 14, n. 4, pp. 532-550.

EISENHARDT K.M., GRAEBNER M.E. (2007), “Theory building from cases: Opportunities and challenges”, Academy of Management Journal, vol. 50, n. 1, pp. 25-32.

GILMORE A., GALLAGHER D., HENRY S. (2007), “E‐marketing and SMEs: operational lessons for the future”, European Business Review, vol. 19, n. 3, pp. 234-247.

GIUSTO D., IERA A., MORABITO G., ATZORI L. (Eds.), (2010), The internet of things: 20th Tyrrhenian workshop on digital communications, Springer Science and Business Media, New York.

HALLER S., KARNOUSKOS S., SCHROTH C. (2008, September), The internet of things in an enterprise context. In Future Internet Symposium (pp. 14-28), Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg.

HERMANN M., PENTEK T., OTTO B. (2015), Design principles for Industrie 4.0 scenarios: a literature review, Technische Universität Dortmund, Dortmund.

HOFMANN E., RÜSCH M. (2017), “Industry 4.0 and the current status as well as future prospects on logistics”, Computers in Industry, vol. 89, pp. 23-34.

HORVÁTH D., SZABÓ R.Z. (2019), “Driving forces and barriers of Industry 4.0: Do multinational and small and medium-sized companies have equal opportunities?”, Technological Forecasting and Social Change, vol. 146, pp. 119-132.

KAGERMANN H., HELBIG J., HELLINGER A., WAHLSTER W. (2013), Recommendations for implementing the strategic initiative INDUSTRIE 4.0: Securing the future of German manufacturing industry; final report of the Industrie 4.0 Working Group, Forschungsunion

KAMBLE S.S., GUNASEKARAN A., GAWANKAR S.A. (2018), “Sustainable Industry 4.0 framework: A systematic literature review identifying the current trends and future perspectives”, Process Safety and Environmental Protection, vol. 117, pp. 408-425.

LA PLACA P.J. (2014), “Innovation in business networks”, Industrial Marketing Management, vol. 43, n. 3, pp. 359-360,

LEE I., LEE K. (2015), “The Internet of Things (IoT): Applications, investments, and challenges for enterprises”, Business Horizons, vol. 58, n. 4, pp. 431-440.

LEITHOLD N., WOSCHKE T., HAASE H., KRATZER J. (2016), “Optimising NPD in SMEs: a best practice approach”, Benchmarking: An International Journal, vol. 23 n. 1, pp. 262-284.

LEITHOLD N., HAASE H., LAUTENSCHLÄGER A. (2015), “Stage-Gate® for SMEs: a qualitative study in Germany”, European Journal of Innovation Management, vol. 18, n. 2, pp. 130-149.

LIAO Y., DESCHAMPS F., LOURES E.D.F.R., RAMOS L.F.P. (2017), “Past, present and future of Industry 4.0-a systematic literature review and research agenda proposal”, International Journal of Production Research, vol. 55, n. 12, pp. 3609-3629.

MEDLIN C.J., TÖRNROOS J.Å. (2015), “Exploring and exploiting network relationships to commercialize technology: A biofuel case”, Industrial Marketing Management, n. 49, pp. 42-52.

MILES M.B., HUBERMAN A.M. (1994), Qualitative data analysis: An expanded sourcebook, sage.

MOEUF A., LAMOURI S., PELLERIN R., TAMAYO-GIRALDO S., TOBON-VALENCIA E., EBURDY R. (2019), “Identification of critical success factors, risks and opportunities of Industry 4.0 in SMEs”, International Journal of Production Research, vol. 58, n. 5, pp. 1384-1400.

MÜLLER J.M., BULIGA O., VOIGT K.I. (2018), “Fortune favors the prepared: How SMEs approach business model innovations in Industry 4.0”, Technological Forecasting and Social Change, n. 132 pp. 2-17.

NG I.C., WAKENSHAW S.Y. (2017), “The Internet-of-Things: Review and research directions”, International Journal of Research in Marketing, vol. 34, n. 1, pp. 3-21.

NICHOLAS J., LEDWITH A., PERKS H. (2011), “New product development best practice in SME and large organisations: theory vs practice”, European Journal of Innovation Management, vol. 14 n. 2 pp. 227-251.

O’TOOLE T., MCGRATH H. (2018), “Strategic patterns in the development of network capability in new ventures”, Industrial Marketing Management, n. 70, pp. 128-140.

PELLIKKA J., LAURONEN J. (2007), “Fostering commercialisation of innovation in small high technology firms”, International Journal of Technoentrepreneurship, vol. 1, n. 1, pp. 92-108.

PICCAROZZI M., AQUILANI B., GATTI C. (2018), “Industry 4.0 in management studies: A systematic literature review”, Sustainability, vol. 10, n. 10, pp. 3821.

PORTER M.E., VAN DER LINDE C. (1995), “Toward a new conception of the environment-competitiveness relationship”, Journal of Economic Perspectives, vol. 9, n. 4, pp. 97-118.

SAJI K.B., MISHRA S.S. (2013), “Investigating the role of firm resources and environmental variables in new product commercialization”, Journal of Product and Brand Management, vol. 22, n. 1, pp. 18-29.

SCAPENS R.W. (2004), Doing case study research. In The real life guide to accounting research (pp. 257-279), Elsevier.

SCHUMPETER J.A. (1934), “The theory of economic development, translated by Redvers Opie”, Harvard: Economic Studies, n. 46, pp. 1600-0404.

SIGGELKOW N. (2007), “Persuasion with case studies”, Academy of Management Journal, vol. 50, n. 1, pp. 20-24.

STINCHCOMBE A.L. (1965), “Organizations and social structure”, Handbook of Organizations, vol. 44, n. 2, pp. 142-193.

STONE G.W., WAKEFIELD K.L. (2000), “Eco-orientation: An extension of market orientation in an environmental context”, Journal of Marketing Theory and Practice, vol. 8, n. 3, pp. 21-31.

THOMAS V.J., MAINE E. (2019), “Market entry strategies for electric vehicle start-ups in the automotive industry-Lessons from Tesla Motors”, Journal of Cleaner Production, n. 235 pp. 653-663

TZOKAS N., HULTINK E.J., HART S. (2004), “Navigating the new product development process”, Industrial Marketing Management, vol. 33, n. 7, pp. 619-626.

VAN DE VEN A.H. (1986), “Central problems in the management of innovation”, Management Science, vol. 32, n. 5, pp. 590-607.

VARALDO R., DALLI D., RESCINITI R. (2006, January), “Marketing-non-marketing all’italiana: virtù, limiti e prospettive”, in Collesei U., Andreani J., Atti del Congresso internazionale Le tendenze del Marketing (pp. 20-21), Venezia.

VON HIPPEL E. (1986), “Lead users: a source of novel product concepts”, Management Science, vol. 32, n. 7, pp. 791-805.

XU L.D., XU E.L., LI L. (2018), “Industry 4.0: state of the art and future trends”, International Journal of Production Research, vol. 56, n. 8, pp. 2941-2962.

YIN R.K. (2014), Case study research and applications: Design and methods, Sage publications, Thousand Oaks, CA.