2019 Q2 Research Review – edited by Jeremy Noad

26th June 2019 |   Dr Jeremy Noad

Research Review – edited by  Jeremy Noad

These pages aim to keep readers up to date with recently published research on sales-related topics. The review highlights short abstracts of academically peer-reviewed research from a range of academic journals. In this edition, the abstracts are across three themes that focus on behavioural studies, sales performance and customer management.

Behavioural studies

True grit, for salespeople as well as John Wayne

This research is the first to examine the effect of “grit” – defined here as perseverance in pursuit of long-term goals – on salesperson performance and job satisfaction in a business-to-business (B2B) sales context. While more commonly studied in the psychology and education literature, grit has heretofore been under-explored in sales research, a notable omission given its importance in predicting performance outcomes across multiple domains. In response, we demonstrate that gritty salespeople perform better and enjoy greater job satisfaction than their less gritty counterparts. Moreover, we show that competitiveness and self-efficacy help to develop grit and reveal important moderating effects; grit is highest when salespeople are self-efficacious and socially astute.

Moreover, the results also suggest that need for power attenuates the positive effect of grit on performance, revealing a potential “dark side” of grit. We then provide some future research ideas involving grit in an effort to encourage further exploration of this construct in sales research. Finally, we conclude by offering cautions to future researchers as they decide whether to examine this interesting construct in a sales context.

Dugan, R, Hochstein, B, Rouziou, M, & Britton, B, “Gritting their teeth to close the sale: the positive effect of salesperson grit on job satisfaction and performance”, Journal of Personal Selling & Sales Management, 1-21, 2018.

Company wellness programmes are good for sales performance

It is well known that job stress is a major cause of salesperson job dissatisfaction and turnover. Salespeople require the resources to cope adequately with a multitude of job stressors, and the purpose of this study is to demonstrate that salesperson wellness promotes the ability of salespeople to use effective coping strategies in the workplace and as a result decrease their intentions of leaving the firm.

The study demonstrated the influence of the wellness lifestyle on salespeople’s ability to cope effectively with job stress. It extends previous research by demonstrating the direct influence of salesperson wellness on coping behaviours and demonstrates the nomological validity of the wellness lifestyle construct by modelling its relationship with job satisfaction and the intent to leave the organisation.

The study recommends new research on the synergies that might be produced by simultaneous consideration of the social, physical, and psychological elements of the multicomponent wellness lifestyle. This should be particularly valuable in the context of the Challenger Sale. Wellness programs may be introduced or improved following an assessment of coping resource weaknesses of the sales force. New employees could be screened by examining their wellness profiles. Major firms have promoted wellness lifestyle programs for years, but no studies have examined the influence of such programs on coping with job stress by salespeople. The paper demonstrates the value of the salesperson wellness lifestyle by showing that it promotes the most adjustive form of coping strategy, problem-focused coping.

Kraft, F B, Maity, D, & Porter, S , “The salesperson wellness lifestyle, coping with stress and the reduction of turnover”, Journal of Business & Industrial Marketing, 2018.

Political skill needed to succeed at adaptive selling

Previous studies have long recognised and examined adaptive selling as an effective behaviour. Although some studies have assumed and revealed moderating factors that impact the effectiveness of adaptive selling behaviour, few studies have examined an individual’s skill as a moderator on this effect. This study focuses on political skill as a type of skill that has been recently found to have positive effects on sales performance. Furthermore, this study includes intrinsic motivation as an additional moderator that enables political skill to be invested in effective selling behaviour. Our analysis supports our hypotheses that the positive effects of adaptive selling behaviour on sales performance are highest when both political skill and intrinsic motivation are high. As political skill represents a skill related to intraorganizational behaviour, this study complements the traditional view found in the literature on selling behaviour, which only focuses on customer-directed interaction.

Kimura, T, Bande, B, & Fernández-Ferrín, P, “The roles of political skill and intrinsic motivation in performance prediction of adaptive selling”, Industrial Marketing Management, 2018.

Our analysis supports our hypotheses that the positive effects of adaptive selling behaviour on sales performance are highest when both political skill and intrinsic motivation are high.

A winning strategy for sales organisations is to recognise salespeople expectations and to meet or beat them

Despite its significance in salespeople management, salespeople expectation management has received little attention in the literature, especially in the industrial marketing literature. In response, the purpose of this study is to leverage the expectation confirmation theory to present a conceptual framework that provides an effective tool for salespeople expectation management. A winning strategy for sales organisations is to recognise salespeople expectations and to meet or beat these expectations. Salespeople expectation management is particularly important in sales organisations that frequently find aligning sales force management strategies with organisational imperatives to be challenging. This study extends expectation-confirmation theory by presenting a conceptual framework that: identifies the existence of pre-expectations of salespeople and their outcomes; recognises that the expectation-confirmation process occurs across multiple stages in the salespeople’s career cycle; recognises that the level of expectations in previous stages of one’s career cycle influences the level of expectations in subsequent stages; and conceptualises the non-linear relationship between expectations, tenure and turnover intentions.

Oh, J. H, & Ma, J, “Multi-stage expectation-confirmation framework for salespeople expectation management”, Journal of Business & Industrial Marketing, 33(8), 1165-1175, 2018.

Too much complexity impacts salesperson performance

We explore the mediating role of moral disengagement in counterproductive behaviour by professional sellers. Moral disengagement is a cognitive state in which moral standards are deactivated from one’s actions. We theorise that the effect of job-related complexity on salesperson counterproductive behaviour is better explained when this relationship is mediated by salesperson moral disengagement. Our empirical findings support the explanation that complexity influences salesperson’s moral disengagement. In turn, this influences counterproductive salesperson behaviour. Ethical role modelling is found to play a strong mitigating role. Overall, our results indicate how counterproductive salesperson behaviour develops, why salespeople engage in such behaviour, and how sales managers can project themselves as ethical mentors to lessen unfavourable behaviours by salespeople.

Seriki, O K, Nath, P. Ingene, C A, & Evans, K R, “How complexity impacts salesperson counterproductive behaviour: The mediating role of moral disengagement”, Journal of Business Research, 2018.

Research Review – edited by Jeremy Noad

The completive environment influences leadership styles

This paper aims to explore the role of leadership in influencing the strategy implementation behaviours of salespeople. This paper also seeks to examine the moderating influence of the competitive environment on the leadership style – salesperson implementation of sales strategy relationship. The results of the study show that a transformational leadership style has stronger effects on the sales strategy implementation behaviours of salespeople when compared to transactional leadership. However, in highly competitive environments, the effects of transactional leadership on the sales strategy implementation behaviours of salespeople become stronger. The results also show that when salespeople implement sales strategy, it has a positive impact on their sales performance.

Sales managers should adapt their leadership style depending on the competitive environment that they operate in. As transformational leadership and transactional leadership are not mutually exclusive, managers should tailor their use of these styles to improve the strategy implementation behaviours of their salespeople. Managers should also train their salespeople on the use of sales strategy. This study contributes to the literature by showing that the effectiveness of a particular leadership style is often contingent on the external environment. This research also demonstrates that when salespeople are strategic in their approach to selling, they will improve their sales performance.

Inyang, A E, Agnihotri, R, & Munoz, L, “The role of manager leadership style in salesperson implementation of sales strategy: a contingency perspective”, Journal of Business & Industrial Marketing, 33(8), 1074-1086, 2018.

Goodwill and trust encourage greater buyer-seller relationships

The purpose of this paper is to explore how the choice of buying managers to share or limit the sharing of strategic information with their suppliers relates to the presence or absence of goodwill and competence trust in the buyer-supplier relationship. Goodwill and competence trust have a positive effect on strategic information sharing, yet this study reveals several tactics used by buying managers in the presence of competence trust only.

With a lack of established trust or earlier trust breaches, little to no information sharing occurs. Relating which types of information being shared for different forms of trust guides managers’ expectations on which type of trust they wish to build for each of their buyer-supplier relationships. This study examines the trust and information sharing relationship in more detail, linking different types of trust to categories of strategic information. It also distinguishes between the different concepts of encouraging information sharing and deliberately limiting strategic information sharing.

Newell, W J, Ellegaard, C, & Esbjerg, L, “The effects of goodwill and competence trust on strategic information sharing in buyer-supplier relationships”, Journal of Business & Industrial Marketing, 2018.

Results indicate how counterproductive salesperson behaviour develops, why salespeople engage in such behaviour, and how sales managers can project themselves as ethical mentors to lessen unfavourable behaviours by salespeople.

Reducing the likelihood of unethical selling

The purpose of this paper is to explore the relationship between salesperson role perceptions and use of neutralisation techniques, given the relationship orientation of the salesperson. Direct relationships between salesperson role conflict, role ambiguity, role task self-efficacy and a salesperson’s propensity to use neutralisations to attribute their unethical selling behaviour are tested. The moderating effects of role-relationship orientation on the aforementioned relationships are also explored.

The study findings conclude that role ambiguity, role task self-efficacy and role relationship orientation directly impact a salesperson’s tendency to use neutralisation techniques to justify unethical sales behaviour. Role relationship orientation serves to moderate the relationship between role conflict and neutralisation use. This research integrates attribution and role theories to isolate the conditions where salespeople are prone to use neutralisation techniques to justify their unethical behaviour. Salesperson role relationship orientation is explored to understand the moderating effects on the salesperson role–neutralisation relationships.

Sales managers are provided guidance (eg training and coaching) to help salespeople navigate feelings of negative role perceptions (role conflict, role ambiguity, role self-efficacy) to minimise the impact on the justification of unethical sales behaviours. This research builds on the sales and ethics literature by incorporating role and attribution theory to understand better how salespeople approach dealing with their unethical behaviour and the implications on maintaining relationships with their customers.

Munoz, L, & Mallin, M, “Unethical sales behaviour neutralization: the impact of salesperson role variables and moderating effects of role relationship orientation”, Journal of Business & Industrial Marketing, 2018.

Sales performance

Sales cost control a key skill for sales managers

Many organisations face competing agendas by which they are expected to simultaneously grow sales output while controlling associated costs. At the interface of this organisational pressure and the sales force’s implementation of such initiatives is the sales manager. However, questions with significant implications remain regarding how a sales manager’s requisite engagement with cost control affects sales performance. To address this issue, the authors conceptualise and operationalise the notion of sales manager cost control engagement.

Results from a survey of 178 business-to-business sales managers show the antecedent and consequence effects of sales manager cost control engagement. A variety of organisational factors are shown to effectively direct the sales manager’s attention to cost control, which in turn has a positive impact on cost-related sales performance. These findings add to an emergent body of research aimed at understanding key skills required of sales managers for driving sales performance as well as provide a novel perspective for sales managers to consider when balancing pressures between cost inputs and sales outputs.

Skiba, J, Saini, A, & Friend, S B, “Sales manager cost control engagement: antecedents and performance implications”, Journal of Personal Selling & Sales Management, 1-15, 2018.

Research Review – edited by  Jeremy Noad

Build relationships with the gatekeepers

Sales managers often engage relational gatekeepers who connect personally with key managers or decision-makers in the client organisation to broker the structural holes (“absence of direct connections”) in sales relations in closely-knit networked markets. Based on interviews with 14 local sales managers working for foreign companies and seven local gatekeepers in China, we aim to understand how different types of guanxi (“particularistic personal ties”) bases and related social ties interact with one another, and together bridge structural holes in the sales management.

We develop propositions to capture the essence of approaches, bases, rules, and rewards in sales gatekeeping (which refer to a process that involves the facilitation provided by relational gatekeepers in social and business interactions between a sales manager and a client manager in sales). We further develop a framework for understanding the differences in terms of guanxi bases and gatekeeper ties between homogeneous and heterogeneous structural holes in sales gatekeeping.

This new framework has important theoretical and practical implications, as it allows researchers and practitioners to evaluate the guanxi-base characteristics of structural holes in business networking in China, and to determine the appropriate gatekeeper tie for the different purposes of gatekeeping (symbolic versus reciprocal) in sales management.

Du, M, Gao, H, & Zhang, J, “Toward a guanxi-bases view of structural holes in sales gatekeeping: A qualitative study of sales practices in China”, Industrial Marketing Management, 76, 109-122, 2019.

Sales managers should adapt their leadership style depending on the competitive environment that they operate in. As transformational leadership and transactional leadership are not mutually exclusive, managers should tailor their use of these styles to improve the strategy implementation behaviours of their salespeople.

Customer management

A salesperson’s helpfulness, friendliness, uniqueness, and flexibility builds connections with buyers

Business exchange and industrial marketing literature have long investigated determinants of long-term buyer-supplier relationships (BSRs). Anecdotes of BSR dissolutions may suggest that long-term relationships are potentially fragile as circumstances can shift and undermine such relationships, leading to buyers discarding their long-term suppliers. This study investigates supplier attributes that potentially enable suppliers to develop impregnable exchange relationships (IERs) with buyers.

The research maintains that economic necessity, relational ties, and emotional connections with their buyers are all important determinants of IERs. We identify four supplier primacy attributes, helpfulness, friendliness, uniqueness, and flexibility. They co-occur and potentially aid suppliers in attaining economic necessity, relational ties, and emotional connections with buyers.

Our findings also suggest that suppliers may alternatively advance toward the development of IERs with buyers through certain combinations of lower-level attributes to compensate for their lack of those four primacy attributes. Finally, we find that joint history between suppliers and buyers may bring about buyers’ negative perceptions on suppliers.

Clauss, T, & Tangpong, C, “In search for impregnable exchange relationships with buyers: Exploratory insights for suppliers”, Industrial Marketing Management, 2018.

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Articles featured in the research review are not available from the editorial staff or the International Journal of Sales Transformation. Readers wishing to find out more about a paper can use a simple search online using the author and paper title to find out more details on the paper. The copyright of the articles is acknowledged to the publishers and authors. Any correspondence regarding the Sales Transformation Research Review, including recommendations of articles for future issues, should be sent to the section editor:
Jeremy.Noad@port.ac.uk.
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End users do influence buying decisions

End users are often involved in organisational buying, but very little is known about the role that they play and how they influence purchasing decisions. This study aims to explore the factors behind end users’ attempts to influence purchasing and the strategies they use. The research draws on the concept of purchasing task involvement, which describes the feelings of personal relevance that a buying centre member has for a specific organisational purchasing decision. This concept is used to gain a deeper understanding of users’ influence in organisational purchasing and link it to sources of power and the corresponding influence strategies.

End users’ purchasing task involvement is only marginally determined by the product’s performance or technical features. Purchasing task involvement leads to influence when there are specific power relationships between the buyer and the user and under specific circumstances.

Pedeliento, G, Andreini, D. Bergamaschi, M, & Salo, J, “End users’ purchasing task involvement, power and influence strategies in organizational buying”, Journal of Business & Industrial Marketing, 2018.

Dr Noad coaches sales leaders and teams | + posts

Dr Jeremy Noad edits our Research Review. As an advocate both of sales excellence and translating sales research into action, he has been our Research Review section editor since day one. A 25-year sales and marketing veteran who has worked with sales organisations on all major continents, Dr Noad guides and coaches sales leaders and their teams to transform sales performance and effectiveness. His present focus is on global sales effectiveness with a $20bn market leader. He completed his doctorate on improving sales performance at Portsmouth University.