Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education in Adult and Lifelong Learning (EdD)

Degree Level



Rehabilitation, Human Resources and Communication Disorders


Kit Kacirek

Committee Member

James F. Maddox

Second Committee Member

Michael T. Miller


Critical Decision Method, sales interactions, sales training, technology sales, customer relationships, Recognition-Primed Decision (RPD)


The first conversation between business-to-business sellers and new customers comes with the potential for both opportunity and risk. Sellers spend substantial effort gaining the right to engage in a first call with a potential customer. This study fills a gap in the literature by exploring the role of Naturalistic Decision Making (NDM) and how it impacts the way experienced technology sales professionals navigate first conversations with new customers. NDM explores how experienced professionals make decisions in high-stakes, real world situations that are ambiguous, time-pressured, and have poorly defined goals. While NDM studies have been performed in other professional disciplines, none have explored the part NDM plays in first sales calls in business-to-business technology sales.

This critical decision method (CDM) study explored the primary research question, “How do experienced technology sales professionals navigate first discovery calls?” Ten CDM interviews were conducted with experienced technology sales professionals from a midsized software company headquartered in the United States. There were five major findings from the study: 1) Previous customer experience was the primary factor that sellers reported in facilitating their ability to navigate first customer calls; 2) Contextual cues about customer’s organizational structure and strategy were the primary mechanisms that influenced sellers’ success on first sales calls; 3) Customer behavioral cues were the primary mechanism that informed sellers about customer interests; 4) Sellers’ decision making was influenced by a consideration of the value of the conversation to their customers; and 5) Product training was not a critical element of the first customer call. The findings of this study can help organizations better prioritize the types of training they provide their sellers in helping them to gain proficiency in recognizing and adapting to novel sales situations with new customers.