2019 Q3 Research Review – edited by Jeremy Noad

10th September 2019 |   Dr Jeremy Noad

Research Review Q3 2019

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 two themes that focus on sales performance and sales behaviours

Sales Performance

Fail fast in the initial stages of the sales process

Sales is a profession that faces an inordinate amount of failure. When salespeople fail and face rejection from customers, the consequences are widespread and lasting. Perhaps, rather than aiming to prevent inevitable failures, salespeople should instead anticipate and control the timing of when a failure occurs in the sales cycle. Across three progressive studies, this research explicates the phenomenon of failing fast within a business-to-business sales context.

The authors theoretically conceptualise and operationalise a failing fast process model: prospect intent collection, prospect intent interpretation, and salesperson failing fast. The authors then study the focal relationship between salesperson failing fast and sales performance, contingent on individual-level, organisational-level, and environmental-level moderators. While the direct effect is non-significant, the finding is novel in that it shows that certain forms of failure may not actually be a detriment to performance. The moderator analysis sheds further light on this relationship, revealing a mixture of accentuating and attenuating effects. This research collectively brings greater nuance to the study of sales failure and even the potential benefits of failing early in the sales process.

Friend, S B, Ranjan, K R, & Johnson, J S, “Fail fast, sell well: The contingent impact of failing fast on salesperson performance”, Industrial Marketing Management, 2019.

Sales is a profession that faces an inordinate amount of failure.

Buying behaviours have changed; time to recalibrate salesperson performance measures?

Business and consumer buying behaviour have changed dramatically in recent times; a fact that is not lost on selling organisations when considering how best to recalibrate salesperson performance measures in response. However, a contemporary, systematic review of the academic literature concerning those most effective salesperson performance factors is markedly absent. This study joins a long line of investigatory efforts regarding the characteristics and habits of successful salesperson performance by adopting meta-analysis techniques to investigate the salesperson performance literature, content-analysing over 250 published articles from 1986 to 2017 and synthesising the findings into a new salesperson performance typology.

The study finds that personal, organisational, co-worker, buyer and situational dimensions are responsible for increasing salespersons’ performance. Additionally, this work offers a parsimonious overview of current key salesperson performance research as well as a clear agenda for future salesperson performance research.

Herjanto, H, & Franklin, D, “Investigating salesperson performance factors: A systematic review of the literature on the characteristics of effective salespersons”, Australasian Marketing Journal (AMJ), 2019.

Narrowing the gap between sales and marketing

Firms often promote integration between sales and marketing functions. However, research has mostly focused on improving the level of realised integration and ignored the integration gap, defined as managers’ perceptions of the difference between realised and desired integration. Using the social identity approach, this study examines three potential antecedents of this integration gap, with sales-marketing task interdependence as the boundary condition.

Results from a multi-firm survey of 196 sales and marketing managers show that the joint effect between task interdependence and competitor orientation on the integration gap is opposite that of task interdependence and customer orientation. Also, the authors find that regardless of task interdependence, rewards that focus solely on either sales or marketing widen the integration gap. They also find a negative relationship between the integration gap and firm performance. Our study informs managers of various ways to narrow the sales-marketing integration gap.

Sleep, S, Lam, S K, & Hulland, J, “The sales-marketing integration gap: a social identity approach”, Journal of Personal Selling & Sales Management, 38(4), 371-390, 2018.

Sales communication competence in international B2B solution selling

Increasing demands for international solution selling call for a better understanding of the interpersonal communication competence required of sales professionals. Accordingly, this study investigates discipline-specific needs regarding the interpersonal communication competence required by business-to-business salespeople. Empirical data was collected via 39 in-depth interviews from international B2B salespeople, sales managers, CEOs and sales communication educators. As a result, we have formed a new conceptualisation of sales communication competence in international B2B solution selling comprising four components: (1) a behavioural communication component, (2) an effective communication component, (3) a cognitive communication component, and (4) sales acumen. Managerial implications are presented with recommendations for future research.

Koponen, J, Julkunen, S, & Asai, A, “Sales communication competence in international B2B solution selling”, Industrial Marketing Management, 2019.

Long-term customer satisfaction requires innovation

This research aims to fill a critical gap in the sales literature by proposing a relationship-based model of customer willingness to pay more, involving salesperson time perspectives (ie, long-term perspective and short-term perspective), intraorganizational employee navigation, and customer satisfaction with the salesperson. We also examine the moderating role of firm innovation climate. The findings indicate that both long- and short-term perspectives have positive effects on intraorganizational employee navigation and customer satisfaction, which, in turn, positively affect customer willingness to pay more. Also, short-term perspective has a stronger impact than a long-term perspective on intraorganizational employee navigation. Further, the effect of long-term perspective on customer satisfaction is strengthened by the innovation climate of the firm, whereas
the effect of short-term perspective on customer satisfaction is weakened by it.

Agnihotri, R, Yang, Z, & Briggs, E, “Salesperson time perspectives and customer willingness to pay more: roles of intraorganizational employee navigation, customer satisfaction, and firm innovation climate”, Journal of Personal Selling & Sales Management, 1-21, 2019.

Outsourcing the sales team can be hit or miss

Executives and researchers continue to seek factors that lead to new product success. While prior research has suggested that outsourcing the selling function can help make the innovation process leaner and limit future liability, outsourcing can also pose risks in terms of safeguarding both customer relationships and confidential innovation capabilities. Moreover, examining the effects of outsourcing has been identified as a key research priority in recent marketing literature.

Thus, using privileged access to managers in the biochemical industry, we employed a multi-group analysis of 229 new products to investigate the effect of outsourcing the sales force on new product success. Our empirical results demonstrate that outsourcing the sales force moderates the relationship between new product superiority and customer meaningfulness such that the relationship is stronger when outsourcing is employed; however, outsourcing the sales force moderates the relationship between new product good value and customer meaningfulness such that it is weaker when outsourcing is employed. These findings suggest that outsourcing may serve as a signal of added risk for customers. Thus, the decision to outsource the sales force should be made based on customer needs and the characteristics of the new product.

Good, V, & Calantone, R J, “When to outsource the sales force for new products”, Industrial Marketing Management, 2019.

Buyers won’t share information without trust

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 has 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, 34(2), 389-400, 2019.

Two motivational constructs – learning orientation and performance orientation – play major roles in key account manager job performance.

Sales Behaviours

The success of KAM initiatives often relies on individual-level achievement

Key account management has strengthened its relevance as a managerial process in business-to-business (B2B) markets. In many companies, the success of KAM initiatives often relies on individual-level achievement, that is, the performance of key account managers. Despite the relevance of research on individual-level KAM, these topics are largely neglected. This research addresses the problem by developing and testing a structural equation model of personality, motivation, and key account manager job performance.

Our results show that two motivational constructs – learning orientation and performance orientation – play major roles in key account manager job performance. Also, relationships between personality traits and motivational constructs are observed: extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, and emotional stability are found to have significant relationships with motivational constructs. Two of the personality traits, extraversion and conscientiousness, are linked to both learning orientation and performance orientation.

Mahlamäki, T, Rintamäki, T, & Rajah, E, “The role of personality and motivation on key account manager job performance”, Industrial Marketing Management, 2018.

Systems-savvy selling helps salespeople build interpersonal relationships

This article proposes a new mental model for understanding motivation in the context of solving complex problems in contemporary business-to-business (B2B) settings. Findings indicate that intrinsic motivation stems attitudinally from a need to foster an identity of helping customers, introducing a concept called “interpersonal identification” with customers. That identity motivates the development of more cognitively intense sales proposals using a more holistic proposal development process – referred to herein as “systems-savvy selling”. While interpersonal relationships have long been components of B2B relationships, this study challenges lay people’s stereotypes of salespeople who use interpersonal relationships to improve business outcomes.

Instead, systems-savvy selling helps salespeople build interpersonal relationships and use business outcomes as feedback to strengthen interpersonal relationships and their identification with customers. Unexpectedly, it also finds that dual-role sales managers, who have roles both in selling and managing, confront a paradox of self versus others when managing systems-savvy selling processes. By sampling within an industry in which the research team benefits from significant expertise, the constructivist grounded theory approach relying on semistructured, in-depth interviews used herein leverages the research team’s expertise while controlling for industry-level effects.

St. Clair, D P, Hunter, G K, Cola, P A, & Boland, R J, “Systems-savvy selling, interpersonal identification with customers, and the sales manager’s motivational paradox: a constructivist grounded theory approach”, Journal of Personal Selling & Sales Management, 38(4), 391-412, 2018.

Social norms in the sales force: justice and relationalism

This paper aims to examine the role of social norms of justice and relationalism in salesperson-sales manager relationships and their role in developing sales force commitment and turnover. As discrete foundational norms, distributive, procedural and interactional (interpersonal, informational) justice develop higher-order norms of relationalism, which then reflect on increased commitment and reduced turnover intention of the sales force. Among the justice norms, interpersonal justice has the strongest impact on relationalism. The paper shows how each justice norm has a distinct impact in shaping relational norms, and that interpersonal justice has the highest impact. Also, with enhanced relationalism salespeople become more committed and have lower turnover intentions.

To enhance relationalism, and thus in turn increase commitment and decrease turnover intention of the sales force, sales managers should pay attention to the salespeople’s perceptions of justice norms (distributive, procedural, informational and interpersonal justice), especially interpersonal justice, as it has the highest impact on relationalism. The specific ways to enhance justice perceptions are discussed. This paper is the first to show how each justice norm is unique in its importance to shape the relationship between sales manager and salespeople in a way that increases the quality of relational norms, governing the relational process into a highly committed one. It also shows that among the four-justice norms, interactional justice has the highest impact on relationalism.

Benoit, I D, Brashear Alejandro, T, Foreman, J, Chelariu, C, & Bergman, S, “Social norms in the salesforce: justice and relationalism”, Journal of Business & Industrial Marketing, 2018.

Grittiness not entrepreneurial spirit aids retention of Millennial salespeople

The study explores the latest generation of the workforce, Generation Z/Millennial cusp, and the loyalty concerns hiring managers experience. The authors explore how the characteristics of entrepreneurship and grit can potentially impact employee loyalty to an organisation. Based on the feedback from hiring managers using a grounded theory approach, we propose a conceptual model that includes three constructs that emerged from the analysis: individual entrepreneurship orientation, grit, and loyalty.

The results from the content analysis suggest grit moderates the relationship between entrepreneurship and loyalty. The conceptual model proposes sales managers can hire individuals with grit to decrease employee turnover. This study provides several contributions to the stream of research focused on Generation Z and employee loyalty. First, due to the changing demographics of the workforce, sales managers need to hire and retain younger sales professional who have different expectations; therefore, thinking differently of their hiring process. Second, the study creates an exploratory discussion that can help sales managers evaluate future talent for their organisation. Sales managers may evaluate an applicant’s “grittiness” vs those who are more entrepreneurial in the spirit to retain those sales professionals long term.

Rodriguez, M, Boyer, S, Fleming, D, & Cohen, S, “Managing the Next Generation of Sales, Gen Z/Millennial Cusp: An Exploration of Grit, Entrepreneurship, and Loyalty”, Journal of Business-to-Business Marketing, 1-13, 2019.

Research suggests that co-creation is also an important antecedent of trust in business-to-business relationships.

Salesperson empathy has a positive effect on sales

The purpose of this study was to examine the impact of salesperson empathy, both cognitive and affective, on business-to-business buyer-salesperson relational outcomes. Specifically, the direct impact of empathy is examined in relation to both the salesperson’s communication ability and customer-oriented behaviour. The impact of empathy is then examined as a direct and indirect influencer of satisfaction with the salesperson and commitment to the salesperson.

The study found that cognitive empathy and affective empathy had a positive relationship with customer-oriented behaviours, information communication ability and commitment to the salesperson. However, only cognitive empathy was found to have a positive relationship with the customer’s satisfaction with the salesperson. Although empathy has found to have a positive effect on sales, sales research has yet to provide conclusive evidence on whether cognitive empathy and affective empathy would have a similar effect on a salesperson-customer relationship. This study provides evidence that not all facets of empathy influence relational outcomes in the same way and differ in magnitude. This provides strong support for the importance of studying the impact of empathy from a faceted viewpoint rather than a unidimensional perspective when examining the influence on buyer-seller relational outcomes.

Delpechitre, D, Rutherford, B N, & Comer, L B, “The importance of customer’s perception of salesperson’s empathy in selling”, Journal of Business & Industrial Marketing, 34(2), 374-388, 2019.

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:

Joint working between customer and salesperson builds trust

Trust enjoys wide acceptance as a key facilitator of inter-organisational relationship development, and successful relationship development demands an understanding of what drives the propensity to trust between organisations within both cognitive and affective dimensions of trust. The six most salient antecedents of trust within contemporary trust literature have been identified as satisfaction, communication, competence, shared values, benevolence and integrity.

This research suggests that co-creation is also an important antecedent of trust in business-to-business relationships. Co-creation is described here as the active participation, interactions and collaboration of the buyer and seller and other actors in the marketing exchange to develop a deeper understanding of the customer problem-solving context. The relative strength of the cognitive and affective aspects of trust antecedents, the moderating influence of business experience and seniority on the relationship between significant antecedents and trust are also explored.

Franklin, D, & Marshall, R, “Adding co-creation as an antecedent condition leading to trust in business-to-business relationships”, Industrial Marketing Management, 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.