Market orientation, the organizational culture that provides strong norms for learning from customers and competitors, is instrumental in creating superior value for buyers, innovating successfully, and generating superior firm performance. Although research on market orientation antecedents and consequences has greatly advanced in the past two decades and provided useful insights, there has been little individual-level research to identify who in the work groups are the important people who top management can rely on to diffuse market orientation to lower-level organizational members, such as frontline employees.
This study examines this diffusion of market orientation as a social learning process to acquire and transfer individual-level market orientation. Central to the diffusion are important work-group members, referred to as “envoys.” Through their market-oriented action, top managers serve as market-oriented role models to two important types of observers in work groups—formal middle managers and work-group expert peers. In turn, these observers become top managers’ envoys and role models of market-oriented behavior to frontline employees. Empirical results from a three-level data set from a Fortune 500 company in the United States support this dual-route framework of market orientation diffusion through formal and informal envoys.
This study extends the current understanding of market orientation implementation by identifying important envoys in the diffusion of market orientation and conditions under which their importance may be compromised or enhanced. The findings also reveal a disturbing reality that organizational members can be highly market oriented without being highly organizationally oriented. More specifically, while envoys who are neither market oriented nor identified with the firm are the worst, envoys who are not market oriented but are strongly identified with the firm are also detrimental. Notably, network size hinders the informal route of learning through expert peers but not the formal route through middle managers.
The study has three important implications. First, it demonstrates how managers can select the most effective envoys to implement market orientation. Second, the strong synergistic effect between internal marketing and market orientation suggests that top managers who want to implement market orientation more effectively must first sell the organization itself not only to middle managers but also to expert peers in work groups. Third, top managers should be aware that network size may dilute organizational members’ learning processes to become more market oriented. Although the focus of the study is on market orientation, the findings should also generalize to the diffusion of customer orientation throughout the organization.
Son K. Lam (PhD, University of Houston) is Assistant Professor of Marketing in the Terry College of Business at the University of Georgia. His current research focuses on salesperson behavior and performance. Son also conducts research on corporate identity and organizational identification in the context of internal marketing and customer–brand relationship. Son’s work on sales management, internal marketing, and the service profit chain has appeared in Journal of Marketing Research, Journal of Marketing, and Journal of Retailing.
Florian Kraus (PhD, University of Marburg, Germany) is Assistant Professor of Marketing in the Department of Marketing at Ruhr-University Bochum, Germany, and a research fellow in the C.T. Bauer College of Business at the University of Houston. His current research focuses on salesperson behavior and performance. Florian also conducts research on house brands, motivation, and organizational identification in the context of sales management and services marketing.
Michael Ahearne (PhD, Indiana University) is Professor of Marketing and Executive Director of the Sales Excellence Institute in C.T. Bauer College of Business at the University of Houston. Mike’s research examines factors influencing the performance of salespeople, sales teams and sales organizations. Mike is a coauthor on one of the leading professional selling textbooks, Selling Today: Creating Customer Value. The book has been translated into numerous languages and is currently used to teach professional selling in more than 30 countries. He has published in Journal of Marketing, Journal of Marketing Research, Management Science, Journal of Applied Psychology, as well as several other journals.
Journal of Marketing, Volume 74, Number 5, September 2010
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