Research provides insights into company-client interaction

DICIA, a joint project of the University of Helsinki, Aalto University and the Haaga-Helia University of Applied Sciences, studies the impact of digitalisation on sales situations. The project is an extension of previous cooperation with Finnish companies.

Client negotiation is a complex interaction, combining language, gestures, emotions, motives, hidden values and chance. The goal is to build a successful client relationship.

Funded by Tekes, the Finnish Funding Agency for Innovation, a group of Finnish companies launched a research cooperation project with the University of Helsinki’s interaction researchers, experts from Aalto University’s Department of Industrial Engineering and Management as well as sales and marketing researchers from the Haaga-Helia University of Applied Sciences.

The first project, MANIA, studied face-to-face business-to-business sales. DICIA (Digitalization in Customer Interaction) focuses on the impact of digitalisation on sales. In both projects, the goal of the cooperation is to generate new information for sales research and to improve the sales activities of participating companies. The partner companies in DICIA were Barona, Finnair, Fira, Fountain Park, ISS, Lähi-Tapiola, Movenium and Wolt. At the time of writing, the project researchers are collecting material and planning the study.


”Cooperation with the participating institutions of higher education has gone very well,” says Jarkko Niemi, postdoctoral researcher, who has been in charge of the University of Helsinki’s involvement in the project.

The benefits of research cooperation for the researchers and their institutions are indisputable. New scientific information can be created by combining and applying a variety of different research approaches and schools of thought. Thus far, methods of conversation analysis have rarely been used to study sales interactions. In addition, the amount of research material and the project itself are exceptional, even by international standards.

“As a linguist it would be difficult for me to study the operations of an organisation, but now the other institutions are bringing in their own specialist expertise and corporate contacts. Personally, I offer the project my expertise in interaction and linguistics,” Niemi explains.

25 hours of meeting videos

In the MANIA project, Jarkko Niemi took videos of meetings between businesses, analysed the recordings, transcribed them and sought answers to several research questions. How is a meeting set apart from everyday interaction; what is the role of the salesperson; what does the client expect?

Aalto and Haaga-Helia researchers used the resources Niemi shot and processed, but they have also conducted interviews and ethnomethodology research by observing the salespeople in their work. The researchers are currently using the material to write articles discussing how trust is built and value created.

Client interaction remains at the centre of DICIA, but the client may now be a private individual instead of another company. Researchers may observe conversations taking place over email, Skype, on the phone or in a chat.

The researchers have also provided consultation directly to the companies. At the end of the MANIA project, a debriefing session was organised for each partner company.

“We tell them what we studied, what we found, what conclusions can be drawn and what matters the company should focus on. We have received positive and enthusiastic feedback,” Jarkko Niemi says.

Barona: We’ve connected with a network of companies

The project is funded by the partner companies in addition to Tekes and the participating institutions of higher education. Tuomas Mikkonen, CEO of Barona Technologies Oy, is happy with the cooperation.

“Research cooperation with universities and researchers has been very interesting for Barona. We’ve received a great deal of new information as well as contacts with an active network of companies. We would particularly like to praise the positive and innovative atmosphere of the project,” says Mikkonen.

“The cooperation has given us at Barona a lot of new information on the digitalisation of sales, for example, a challenging area which one company alone would struggle to tackle.  A cooperative project like this gave us access to the latest information immediately. We would very much like to take part in cooperation projects like DICIA in the future.”

The deep well of digitalisation

Jarkko Niemelä has a hypothesis about the impact digitalisation will have on a sales event.

“I believe that the client is much further in the purchasing process when they contact the service provider via a digital channel. It’s also easier to make the decision to buy, as the monetary value of the sale is typically smaller than in business-to-business sales.”

The digital realm is sure to provide research topics for years to come. New applications are being developed all the time.

Niemi continues: “Digitalisation is proceeding in many forms and through many avenues. It is shaping our environments and the ways we interact.”

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