Mixed Interpretations of Sales Proposal Signals



Date of this version


Document Type



sales proposal selection, signaling theory, price concessions, proposal specificity, comparative customer examples, qualitative


Long-term relationships with customers are critical determinants of a sales organization’s success. However, research tends to assess relational approaches from the salesperson or sales organization’s perspective and often neglects to capture customers’ perspectives which lead to the evaluative success or failure of buyer–seller relationships. This study assesses the seller’s bid-related signals from the buyer’s perspective following their selection or rejection of a business-to-business sales proposal. The authors adopt a theories-in-use approach, utilizing 54 depth-interviews with decision-makers from 33 buyer organizations. Within this data set, findings reveal three bid signals that are represented across both selection and rejection outcomes (i.e. mixed interpretations by buyers). These signals are the seller’s usage of price concessions, sales proposal specificity, and comparative customer examples. To better understand the mechanisms which influence buyers’ mixed interpretations of these signals, the authors utilize the newly-advanced qualitative pivoting technique to identify contextual variables across cases that influence the buyer’s positive or negative signal interpretation.

Published in

Journal of Personal Selling & Sales Management

Citation/Other Information

36(3), 264-280