Research Output
An investigation into the sales process practiced by Scottish-based food and drink SMEs
  This thesis aims to explore selling and the sales process in Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) from the selling organisation’s perspective. It investigates the sales process between SME manufacturers/distributors and Food retail and Foodservices customers/buyers in a new and a modified selling task situation in Scottish-based Food and Drinks businesses. The research examines the sales process practiced by SMEs and barriers and enablers that hinder and support effective selling practices.
According to the Scottish Government, the role played by SMEs in the Food and Drinks industry is vitally important to the Scottish economy. However, given the paucity of literature in the field, knowledge concerning the role and importance of selling in SMEs, particularly in the Food and Drinks industry, is underdeveloped and lacks empirical research.
To investigate the thesis research question, the author adopts an interpretivist perspective. Qualitative data was gathered through face-to-face semi-structured interviews. In all, 20 people involved in selling activities and the sales process were interviewed from 15 SMEs across Scotland. The data was then analysed using thematic analysis to establish key findings regarding the sales process
The research’s findings suggest that the sales process practiced by Scottish-based SMEs in the Food and Drinks industry is complex. Each selling interaction in a new and a modified selling task situation is unique. A number of dimensions impact the sales process. The type of sale varies, from being relatively simplistic with standard product, to being more complicated with customised or seasonal products. It varies from being a straight forward short-term transaction that either achieves a sale or not (usually with a smaller customer), to being a longer-term event (usually with a larger customer). What is evident is that SMEs do not rely entirely on existing customers. Prospecting is required to start the process and a follow up of some kind occurs at the end of the process; whether a sale is concluded or not. The research establishes that the steps in the process are neither wholly sequential nor simultaneous. This study identifies that there are 5 steps in the SME sales process in new and modified selling task situations: prospecting and/ or revisit customer, prepare for the sales meeting, the sales meeting itself, action points arising from the meeting and maintaining contact.
In addition to the key findings, five important themes emerged from the data in the form of barriers and enablers that either directly or indirectly affect the operationalisation of the selling process. In theme one, the owner manager of the SME is usually inextricably linked to, and has considerable involvement in, and see themselves as important to the sales process. Theme two identifies that those SMEs with some degree of sales knowledge and/or expertise take a more consistent and systematic approach to their sales process. Theme three highlights that many SMEs utilise technology such as SMART phones but lack awareness of how CRM software technology can assist in the delivery of a coherent sales process. Theme four identifies that power in the seller-buyer dyad is tipped in favour of the buyer but appears to be tolerated or accepted as the norm by the SME. A fifth theme deals with the location of the SME and suggests that interacting face-to-face with customers from their Scottish geographic base, places constraints on how SMEs conduct business.
A conceptual framework of the sales process practiced by Scottish-based Food and Drinks SMEs has been constructed to depict the 5 step sales process as identified in the research. This conceptual framework also incorporates 5 important dimensions (type of customer, time perspective, type of problem, type of relationship and sequence of stages) and 5 enablers and barriers that impact the operationalisation of this sales process.
Since this research is exploratory in nature, the thesis identifies areas where future research is required in the field alongside suggestions where policy makers and government business development agencies might focus intervention to assist SMEs improve delivery of the sales process.

  • Type:


  • Date:

    28 February 2013

  • Publication Status:


  • Library of Congress:

    HD28 Management. Industrial Management

  • Dewey Decimal Classification:

    658 General management


Douglas, T. An investigation into the sales process practiced by Scottish-based food and drink SMEs. (Thesis). Edinburgh Napier University. Retrieved from



SMEs; sales; selling; food retailing; food services; drink industry

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