In today’s age of relational selling, it has become established wisdom that to be successful, salespeople should be as customer oriented as possible. However, there is little empirical evidence that supports this widely held belief. In numerous attempts, researchers have not been able to establish the existence of a positive effect of salesperson customer orientation on sales performance. This is the starting point for the current study.
Instead of expecting a simple positive relationship between customer orientation and sales performance, the authors argue that beyond a certain level of customer orientation, further increases in customer orientation cost more than they return in terms of benefits. Thus, they expect that there is an optimum level of salesperson customer orientation with regard to sales performance. At the same time, they expect that the effect of customer orientation on customer attitudes is continuously positive.
The authors survey 56 sales managers, 195 sales representatives, and more than 500 customers to empirically test their hypotheses. Their sample comprises firms from multiple industries, such as financial services, logistics, health care, chemicals, and information technology and telecommunications. From this data, the authors find that there is indeed an optimum level of salesperson customer orientation with regard sales performance. In their sample, approximately 30% of the salespeople surveyed exhibited customer orientation levels higher than the optimum. At the same time, approximately 70% of the salespeople in the sample had customer orientation levels that were optimal or lower. Thus, these results call managers to actively manage customer orientation levels in their sales force, instead of simply focusing on increasing it. The authors also provide some simple benchmarks to help managers identify salespeople that rely too much on customer-oriented behaviors.
Moreover, the findings reveal that the optimum level of customer orientation with regard to sales performance is higher for salespeople selling individualized products, in firms pursuing a premium price strategy, and in markets with a high degree of competitive intensity. At the same time, the effect of customer orientation on customer attitudes is continuously positive.
Professor Dr. Dr. h.c. mult. Christian Homburg is director of the Institute for Market-Oriented Management (IMU) at the University of Mannheim. Since 2007, he has also been Professorial Fellow in the Department of Management and Marketing at the University of Melbourne. His research focuses on market-oriented management, customer relationship management, and sales management. Professor Homburg has published numerous books and articles at both the national and the international level, research for which he also received several awards. In November 2005 and in May 2009, he was listed first in a ranking of German management scholars in the Germany business daily Handelsblatt. In March 2006 (Copenhagen Business School) and in July 2008 (Technical University Freiberg), Professor Homburg was awarded honorary doctoral degrees. Before his academic career, Professor Homburg was director of marketing, management accounting, and strategic planning in an industrial company that operates globally. In addition to his academic position, he is chairman of the scientific advisory committee of Homburg & Partner, an international management consultancy.
Michael Müller is the general manager of a medium-sized supplier in the construction industry. He also works as a business consultant and a sales trainer. He obtained his PhD in Marketing from the University of Mannheim in 2009.
Martin Klarmann is Assistant Professor of Empirical Research Methods in the Marketing Department at the University of Mannheim. He obtained his PhD in Marketing from the University of Mannheim in 2008. He has published research in journals such as Journal of Marketing, Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, and International Journal of Research in Marketing and has received numerous awards for his academic achievements. His research focuses on business-to-business marketing, marketing strategy, innovations, and survey research methodology.
Journal of Marketing, Volume 75, Number 2, March 2011
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