Building a Sustainable Competitive Advantage - Salespeople’s Linchpin Role

The criticality of salespeople as linchpins within the buyer-seller relationship cannot be overstated. Given that the development of strong sales representation with customers is key to success for many industrial firms, the unique position of professional salespeople is firmly entrenched within today's global economy. Skilled salespeople are the principal sources of informational and relational resources to both the firm and its customers as well as being key to nearly every decision and in nearly every industry by helping businesses define their needs, understand and evaluate their options, make effective purchase decisions and forge enduring relationships.

In today’s everchanging B2B environment, the competitive landscape and salespeople’s role in meeting customer expectations changes rapidly. Given the complexity of the sales role, it is understandable salespeople now face unprecedented pressures in an ever-evolving global market. With increasingly changing customer-salesperson relationships, the boundary-spanning role of salespeople positions them in a precarious balance between satisfying the customer and meeting organizations’ performance expectations. According to data from the Sales Education Foundation (2017), “nearly 40% of a customer’s decision is based on the added value the salesperson brings to the relationship, far above product quality (21%) and price (18%)”.

Salespeople are in a unique position to connect organizational resources between the firm and customer. Salespeople bridge inter-organizational boundaries and increase the connectivity of human resources in each firm. While existing research has discussed the importance of relationship marketing and the growing importance of adding value to the buyer-seller exchange, there is little that examines the critical role of the salesperson as a resource within the buyer-seller relationship. As postulated by Hunt and Morgan (1995), resource-advantage theory categorizes resources as financial, physical, legal, human, organizational, informational, and relational. For an organization, salespeople can be not only a human resource but can provide informational and relational resources through their boundary-spanning role. For firms to build a sustainable competitive advantage, executives and managers must understand the criticality of their salesforce as an informational and relational resource within the buyer-seller exchange.

How do you see firms positioning their salesforce? How can a salesforce add value for a) their firm and b) their customers? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Sources:

Sales Education Foundation. (2017). Retrieved August 17, 2017, from http://salesfoundation.org/.

Hunt, S.D. and Morgan, R.M. (1995). “The Comparative Advantage Theory of Competition,” Journal of Marketing, 59 (2), 1-15.

Ricky Fergurson, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor of Marketing in the Huizenga College of Business and Entrepreneurship, Nova Southeastern University. He can be reached at jfergurson@nova.edu

Does the Salesperson have the Midas Touch?

The rate of evolution and diffusion of technology has created new means for consumers to search for product information and gain increased knowledge before an actual purchase. The additional channels available for product search and purchase leads to the use of multiple channels by consumers, thereby changing the consumer’s purchase behavior. Consumers now approach the purchase process as multichannel consumers (MCCs), resulting in changes to the retail-selling environment. In this relatively new “click and brick” MCC-shopping environment, the role of the in-store salesperson is being questioned.

 Given this new landscape of retailing in which certain MCCs seemingly have more knowledge than the salesperson (Verbeke et al., 2010), it is unknown how or if the in-store salesperson can be used to increase MCCs’ purchase behaviors. Recent research proposes conflicting roles of the salesperson with the implication that the salesperson is obsolete (Grewal et al., 2002), suggestions that the salesperson has been transformed to a knowledge broker (Bendixen, Yurova, Abratt, and Rawdan, 2014), and yet other scholars contrast this by claiming technology cannot replace the unique functions of the salesperson (Ahearne & Rapp, 2010).  It appears a gap of agreement, understanding, and knowledge exists regarding what role, if any, the in-store salesperson has in the new shopping environment.

Similar to the story in Greek mythology whereby everything King Midas touched turned to gold, we consider if the salesperson has the “Midas touch” by using adaptive selling as a tool to lead the MCC to purchase.  We maintain that adaptive selling, if done correctly, can play a pivotal role in persuading MCCs to purchase in-store.  In fact, we did a study of 400 MCC’s and found that salespeople who are able to adapt the sales presentation to the MCCs’ needs are more effective in influencing purchase intention than those who present the same information to all buyers. Overall, the results confirm the ability of adaptive selling to be utilized as a technique in persuading a multichannel consumer to purchase in the retail store and add support to the notion that the salesperson is not obsolete, but rather can be very influential in persuading MCC’s to purchase at the retail store.  Our findings represent an opportunity for companies to encourage multichannel searching for their products across channels while simultaneously training retail salespeople in adaptive selling techniques, so that they can have the Midas touch when selling to MCC’s at the retail store.
Do you agree with our findings? Do you find salespeople to be knowledgeable and helpful? Do you use your phone for information rather than ask a salesperson for help?

Image source: walyou.com, 2016.

Sara Weisfeld-Spolter, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Marketing, H. Wayne Huizenga College of Business and Entrepreneurship, Nova Southeastern University. Dr. Weisfeld-Spolter can be reached at sw887@nova.edu

What is Your Relationship Worth?

If you were asked to place a value on your business or personal relationships, how would you express it? If you are like most of us you would probably answer with a determined financial or monetary range of the relationship's worth.

• A retail business might determine a loyal customer to be worth an average of $35 to $45 per visit.

• When hiring human resources, a recruiter may determine that the individual can produce at least the wages and expenses of the position he or she holds.

• If you are a parent, you may be calculating the cost of all those trips and fees for little league, school clothes and books, upcoming college, the cars and required social events .... (I could go on here...)

Ideally, shouldn't we look at the value of the relationship like sales people do? In other words, should we consider the value in other terms?

Value is defined as a ratio and it looks like this:

All The Things You Get VS All The Things You Give Up

Ideally, in order for something to be considered valuable, the stuff you "get" should be greater than the stuff you "give up".

Everyone's definition and interpretation of what is "valuable" differs. For my step-daughter, value would most likely be described in terms of the time she gets to spend with her own daughter. For my student, value would most likely be that "something extra" that helps them to reach their employment goals. The only way to really know what others value is to get to know them and develop relationships.

Building relationships is a fundamental element of being a human being. We all like to be around people that we like and who we can trust. In Professional Selling we say: "you buy from people you like".

To build relationships, and for these relationships to be valuable, there must be more "gotten" than "given". In sales, we have learned that "It's better to give than to receive," because when you give you always get in return. If you put your customers first, you will be well rewarded down the line. So what does this mean for you?

The next time you consider the value of your relationships, ask yourself:

• What value do I bring to the relationship?

• Is what I bring considered valuable by others?

Dena Hale, Ph.D., is Associate Professor of Marketing at Nova Southeastern University. Professor Hale is dedicated to providing a sales curriculum and consultative services that promote genuine salesmanship and integrity. She can be reached at dh1113@nova.edu More About the Contributor

How do regulations affect the way salespeople do their jobs?

Many companies are faced with rising numbers of regulations with which they must comply. Regulations are particularly common in the areas of employment, environmental protection, and licensing of businesses. In recent years, a growing trend of new regulations has emerged in the selling and sales management business environment, changing the nature and scope of salespeople's jobs. How do regulations affect the way salespeople do their jobs? Well, we're not really sure.

Regulations intended to control selling activities are not industry specific. Numerous selling activities are regulated in telecommunications, real estate, energy, tobacco, pharmaceuticals, and financial services. Rationale for regulating various selling practices has been attributed to an increase in scrutiny by industry groups, federal regulators, and consumer watchdogs on the practice of promotion and personal selling. This increased scrutiny has resulted in a labyrinth of new laws, the issuance of revised rules, and the creation of specific agencies designed to enforce compliance.

Currently, it is argued that the pharmaceutical industry is one of the most regulated industries with respect to "what sales people can do". For example, "gift-giving", entertainment, promotional events, and methods for sharing product information are restricted and in some cases prohibited. So, here's the dilemma...does it matter that a sales person is prohibited from bringing a platter of sandwiches to a physician's office for lunch when discussing their product(s)? Or, does the 50 cent disposable ink pen that has a product name on it really make an impact on the "sale"?

The debate regarding the impact of regulations on sales people's activity is a lively one. Given the current growth of regulatory control, and its potential impact on the selling environment, adjusting with innovative approaches and adapting to new selling processes is required for both practitioners and academic researchers.

John Riggs, D.B.A., is an Assistant Professor of Marketing at Nova Southeastern University. Prior to entering academia, Professor Riggs spent over 20 years in the pharmaceutical/ biotechnology industry. He can be reached at jr1904@nova.edu More About the Contributor

Chart a Course to Your New Career

Let's be honest, the job market for any industry is a tough one. New college graduates, who were once fought over like first-round draft picks by employers, now face competition from those with proven results and experience. Recent graduates across disciplines immediately assume that technical skills determine who gets hired; however, anyone who can think and learn can be trained in the technical aspects of most jobs.

What makes the difference for employers is one's ability to communicate, learn, grow a network and develop long-term goals.

Many cringe at the word sales, but everyone must be a good sales person in the professional realm in at least three instances: 1) The interview; 2) Negotiating for future benefits and raises; 3) Attempting to gain approval for an idea.

Success in landing the career of your dreams is based on very basic, but crucial non-technical skills: 1) Time-management; 2) Effective communication; 3) Goal setting and achievement; 4) Relationship building (networking).

Every job position within every industry requires new college graduates and seasoned professionals alike to communicate and demonstrate these skills in the interview, and throughout their career.

In order to stand out and be viewed as the right candidate, job seekers need to determine what the hiring firms are missing and communicate their ability to fill the need. The ability to identify gaps and create solutions provides a strong competitive advantage whether you are interviewing for a job or looking to increase productivity in your current position. Demonstrating this ability will set you apart from your peers and set you up for long-term success.

Consider the concept of consultative selling, a model that teaches individuals to engage in a dialogue that brings the buyer's needs to the forefront of any customized solution. The skill sets needed to successfully complete this model include relationship building, identifying the gaps between "what is" and "what should be" and strong communication skills. What makes this model so essential is its application outside the traditional selling career.

Medical professionals are faced with selling their patients on changing damaging lifestyle behaviors and actively participating in a long-term, mutually agreed upon health program. Engineers often have to sell changes to specifications demanded by clients/owners due to budget constraints, regulations or aesthetic harmony. Accountants and financial advisors must sell clients on the most appropriate investments options, balancing the client's risk, trust level and desired level of return. And small business owners and entrepreneurs need to sell themselves to investors in order to obtain required start-up capital for growth, creation or expansion.

You don't need a college degree for many entry level jobs. But taking a sales course and refining your communication skills can make the difference between getting an entry-level job, or an entry-level career.

Dena Hale, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor of Marketing at Nova Southeastern University. Professor Hale is dedicated to providing a sales curriculum and consultative services that promote genuine salesmanship and integrity. About the Contributor