Loughborough University
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The interactional organisation of initial business-to-business sales calls with prospective clients

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posted on 2018-09-03, 08:58 authored by Bogdana Huma
The aim of this thesis is to break new ground by investigating the interactional organisation of real events that comprise live business-to-business cold calls. Despite being a ubiquitous part of everyday life, we know very little about how cold calls are initiated, progressed, and completed. Cold calls are unsolicited telephone encounters, initiated by salespeople aiming to get prospective clients ( prospects ) interested in their services, with the distal goal of turning them into clients and the proximal goal of getting them to agree to an initial meeting. Cold calls are often treated as a nuisance by call-takers, and salespeople must deal with reluctant gatekeepers, recurrent sales resistance, and the occasional hang-up. The training they receive often draws on outdated theories of communication and is rarely supported by empirical evidence. Thus, this study not only addresses an important domain for interactional research, but also fulfils a practical necessity for empirical research that will inform sales training and improve callers and call-takers experiences. The data comprise 150 recorded calls supplied by three British companies that sell, service, and lease office equipment. The data were collected, transcribed, and analysed within an ethnomethodological framework using conversation analysis and discursive psychology. The first analytic chapter outlines the overall structural organisation of cold calling. It documents the constituent activities within the opening, the business of the call, and the closing. It identifies and describes two types of cold calls. Freezing calls are initiated by salespeople who are contacting a prospect for the very first time. Lukewarm calls feature salespeople who claim to have been in contact with the prospect s organisation in the past. The second chapter excavates the initial turns of lukewarm calls in which salespeople ask to speak to another person within the company, with whom they indicate to be acquainted. The analysis revealed that this third-party acquaintanceship was crucial for establishing the legitimacy of the switchboard request and for improving the chances of getting it granted. The third chapter focused on appointment-making sequences in both freezing and lukewarm calls, showing that they comprise two components: a preamble and a meeting request sequence. I also highlight how salespeople exploit sequential and turn-taking mechanisms to secure meetings with prospects without giving the latter the opportunity to refuse. The final chapter examines two practices for enacting resistance in cold calls blocks and stalls and documents the range of methods salespeople employ for dealing with each type of resistance. Sales blocks expose the salesperson s commercial agenda, attempt to stop the prospecting activity, and move towards call pre-closure. In response, salespeople can challenge, counter, or circumvent blocks as well as redo their initiating actions. Stalls slow down the progress of the sales process by delaying the next phase of the sale or by proposing less commitment-implicative alternatives. Salespeople deal with stalls by either justifying their initial proposal or by spontaneously introducing new action plans, both being more conducive to the progress of the sale. The thesis contributes to a growing body of interactional research on commercial encounters by shedding empirical light on a previously unexamined setting, business-to-business cold calls. It also moves forward discursive psychology s project of respecifying psychological phenomena by documenting the communicative practices associated with persuasion and resistance. Finally, it expands the extant conversation analytic toolkit by examining new practices (such as appointment-making) and by providing new insights into key conversation analytic topics (such as requests, pre-sequences, and accounts for calling). Overall, the findings presented in this thesis challenge existing conceptions of prospecting through cold calling that are prevalent in the sales literature. The thesis puts forward a strong argument for opening the black box of cold calls to better understand these interactions and to identify good practices as the basis for communication training. Research presented in this thesis has already been used in the development of CARM (Conversation Analytic Role-play Method) training for salespeople, who reported having doubled their appointment rates. Based on the findings in this thesis, I plan to develop further training not only for salespeople but also for prospective customers, thus improving the overall outcome of cold call encounters.



  • Social Sciences


  • Communication, Media, Social and Policy Studies


© Bogdana Huma

Publisher statement

This work is made available according to the conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) licence. Full details of this licence are available at: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/

Publication date



A Doctoral Thesis. Submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the award of Doctor of Philosophy of Loughborough University.


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