Industrial buying behavior of large Swedish firms : case studies of the purchase of educational services

Abstract: The lack of studies focusing on industrial buying behavior in the purchase of professional services, coupled with the increased corporate need of investing in employee training and education, created the foundation for the research problem of this thesis: How can the buying behavior of large Swedish firms be characterized when they purchase educational services in the area of sales and marketing? Based on this research problem, five research questions were developed. A frame of reference describing industrial buying behavior in the purchase of professional services was then created, based on the literature review. A qualitative research approach was adopted, and case studies were conducted in four large Swedish firms: Scandic Hotels, Telia Mobile, Ericsson, and SEB. The empirical data were collected through personal interviews with 29 respondents. Results from this study demonstrate that the buying process when large Swedish firms purchase educational services in the area of sales and marketing can be described as a sequential process comprising eleven stages. A variety of strategies to reduce the perceived uncertainty in purchasing educational services were identified. Several similarities and some dissimilarities were found with respect to the composition, roles, and influence in the buying center, both in comparisons among the four cases and in comparison with previous research. Moreover, as proposed in existing research, the results from this study indicate that the selection of a supplier should be viewed as a process and not as an event. The selection process was found to contain five sequential stages: search for and identify potential suppliers; a first evaluation; contact selected suppliers; evaluation of proposal(s); and finally the selection. Results show that most members of the buying center focused on the supplier's firm, or a combination of the supplier's firm and their services at the beginning of the selection process. However, their attention gradually shifts towards the supplier's services and the persons providing these services. Furthermore, the findings show that a certain set of criteria was used to evaluate and compare potential suppliers (selection criteria), but other criteria may be used to reject a potential supplier (rejection criteria). In addition, the findings clearly indicate that the selection and rejection criteria vary across the stages in the selection process. Moreover, individual members of the buying center, to a large extent, apply their own distinct selection and rejection criteria. As proposed in previous research, more subjective assessments were employed during the later stages of the selection process. The results indicate that some criteria were perceived as difficult to assess before a purchase, and a number of cues were used to assess these criteria. Long-term supplier relationships were found to be important in the purchasing of educational services, but at the same time firms actively search for new potential suppliers. Moreover, the selection process involved the evaluation of a combination of new and long-term suppliers. However, new suppliers were usually evaluated in a more detailed manner. Results also show that suppliers can easily be rejected at the beginning of the selection process, and known suppliers were usually selected when time pressure was intense. Finally, findings from this study indicate that several factors can affect buying behavior (i.e., the buying process, the buying center, and/or the selection and rejection criteria) in a number of ways when firms purchase educational services in the area of sales and marketing.