Revising the Concept and Effectiveness of the Customer Orientation of Salespeople: An Abstract
More than 35 years after its introduction to the sales literature, a salesperson’s customer orientation is still a key concern of managers and researchers alike. While scholars and managers have assumed a positive relationship between salesperson customer orientation and performance, extant research does not provide evidence for a consistent relationship. To date, research cannot explain why.
Why does salesperson customer orientation not consistently increase performance? Drawing on in-depth interviews with 39 purchasing and 40 sales experts from various B2B industries, the study illustrates that more research is needed to fully understand the conceptualization of a salesperson’s customer orientation and its relationship with performance outcomes as well as possible moderators. Although previous research has refined the conceptualization of a salesperson’s customer orientation to include a psychological aspect, little has been done to broaden our understanding of the behaviors that customer-oriented salespeople engage in. Our research expands on previous conceptualizations and outlines the importance of previously neglected customer-oriented behaviors after a deal has been closed. Second, our research addresses the effectiveness of a customer-oriented selling approach by outlining its negative impact on a customer’s perceived level of risk and its positive impact on the formation of trust. By doing so, we provide a theoretical mechanism to explain how a salesperson’s customer orientation influences performance outcomes in the short- and long term. Third, this study reveals the need to carefully examine contextual factors that have an impact on a customer’s perceived level of risk and the formation of trust and thus the relationship between customer orientation and performance. Saxe and Weitz (1982) already proclaimed the importance of accounting for situational factors in analyzing the relationship between customer orientation and performance. However, since then little has been done to investigate potential moderators.
Given the great investment in, and high managerial focus on, salespeople’s customer orientation, we urge managers to reconsider the link between a salesperson’s customer orientation and performance. We provide a set of behaviors that can support a customer-oriented selling approach after the sales encounter with the customers. We further encourage salespeople and companies to place a stronger focus on situational factors. In some situations, the customer’s perceived level of risk is rather low, he or she is not interested in a business relationship, and a customer-oriented selling approach is less effective. While in other situations, a salesperson’s customer orientation becomes more important to reduce the customer’s perceived level of risk and build trust as the basis for a business relationship with the supplier.