2021 7.4 Research Review – edited by Jeremy Noad

28th September 2021 |   Dr Jeremy Noad

The research review aims to help readers keep up to date with 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 four themes that focus on sales performance, customer management and sales automation.

2021 7.4 Research Review – edited by Jeremy Noad

Sales Performance

Being a solution provider signals quality to buyers

Many manufacturers claim to be solution providers. However, solution business is notoriously difficult to manage, and the associated profitability is difficult to demonstrate. This raises the question: why should companies keep trying? We provide one possible answer by applying signalling theory to understand how engagement in solution business functions as a quality signal to a prospective buyer of products.

The results of two scenario-based online experiments show that positioning oneself in the market as a solution seller has a highly significant and positive effect on the customer’s purchase intention in cases where the customer is only considering the purchase of a single, product-based component. This signal functions as a risk-reduction mechanism, and the observed effect is stronger if the seller can boost the credibility of the signal by citing prior reference projects.

The primary theoretical contribution of the study is to provide an empirically grounded explanation of a possible outcome from engagement in solution business. For practitioners, our research suggests that a market positioning as a solution provider is strategically important because it supports the product business. Thus, manufacturers should persist with the solution business even when the direct revenues generated by this particular form of service provision in question may not offset the related costs.

Zimmer, M, Salonen, A, & Wangenheim, F V (2020), “Business solutions as market signals that facilitate product sales”, Industrial Marketing Management, 91, 30-40.

Our research suggests that a market positioning as a solution provider is strategically important because it supports the product business.

Do values add value to purchasing decisions?

The purpose of this study is to develop and test a theoretical framework to examine business purchase decisions using the concept of “values”: personal values (PV), organizational values (OV) and values-congruency. The data for the study were collected from members of the Supply Chain Management Association of Canada. The relationships between perceived PV/OV/values-congruency (IVs) and perceived role values played in business purchase decisions (DV) were hypothesized.

Three factors, namely, humanity, bottom line, and convention, were identified using exploratory factor analysis. The hypotheses were tested using polynomial regression, a preferred method for measuring congruency or fit (Edwards, 1994). Perceived humanity (humaneness or benevolence) values of an organization were found to positively correlate with the perceived role that humanity and convention (risk aversion or compliance) values played in business purchase decisions. Perceived purchase function formalization within buying organizations was also found to have a positive relationship with the perceived role of humanity, bottom line and convention values played in business purchase decisions.

Buying organizations may consider formalizing their purchase functions, clarifying their humaneness/benevolence and risk aversion/compliance values to their employees and vendors, and incorporating them in the purchasing criteria/process. Similarly, selling organizations may benefit from considering these values of customers to position their products and services for better sales outcomes and business relationships.

Anwer, E, Deshpande, S, Derry, R, & Basil, D Z (2020), “The value of values in business purchase decisions”, Journal of Business & Industrial Marketing.

Establishing value in use with the customer

Suppliers in business markets are increasingly providing complex offerings, which is reflected in concepts like hybrid offerings, servitisation and solution business. Such complex offerings are characterized by value propositions in which the value that emerges throughout the entire customer usage cycle builds the core element.

To secure and increase this value in use, as perceived by the customers, suppliers need to establish activities of value-in-use management. This value-in-use management comprises monitoring the delivery of the promised value and enhancing customer value in use throughout the entire lifecycle of a complex offering.

This article investigates which value-in-use management activities are currently implemented by suppliers, how these activities are linked to other business processes, and what differences in value-in-use management activities exist between various types of complex offerings. By addressing these questions, this research contributes to the literature by exploring post-deployment processes that affect value-in-use customer experience when using complex offerings. Moreover, from a managerial perspective, it reveals that constellations measures of value-in-use management are currently implemented in practice and therefore are of particular importance. Furthermore, the study results may serve as a starting point to elucidate how measures of value-in-use management can be implemented successfully.

Prohl, K, & Kleinaltenkamp, M (2020), “Managing value in use in business markets”, Industrial Marketing Management, 91, 563-580.

Although social capital can generate benefits, it can also lead to risks that can undermine the performance and evolution of buyer-supplier relationships.

What makes a difference in sales performance?

Considering recent changes in sales practices, such as the sales role becoming more strategic, increased reliance on technology for sales activities increased stress from adding technological responsibilities to the sales role and decreased avenues of social support (such as traditional forms of community) to cope with work-related stressors. There is a need to reconsider Verbeke et al’s (2011) classification scheme of determinants of sales performance, which was based on literature published before these critical changes became apparent.

This paper conducts a systematic review of sales performance research published during 1983-2018 to propose an extension to Verbeke et al’s (2011) classification. This paper followed a systematic approach to the literature review in five sequential steps – search, selection, quality control, extraction, and synthesis – as suggested by Tranfield et al (2003). In total, 261 peer-reviewed journal papers from 36 different journals were selected for extraction and synthesis.

The findings make the following additions to the classification: strategic and nonstrategic activities as a new category, technological drivers of sales performance and job-related psychosocial factors as a broader category to replace role perceptions. Derived from the job-demand-control-support model, three subcategories within the category of job-related psychosocial factors are psychological demands (encompasses role perceptions and digital-age stressors such as technostress creators), job control and work-related social support.

This paper identifies that the manager’s role in facilitating technology skills, providing informal social support to remote or virtual salespeople using technology, and encouraging strategic behaviours in salespeople are future research areas having good potential. Understanding and building positive psychology aspects in salespeople and their effect on sales performance is another promising area. Newly added technological drivers draw the attention of sales firms toward the influence of technology and its skilful usage on salesperson performance. Newly added strategic activities make a case for the importance of strategic participation in salesperson performance.

Chawla, V, Lyngdoh, T, Guda, S. & Purani, K (2020), “Systematic review of determinants of sales performance: Verbeke et al’s (2011) classification extended”, Journal of Business & Industrial Marketing.

Customer Management

Buyer’s personal values influence B2B decisions

Drawing from the contingency model, this study aims to investigate the moderating effects of business-to-business (B2B) buyer personal characteristics on the relationship between sales activities and sales effectiveness. As an application of engaged scholarship, this study leverages a year’s worth of sales activity and results from a Fortune 500 financial services company for 2,710 dyads; personal characteristics (ie, geodemographics) were appended for the customers/prospects of the dyads. The data was analyzed with hierarchical regression, and subgroups were tested using the Chow test.

The results support that geodemographic segments – as a proxy for personal characteristics – moderate the strength of the relationship between selling activities and sales effectiveness. Overall, the results demonstrate that selling activities have varying impacts on sales effectiveness within geodemographic segments and buy-class scenarios.

While it has been long held that understanding the personal characteristics of the B2B purchasing decision-maker is critical for sales effectiveness, little guidance has been provided on how to accomplish this to scale. The present study provides a framework and process for practitioner operationalization. This research contributes to the literature that has explored personal characteristics of buying centre members. Additionally, the results suggest that the personal characteristics of the purchase decision-maker may transcend business-to-consumer and B2B purchasing contexts.

Mier, J, Carlson, J, Bellenger, D N, & Johnston, W J (2020), “Business buyers are people too: exploring how geodemographics affects business-to-business selling effectiveness”, Journal of Business & Industrial Marketing.

Social media can be particularly helpful in engaging international prospects.

Over-reliance on goodwill weakens business relationships

The concept of social capital advocates that the goodwill available from relations is a valuable resource that can facilitate collective actions. Although social capital has recently gained momentum in the buyer-supplier relationship (BSR) literature, there is a surprising lack of consensus about its antecedents, benefits, risks, and boundary conditions in such relationships.

A systematic literature review of 70 articles published in peer-reviewed journals between 2002 and 2018 was undertaken to address this void. The review identified and discusses two types of antecedents that can give rise to social capital in BSRs, namely intrafirm-level and relationship-level antecedents (ie, structural and relational). It reveals that social capital can lead to a variety of benefits, in the form of direct performance improvements (eg, operational) and relationship benefits (eg, knowledge sharing); however, that these benefits may vary depending on a number of boundary conditions in BSRs (eg, contract specificity). The review also highlights that, although social capital can generate benefits, it can also lead to risks that can undermine the performance and evolution of BSRs (eg, reduced exploratory learning), suggesting a “double-edged sword” effect. The paper concludes by summarizing current research gaps and outlining promising directions for future research.

Alghababsheh, M, & Gallear, D (2020), “Social capital in buyer-supplier relationships: A review of antecedents, benefits, risks, and boundary conditions”, Industrial Marketing Management, 91, 338-361.

Sales Automation

How can a CRM system improve customer loyalty?

This study investigates the impact of customer relationship management (CRM) and company reputation on customer loyalty, with customer satisfaction mediating the relation among small and medium-sized enterprises. Customer satisfaction is essential for company reputation and loyalty because a company’s reputation largely depends on customer satisfaction in turbulent markets. Due to uncertainty in the Pakistani market, no company can go smoothly in this turbulent market. Therefore, the current study is conducted in the Pakistani context to examine customer beliefs regarding the company’s reputation.

To achieve the study’s main objective, data were collected from registered firms operationalized in Islamabad and Rawalpindi and verified by the Small and Medium-sized Enterprises Development Authority (SMEDA). Structured questionnaires were employed, and a total of 345 questionnaires were distributed among the top management, and 217 responses were received. After excluding those responses which were missing and not correctly completed, the remaining 181 were used for final analysis. For hypothesis testing, AMOS was used.

Hence, our findings suggest that customer relationship management and company reputation positively and significantly impact customer loyalty. Additionally, customer satisfaction partially mediates the relation among customer relationship management, company reputation and customer loyalty. Hence, this study offers some suggestions to policymakers and practitioners. They should build deep trust among the company’s staff, which will become a good source of company reputation. In addition, different steps such as advertising, public relations and marketing campaigns are significant in changing customer’s behaviours.

Khan, R U, Salamzadeh, Y, Iqbal, Q, & Yang, S (2020), “The Impact of Customer Relationship Management and Company Reputation on Customer Loyalty: The Mediating Role of Customer Satisfaction”, Journal of Relationship Marketing, 1-27.

Social media can be particularly helpful in engaging international prospects

Social media and digital tools are gradually changing the way firms market themselves. Understanding how sales functions use these communication tools within business-to-business (B2B) markets could clarify the dynamics underpinning the sales process in an increasingly technology-mediated world. This paper explores how social media, digital, and traditional sales communication tools are leveraged during the three main phases of the B2B sales process within international SMEs.

The article’s grounded-theory approach illustrates that social media can be particularly helpful in engaging international prospects. Digital communication tools seem to be most prevalent in the persuasion phase, whereas more traditional communication tools still prevail in customer relationship management. However, there seem to be some important potential boundary conditions, including relationship culture, location proximity, technology innovation/resources, and strategic importance of the customer that affect the way international SMEs use different communication tools during a sales process. We develop a framework for understanding the B2B sales process flow with sales communication tools included for international SMEs.

Fraccastoro, S, Gabrielsson, M, & Pullins, E B (2020), “The integrated use of social media, digital, and traditional communication tools in international SMEs’ B2B sales process.”, International Business Review, 101776.

Social media can be an important tool to enhance sales growth

The innovative impact of digital technologies on sales forces is largely unexplored. Particularly, the understanding of drivers of social media use by salespeople remains fragmented and scant. Drawing on motivation-opportunity-ability theory, this study develops an integrative framework. The individual’s opportunities to use social media, including perceptions about market readiness, peer influence, and organizational support, are considered as important antecedents of individuals’ motivation (perceived usefulness) and ability (perceived ability to integrate social media in the sales tasks) to use social media in their job. Next to a positive effect of social media use on sales performance, a potential negative impact through distraction is accounted for. The framework and hypotheses are tested using a sample of 345 salespeople.

The results largely support the model and hypotheses. Market readiness, peer influence, and organizational support positively affect salesperson motivation, and except for organizational support, the individual’s ability to integrate social media into his/her sales job too. Findings further show that motivation and ability together drive social media use in sales but that a lack of ability shuts down the positive influence of motivation on social media use. Finally, a positive effect of social media use on sales performance is detected, suggesting that social media can be an important tool to enhance sales growth. Support for a dark side effect of social media is not found.

Guenzi, P, & Nijssen, E J (2020), “Studying the antecedents and outcome of social media use by salespeople using a MOA framework”, Industrial Marketing Management, 90, 346-359.

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.