2020 Q2 Research Review – edited by Jeremy Noad

9th November 2020 |   Dr Jeremy Noad

The research review aims to help readers keep up to date on recently published research on sales-related topics. The review highlights short abstracts of academically peer-reviewed research. This selection of published research is from a range of academic journals. In this edition, the abstracts include three themes that focus on sales performance, customer management, and capability development.

Sales Performance

Combined sales & marketing roles dominate senior hiring

The integration of diverging thought worlds of marketing and sales can have many synergistic benefits for industrial firms. However, intertwining marketing and sales in one position introduces coordination costs – costs that have, for the most part, been ignored by the existing B2B literature. The authors argue that appointment announcements of new executives to joint marketing and sales positions (M&S) put these costs in stark relief, especially relative to new marketing-only (M) or sales-only (S) appointments’ announcements. Leveraging event-study methodology and latent instruments, this research examines secondary data on over 800 executive appointment announcements, 436 of which are related to marketing and sales. The authors find that new appointments to joint M&S positions introduce hard to simultaneously balance change across diverging thought worlds that results in uncertainty and hurt firm value. Drawing on structural-contingency framework, this study finds that less formalization of tasks, represented by insider status of an appointee, can mitigate this disruption, by stabilizing structures during change.

Furthermore, specialization in B2B marketing technology weakens the negative effect of announcements of joint M&S appointments, because such positions lean heavily towards sales and thus require less coordination between the two functions. However, specialization concerning the industry environment, represented by market concentration, exacerbates the disruptive effect of appointing new executives to joint M&S positions.

Vaid, S S, Ahearne, M and Krause, R (2019), “Joint marketing and sales appointment: Uncertainty from intertwining of marketing and sales in one position,” Industrial Marketing Management.

Sales control systems influence performance

By distinguishing customer-oriented behaviors into functional and relational ones, this study reveals how different combinations of sales control systems (namely activity control, outcome control, and capability control) affect a salesperson’s distinct customer-oriented behaviors, which subsequently influence sales performance. By collecting data from business-to-business salespeople and their managers and using hierarchical linear modelling, we find that the outcome-capability control combination increases functional and relational customer-oriented behaviors. The outcome-activity control combination decreases functional customer-oriented behaviors. The activity-capability control combination increases functional customer-oriented behaviors but reduces relational customer-oriented behaviors. In addition, we find that both customer-oriented behaviors not only boost sales performance individually but also complement each other to positively affect sales performance. These findings provide important theoretical and practical implications by demonstrating that combinations of control systems have a significant impact on a salesperson’s functional and relational customer-oriented behaviors.

Zang, Z, Liu, D, Zheng, Y and Chen, C (2020), “How do the combinations of sales control systems influence sales performance? The mediating roles of distinct customer-oriented behaviors.” Industrial Marketing Management, 84, 287-297.

Salespeople do influence tenders

Organizational buyers are increasingly employing competitive tenders with objective buying criteria to mitigate the influence of personal relationships with suppliers and reduce the overall cost of buying. This paper investigates the role of salespeople’s relationships with buyers (ie, purchasing managers) and how they affect supplier selection in such contexts. Drawing on data from 428 tenders across different buying organizations, this study shows that the quality of the salesperson’s relationship with the buyer influences the buyer’s evaluation of the tender proposal, which, in turn, affects supplier selection. Thus, the results support an indirect effect of salesperson relationship on supplier selection even in a tender context. In addition, the results indicate that the effect of a salesperson’s relationship on the buyer’s proposal evaluation is contingent on the comprehensibility of suppliers’ proposals and buyer’s product knowledge. These results have significant theoretical and managerial implications for both buyers and suppliers in business-to-business (B2B) tender contexts.

Dax, M, Tyssen, E K, Schmitz, C and Ganesan, S (2019), “Do salespeople matter in competitive tenders?” Journal of Personal Selling & Sales Management, 39(4), 370-385.

The results support an indirect effect of salesperson relationship on supplier selection even in a tender context. In addition, the results indicate that the effect of a salesperson’s relationship on the buyer’s proposal evaluation is contingent on the comprehensibility of suppliers’ proposals and buyer’s product knowledge.

Selling to friends is less stressful

The last decade has witnessed a rapid growth in the number of individuals who sell products and services to their friends. Despite this fast growth, there is scant research on the phenomenon of selling to friends, in general, and on the tension that may arise when salespeople attempt to simultaneously perform the role of salesperson and friend, specifically. To begin to remedy this knowledge gap, we build on transactional models of stress to posit that salespeople who identify with the selling organization are less likely to experience tension and, by extension, role stress when selling to friends. Moreover, we predict that role stress may have both positive and negative consequences in a friend-selling context. We test these ideas using dyadic survey data (provided by salespeople and their customers) and find: 1) organizational identification reduces friend-selling stress; 2) the organizational identification–friend-selling stress relationship is contingent on friend-selling frequency and network size; 3) friend-selling ambiguity decreases sales performance and customer trust; and (4) friend-selling conflict has divergent consequences, leading to positive customer responses but negative salesperson outcomes.

Beeler, L L, Chaker, N N, Gala, P and Zablah, A R (2019), “The divergent effects of organizational identification on salesperson and customer outcomes in a friend-selling context”, Journal of Personal Selling & Sales Management, 1-19.

Customer Management

Collaborative information sharing builds customer relationships

Extant literature in marketing capability with an inside-out perspective stresses existing internal resources as the basis for developing marketing capability. This study, taking an outside-in perspective, argues that starting from an external environment and developing a strong buyer-supplier relationship can help formulate strong marketing capability of the buying firm. Using survey data from 199 Chinese manufacturing buyers who identified 937 suppliers, we found that strong buyer-supplier relationship can breed strong supplier information-sharing and supplier flexibility, which fully mediate the effect of the buyer-supplier relationship on buying firms’ marketing capability. The findings provide support to the outside-in approach and reveal how external inter-firm relationship can be turned into intra-firm capability, and suggest that strong upstream buyer-supplier relationship can be a necessity for building downstream buyers’ marketing capabilities. The findings also suggest an alternative strategy for developing marketing capabilities starting from external suppliers and may help close the gap between marketing capability and dynamic external environment.

Yang, Z, Jiang, Y and Xie, E (2019), “Buyer-supplier relational strength and buying firm’s marketing capability: An outside-in perspective”, Industrial Marketing Management.

Customer centricity is not just the salesperson’s responsibility

The concept of customer centricity is frequently debated by sales and marketing researchers and practitioners. However, to date, no validated scale exists that measures to what extent customers perceive companies as customer-centric. Against this backdrop, drawing on prior literature, qualitative interviews, and a customer survey (N = 246), the authors develop and validate a measurement scale for perceived customer-centricity. In addition, using matched survey and financial data from industrial customers (N = 1,089), the authors examine the antecedents and consequences of perceived customer-centricity. Results show that customers perceive firms as customer-centric if the supplier is customer-oriented on both the overall firm-level and the salesperson level. Furthermore, perceived customer-centricity is strongly linked to customers’ loyalty intentions and objective sales revenue, particularly if customers perceive a firm to exhibit high prices. Thus, this article equips managers with a validated and easy-to-use measurement that allows monitoring a firm’s progress toward customer-centricity.

Habel, J, Kassemeier, R, Alavi, S Haaf, P, Schmitz, C and Wieseke, J (2019), “When do customers perceive customer-centricity? The role of a firm’s and salespeople’s customer orientation”, Journal of Personal Selling & Sales Management, 1-18.

Big Data fuels sales growth

This study focuses on the use of big data analytics in managing B2B customer relationships and examines the effects of big data analytics on customer relationship performance and sales growth using a multi-industry dataset from 417 B2B firms. The study also examines whether analytics culture within a firm moderates these effects. The study finds that the use of customer big data significantly fosters sales growth (ie, monetary performance outcomes) and enhances customer relationship performance (non-monetary performance outcomes). However, the latter effect is stronger for firms which have an analytics culture which supports marketing analytics, whereas the former effect remains unchanged regardless of the analytics culture. The study empirically confirms that customer big data analytics improves customer relationship performance and sales growth in B2B firms.

Hallikainen, H, Savimäki, E and Laukkanen, T (2019), “Fostering B2B sales with customer big data analytics”, Industrial Marketing Management.

Results show that customers perceive firms as customer-centric if the supplier is customer-oriented on both the overall firm level and the salesperson level.

Capability Development

Customer purchase commitment requires sales effort to become real orders

This study explores the roles that salesperson characteristics and influence tactics play in converting customer commitments to sales fulfilment. A sample of 258 salesperson-customer interactions revealed that, by offering recommendations and exchanging information with customers, salespeople can increase the propensity for the fulfilment of customers’ purchase commitments. Conversely, it was discovered that salespeople fail to convert commitments into fulfillments when they utilize threats, promises, ingratiation, or inspirational tactics. Additionally, long-term orientation, customer orientation, and adaptive selling behaviors were not found to have an impact on the commitment-fulfilment relationship.

Clark, M (2019), “Converting purchase commitments into purchase fulfillments: An examination of salesperson characteristics and influence tactics”, Industrial Marketing Management.

New hires need more nuanced coaching

Salesperson hiring decisions are critical for firms, and managers typically accept one of two viewpoints regarding optimal hiring strategies. The first asserts that prior sales experience allows new salespeople to perform immediately upon hire and represents a valuable hiring heuristic. The second believes lack of prior experience allows managers to mould new salespeople to the hiring firm’s needs. Further complicating matters, formal sales education programs are gaining in popularity and may represent an alternative hiring heuristic for sales managers. Using unique multisource data (from both B2B and B2C firms), the authors explore the effects of these hiring heuristics in driving salespeople’s longitudinal performance trajectories, along with the moderating role of post-hire manager coaching behaviors. Results of the longitudinal growth models show the distinct and opposing effects of each hiring heuristic and coaching strategy. The authors also identify critical areas of future research and managerial practice.

Bolander, W, Satornino, C B, Allen, A M, Hochstein, B and Dugan, R (2019), “Whom to hire and how to coach them: a longitudinal analysis of newly hired salesperson performance”, Journal of Personal Selling & Sales Management, 1-17.

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 Research Review, including recommendations of articles for future issues, should be sent to the section editor: Jeremy.Noad@port.ac.uk.

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.