2019 Q4 Research Review – edited by Jeremy Noad

13th December 2019 |   Dr 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 sales performance, customer management, and behavioural studies.

Sales Performance

Ethical leadership leads to higher sales performance

Given the ever-increasing pressure put on sales organisations to improve performance, behave ethically and establish long-term customer relationships, this study seeks to better comprehend ethical leadership’s part in doing so. It proposes that perceived ethical leadership indirectly influences salesperson performance through trust in the manager and ethical ambiguity.

The results show that perceived ethical leadership influences salesperson performance through the mediating roles of trust in the manager and ethical ambiguity. Salespeople’s perceptions of their supervisor’s ethical leadership behaviours positively impact their trust in the manager and negatively influences their ethical ambiguity. In turn, trust in manager positively influences sales performance while ethical ambiguity negatively influences sales performance. The results from testing the hypothesised model support mechanisms by which ethical leadership behaviour may affect business-to-business salesperson job performance.

It appears that ethical leadership works through ethical ambiguity and trust in manager to impact salesperson behaviour performance, rather than directly impacting salesperson performance. Importantly, the findings add to the literature an important consequence of ethical leadership, ethical ambiguity. This research likewise adds to the literature on role, and more specifically ethical, ambiguity by finding that reducing salesperson ethical ambiguity has a positive impact on salesperson behaviour performance. This study finds that one important mechanism for reducing ethical ambiguity is for sales supervisors to practise ethical leadership.

By reducing ethical ambiguity, sales managers can improve business-to-business salesperson performance. Also, the use of ethical leadership by sales managers can positively influence the business-to-business salesperson’s trust in manager, which subsequently leads to greater sales performance. The results of this study add to our knowledge of ethical leadership by further developing its consequences. It also sheds light on a vastly under-researched construct, ethical ambiguity. Finally, it further validates the important role that trust in manager plays in the organisation.

Schwepker Jr, C H (2019), “Using Ethical Leadership to Improve Business-To-Business Salesperson Performance: The Mediating Roles of Trust in Manager and Ethical Ambiguity”, Journal of Business-to-Business Marketing, 26(2), 141-158.

Rapid sales automation decreases salesperson performance

The purpose of this study is to examine how technology overload (system feature, information, and communication overload) influences salespeople’s role stress (role conflict and role ambiguity), effort to use technology and performance. This research used salespeople at a national company providing services to small and medium companies to examine whether these relationships are linear or quadratic. It also examines the moderating effect of salespeople’s technology self-efficacy.

Results show that dimensions of technology overload had linear and/or quadratic relationships with role stress, effort to use technology and performance. Salesperson’s technology self-efficacy moderated the relationship between technology overload, effort to use technology and performance. The benefits of new technology are not always linear. Managers should regulate the timing of technology improvements, as well as the availability of information, communication and system feature, to reduce role stress and enhance efforts to use technologies.

Drawing on the job demand and resource model, this research demonstrates that technology used as a job resource will aid the salesperson and company; however, when technology overload exists, it becomes a job demand with the potential to enhance role stress and decrease salesperson performance.

Delpechitre, D, Black, H G, and Farrish, J (2019), “The dark side of technology: examining the impact of technology overload on salespeople”, Journal of Business & Industrial Marketing, 34(2), 317-337.

Salesperson’s ability to learn impacts the success of value-based selling

This paper investigated factors that affect the use of value-based selling and the subsequent influences on salespeople’s sales performance using industrial salespeople from five steel manufacturers. Scales measure three components of value-based selling: comprehension, crafting and confirmation. Salespeople’s learning orientation has the greatest impact on the use of value-based selling. Managerial support exerts a positive effect on crafting. Salespeople’s experience has a positive impact on comprehension and confirmation. The implementation of value-based selling has a positive effect on sales performance. The results suggest that value-based selling is a multi-component sales process that requires balancing managerial actions among individual and organisational factors. This paper presents a broad evaluation of measures and assessments of value-based selling in business-to-business sales settings. The findings provide new elaborations on the theoretical and practical implications of value-based selling and reveal which individual and organisational factors affect the usage of value-based selling.

Kienzler, M, Kindström, D, and Brashear-Alejandro, T (2019), “Value-based selling: a multi-component exploration”, Journal of Business & Industrial Marketing, 34(2), 360-373.

Team selling needs a diverse team

Team selling and the increasing representation of women in the sales force are two current trends contributing to the complexity of managing the sales environment, yet little work exists investigating the impact of women on selling team performance. This paper anchors on cognitive resource diversity theory and integrates relevant prior research to propose a new proposition-driven framework that explains why gender diversity of team members improves team performance.

Specifically, we provide evidence to suggest that the addition of females to all-male selling teams should positively impact team performance by reducing the average turnover rate of high performers within the team; by enhancing relational skills, organizational citizenship behaviors, and shared leadership within the team; and by building on the favorable effects associated with team heterogeneity. We also consider the moderating effects that potentially deeply ingrained connections among members of all-male teams may have on changes in team gender composition, as well as the importance of a culture of organisational inclusion on the favourable effects of team heterogeneity overall. Managerial implications of increased female presence on teams are proffered, along with suggested next steps in research and limitations of the present conceptualisation.

Shoreibah, R A, Marshall, G W, and Gassenheimer, J B (2017), “Toward a framework for mixed-gender selling teams and the impact of increased female presence on team performance: Thought development and propositions”, Industrial Marketing Management.

Sales and marketing selling centres offer a way to manage complex sales

Organisations are turning to the collective knowledge of selling teams to manage increasingly complex customers and solutions. One specific cross-functional unit that organisations are commonly using when selling to business-to-business customers is a team of sales and marketing personnel. While the interface between sales and marketing has received attention in the literature, which notes the inherent advantages and challenges of incorporating both roles on a team, opportunities remain to examine sales and marketing selling centres (SMSCs): instances where sales and marketing jointly and directly interact on a relatively temporary basis in customer-facing situations. The authors utilise a discovery-oriented, theories-in-use inquiry to understand customer-facing SMSC processes, facilitators, and outcomes better. Based on insights captured from 29 in-depth interviews with informants whom each served on SMSCs in both sales and marketing roles, this study extends sales research by providing a dual perspective of those working on SMSCs, thus enhancing the utility of such malleable selling teams.

Johnson, J S, Matthes, J M, and Friend, S B (2017), “Interfacing and customer-facing: Sales and marketing selling centers”, Industrial Marketing Management.

Customer Management

Is account planning still relevant in the digital age?

The purpose of this paper is to focus on transformations in the advertising industry from the point of view of the role and position of account planners. It questions the current viability of account planning (AP) as a result of digital disruptions. The research points out that AP is a profession in transition as part of the advertising industry that is undergoing a major shift. Digital transformations have not yet crystallised in the business domain, and so this period is one of learning and adjustment.

It is suggested for advertising practitioners, as well as marketing executives, to encourage AP departments to rethink the core significance of the AP department since the AP role needs to be repositioned or even redefined. The current research has several significant implications for theory and practice: confronting the role of the strategist in advertising agencies versus digital strategy and Big Data; contributing to the understanding of the dynamics of AP transitional roles as a starting point for re-examination of the advertising creative process; and calling for more research exploring the relationship between agency adoption of digital tools and its approach to AP.

Zimand-Sheiner, D and Earon, A (2019), “Disruptions of account planning in the digital age”, Marketing Intelligence & Planning, 37(2), 126-139.

Inadequate sales compensation plans result in unintended consequences

The purpose of this paper is to examine the influence of disclosure of sales compensations on insurance brokers’ intention to make inappropriate product recommendations. This research examines the insurance brokers’ intention to make unsuitable product recommendations through an application of the theory of planned behaviour. Surveys are used as the research instrument, and the hypotheses are tested with a between-subjects experimental design. One case of mandatory disclosure and one case of non-mandatory disclosure are compared in the research.

The results indicate that the disclosure of sales compensations is significantly associated with the subjective norms from the official authority and perceived behavioural control (PBC). The results of this study also indicate that, when the disclosure is mandatory, the PBC has a stronger effect on the insurance brokers’ intention to make biased product recommendations than do the attitude and subjective norms. When the disclosure is non-mandatory, however, the subjective norms have a stronger effect on the insurance brokers’ intention. The impacts of compensation disclosures on the financial professionals’ product recommendations have been less examined. This study could contribute to the literature by providing some empirical observations from the views of Taiwan’s life insurance brokers.

Tseng, L M and Yu, T W (2019), “Disclosure of sales compensations and product recommendations”, Marketing Intelligence & Planning.

Salespeople’s learning orientation has the greatest impact on the use of value-based selling.

Explicit customer value creation improves a firm’s competitive position

The identification of customer needs through relationship management and their transformation into marketing innovation are two key processes in customer value creation. When combined, they can improve a firm’s competitive position, not only in terms of profitability but also by reducing costs and promoting the use of technology. The purpose of this paper is to analyse the link between managerial relational capability and marketing innovation in customer value creation and to look at how that value creation affects competitiveness.

The results show that management capabilities in customer relationships and in the way they convert knowledge of customer needs into specific choices in the market have a positive effect on customer value creation, as well as on financial performance, cost optimisation and the use of technology – all of which can be used as indicators of competitiveness. The study covers customer value creation in an emerging economy, that of Mexico, and relates it to business competitiveness from a holistic point of view which goes beyond profitability by also including cost reduction and the use of technology

Sánchez-Gutiérrez, J, Cabanelas, P, Lampón, J F, and González-Alvarado, T E (2019), “The impact on competitiveness of customer value creation through relationship capabilities and marketing innovation”, Journal of Business & Industrial Marketing, 34(3), 618-627.

Today’s buying process will change tomorrow

Consultants and pundits assert that the business-to-business (B2B) buying process has changed markedly in recent years due to the emergence of online, digital applications and software. Recognising that impactful, and truly innovative future research is perhaps best created when built on the foundation of past science, we review the arc of B2B buying process modelling from 1956 to the present. Our goals with this research are to: 1. Capture the genealogy and evolution of thinking across the years in terms of foundation theories, reasoning approach, types of models, factors researched, and journals in which articles were published; 2. Identify the thematic inflexion points in the research stream that have led to the current conceptualizations; and 3. Suggest a research agenda for the future.

We discovered that academic understanding of the B2B buying process has progressed in waves featuring seven themes – transactions, situations, influences, responses, relationships, networks and journeys. Looking to the future, we recommend that scholars examine five areas of research: the impact of technology, modes of customer and supplier interaction, decision-making approaches, tensions between internal and external communities, and B2B marketing analytics.

Steward, M D, Narus, J A, Roehm, M L, and Ritz, W (2019), “From transactions to journeys and beyond: The evolution of B2B buying process modelling”, Industrial Marketing Management.

Behavioural Studies

Being perceived as being fair and just by your team improves retention and performance

This paper aims to examine the role of social norms of justice and relationalism in salesperson–sales manager relationships, and their role in developing salesforce 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 salesforce. 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. Future research could use a longitudinal study, present manager’s side in the model and measure and compare the impact of supervisor- versus organisation-focused justice.

To enhance relationalism, and thus in turn increase commitment and decrease turnover intention of salesforce, 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. Also, this is the first study to show that relationalism decreases the turnover intention of salespeople.

Benoit, I D, Brashear Alejandro, T, Foreman, J, Chelariu, C, and Bergman, S (2019), “Social norms in the salesforce: justice and relationalism”, Journal of Business & Industrial Marketing, 34(1), 49-61.

Unethical sales behaviour can be neutralised

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 relationships above 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. 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 own unethical behaviour and the implications on maintaining relationships with their customers.

Munoz, L, and Mallin, M (2019), “Unethical sales behavior neutralization: the impact of salesperson role variables and moderating effects of role relationship orientation”, Journal of Business & Industrial Marketing, 34(1), 62-79.

Company wellness programmes reduce salesperson stress

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. Data including measures of coping strategies and a wellness lifestyle orientation were collected from a sample of 441 full-time professional salespeople in two metropolitan statistical areas of the USA. Structural equation modelling was used to demonstrate the relationship of a wellness lifestyle to coping strategies and in turn, the relationship of coping strategies to job satisfaction and turnover intentions.

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, and Porter, S (2019), “The salesperson wellness lifestyle, coping with stress and the reduction of turnover”, Journal of Business & Industrial Marketing, 34(2), 347-359.

Salespeople can learn grit and perseverance

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 underexplored 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. Furthermore, 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 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, and Britton, B (2019), “Gritting their teeth to close the sale: the positive effect of salesperson grit on job satisfaction and performance”, Journal of Personal Selling & Sales Management, 39(1), 81-101.

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 particular 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.

A blended team of different ability levels improves performance

This research uses quasi-experimental, control group design to examine the performance and behavioural impact of team design on sales performance. We assess team versus individual performance and team composition. Drawing on motivation gain literature, we evaluate the impact of team composition based on the relative ability of the team members.

The research is in a field sales setting in collaboration with a major insurance provider, providing the first example of assessing Group Motivation Gain (GMG) in a sales setting through a field experiment. Our paper extends previous research in this domain by considering outcome interdependence, not merely task interdependence, evaluating the performance of both team members, assessing motivation gain in the context of a task over a longer duration, and building the related nomological network.

The findings demonstrate improved overall performance for the team and the individual members of the team. The gains were particularly pronounced when members have moderate levels of difference in ability, rather than small or large differences in ability. We discuss the managerial implications of our findings and suggest further research directions.

Garrett, J, and Gopalakrishna, S (2017), “Sales team formation: The right team member helps performance”, Industrial Marketing Management.

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.