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4.3 Research Approach, Methodology, and Design

This paper used semistructured qualitative exploratory interviews conducted with senior managers of small B-to-B businesses to gain insight into the applicability of OI within small businesses [21]. The interviewed senior managers are further on referred to as participants. A qualitative content analysis was used to analyze the interviews and to most appropriately provide insight into “whether” OI can be applied in small businesses and “how” in relation to appropriate OI approaches [21, 22]. Semistructured interviews were found to be most appropriate to collect the necessary primary data [23, 24] for the underinvestigated topic of OI applicability in small businesses. Using a convenience sampling technique and additionally a purposive sampling strategy ensured an accessible sample that is also directly related to the subject of the primary data collection (ibid). Six senior managers of small B-to-B businesses were chosen as the most appropriate sample since they arguably provide valuable views and input and their expertise knowledge and thus the output can be said to be valuable (ibid). Due to the short time frame and limited resources of this research, it does not strive to develop new theories but to test existing assumptions and develop a conceptual framework for the applicability of OI in small businesses [25].

Choosing semistructured interviews also enabled the researcher to adapt the questions and interview structure to each interview, which allowed a more detailed investigation of the topic [21, 23]. The interview questions were based on the literature and its findings concerning the adaptability and implementation of OI approaches. Thus, it was arguably ensured that the questions were relevant and linked to the overall aim, objectives, and research questions. This also guaranteed that the “whether” and “how” regarding the OI applicability for small businesses could be investigated [21]. A larger number of open questions compared to closed questions were used corresponding to the necessary exploratory nature of the research. To further enable an appropriate comparison and analysis of the interviews, an interview guide was developed, which contained the questions, a predefined but adaptable structure, and an oral consent form and necessary explanations to enable appropriate answers. Before each interview (via telephone and Skype), clear instructions about the context and the objectives were explained to the participants. The interviews were held in German, which arguably improved the quality of the interviews, since misunderstandings could be avoided and more detailed questions asked due to the fact that all participants were German.

Recording the interviews facilitated the later analysis. By furthermore summarizing the key parts and statements of the participants into a previously developed excel template based on a content analysis, the findings were organized into categories that were predefined based on the reviewed literature, research, and studies. This arguably ensured a higher level of objectivity and is also recommended by Fisher [25] and Saunders et al. [21] who furthermore state that reorganizing the findings into the defined categories allows the identification of patterns. These were further unitized and simplified and later summarized to merge the relevant topics and, by that, establish the key findings [21]. Counting the frequency of similar words and phrases made this easier and also added a quantitative element to the highly qualitative analysis process [21, 22]. These summarized and categorized findings were interpreted and checked several times to establish relevant relationships [26]. This helped to especially establish valuable relationships between the first and second level of OI applicability, which was one of the paper's research objectives.

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