In my few years of life upon this earth, I’ve actually worked in a few sales roles. In fact, I don’t know many people who haven’t. Anyone who has ever worked in retail or food service has worked in sales. Not complex sales, mind you. Perhaps not even “professional” sales. But if you are the final link between creator and client, you are the salesperson. So, whoever is reading this, you’ve probably worked in sales too.
Watching other people who worked alongside me in my various sales roles, I was often perplexed by the cynicism with which they saw our company. And, at times, I was even swayed by it. My co-workers would see the new ad campaign and scoff at it. They would anonymously join counter-culture blogs and community boards, ranting vehemently about the terrible company they were working for. They would even, at times, turn customers who believed in the product away, because they thought the brand promises were a joke and that they were too smart to fall for the gimmicks.
And this isn’t just in retail–where workers are paid near minimum wage. I also held a professional selling role where some (arguably the less successful) of my fellow salespeople felt that they were selling a scam and that the advertising was just a trick to get customers to buy. I have always felt that there is a great gulf between the message marketing departments push and the message salespeople believe. It turns out that I might not be too far off…
Article Summary: This Ad’s for You
Hughes, D. (2013). This ad’s for you: the indirect effect of advertising perceptions on salesperson effort and performance. Journal Of The Academy Of Marketing Science, 41(1), 1-18.
Douglas E. Hughes of Michigan State University recently conducted a study testing the relationship between how salespeople perceive the advertising campaigns of their companies, the effort those salespeople exhibit, and the results their efforts generate.
Hughes uses insights from social identity theory and expectancy theory to hypothesize that salespeople are influenced by advertising along two paths:
- Brand Identification: A sense of meaning and connection the salesperson shares with the brand, potentially leading her to apply more effort from intrinsically motivated identity attachment.
- Outcome Expectancy: A belief within the salesperson that that customers will actually be responsive to his sales efforts.
Using these ideas as a foundation, Hughes comes up with a series of hypotheses regarding the components of advertising that influence the efforts of sales people as well as the results generated by those efforts. These hypotheses are:
The Outcome Expectancy Path
- The greater the amount of advertising salespeople perceive there to be in the marketplace, the greater their expectations will be that the brand will sell. (“Perceived Ad Quantity” => “Outcome Expectancy”)
- The greater the quality of advertising salespeople perceive there to be in the marketplace, the greater their expectations will be that the brand will sell. (“Perceived Ad Quality” => “Outcome Expectancy”)
- The greater the percentage of sales attributed to the notoriety of the brand, the less salespeople will believe that more advertising will lead to greater chances of the brand selling. (“Brand Share of Sales” => “Perceived Ad Quality => Outcome Expectancy”)
- Greater expectations of customer responsiveness to advertising will lead to greater efforts from salespeople. (“Outcome Expectancy” => “Effort”)
The Brand Identification Path
- The greater the salespeople perceive the quality of the advertising to be, the greater their identification with the brand will be. (“Perceived Ad Quality” => “Brand Identification”)
- Increased internal communication regarding the advertising will leader to a greater effect of the perceived quality of the advertising on how well the salespeople identify with the brand. (“Internal Communication” => “Perceived Ad Quality => Brand Identification”)
- The more closely salespeople identify themselves with the brand, the greater their efforts will be. (“Brand Identification” => “Effort”)
- Increased effort from salespeople will lead to increased performance. (“Effort” => “Sales Performance”)
To test out these assumptions, Hughes surveyed and collected data from 197 salespeople from 18 different distributors of a large, well-known beverage manufacturer. (246 salespeople were selected, with an 80% response rate). Objective data were collected on two components of the model: 1) the share of sales attributed to the brand, and 2) the results generated by the salespeople. The rest of the data was generated through surveys administered to the salespeople:
- “Perceived Advertising Quality” was measured with questions like “I have a favorable impression of these ads” and “I feel good about these ads.”
- “Perceived Advertising Quantity” was measured with questions like “There seems to be a lot of this advertising in the market” and “There is a heavy media schedule supporting this ad campaign.”
- “Brand Identification” was measured with questions like “When someone criticizes (this brand), it feels like an insult” and “If a story in the media criticized (this brand), I would feel embarrassed.”
- “Outcome Expectancy” was measured with questions like “When I sell this brand to retailers, it attracts a strong customer response” and “I am sometimes reluctant to put too much effort behind this brand, because I’m not sure it will sell well.”
- “Internal Communication” was measured on a 7-point scale that determined how “adequate, complete, credible, useful, and clear” salespeople interpreted internal communication to be.
- “Brand Effort” was measured on a 7-point scale that assessed the level of effort salespeople put forth compared to other salespeople as well as to other brands they sold.
The results of the survey confirmed all of the hypotheses with the exception of #2 (from the Outcome Expectancy Path). No correlation was found between the quality of advertising as perceived by the salespeople and their expectations that customers would be responsive to their sales efforts.
Strategic Recommendations and General Discussion
Given the final model as indicated above, Hughes’ discoveries can be restated in the following strategic recommendations for marketing departments and sales managers:
- Make sure that salespeople are aware of all the advertising campaigns that are going on.
- To the extent that a greater number of sales are generated by the brand than by the sales team, worry less about how informed salespeople are about the level of advertising going on.
- Be sure that salespeople are aware of positive reactions customers have to advertising campaigns.
- Create advertising messages that increase the extent to which salespeople identify with the brand.
- Spend as much time and effort communicating your advertising messages directly to salespeople as you do to end consumers.
- Monitor the attitudes and conversations among your salespeople in regards to their attachment to the brand.
- Measure the efforts your salespeople make in generating results.
In the business world, salespeople and marketers often see themselves as in competition with one another. Marketers see salespeople as order-takers, doing the dirty work that marketers create for them. Salespeople see marketers as living in an ivory tower, detached from the nitty-gritty, real-world problems that customers encounter. More than anything, I think this study calls for greater synergy between sales and marketing departments.
Most businesses have separate messaging for customers than they do for employees. It’s conventional wisdom. Your employees and your customers are separate audiences, so you should use different messaging to influence them. The problem is that, when employees (and especially salespeople) see the disparate messaging, they become cynical. In order to achieve a successful marketing campaign, your employees need to be just as convinced as your customers.
It may be beneficial for marketers to communicate with salespeople prior to starting advertising campaigns. All too often, salespeople hear about ads from customers before they do from marketers. Salespeople should know and believe the messaging that is going out to their customers. In order for them to do that, though, the internal communication organizations has to be solid. Better communication from marketing to sales will lead to greater consistency in interactions with customers. Why can’t we all just be on the same page? It makes us feel better about the work we do, and it makes us look better in the eyes of customers. Salespeople and marketers, let’s start talking to each other. We’re all in this together.
Questions for Future Research
- Would the results hold for salespeople who sell to B2B businesses…or only those who sell to B2C businesses?
- Would the effects be mitigated if the study controlled for salespeoples’ general outlook toward life or toward the sales profession, rather than only their company’s brand?
- How would salespeople be affected by their companies’ advertising across various industries?
- How would different types of advertising media (TV commercials, social networks, magazines, etc.) affect salespeoples’ perceptions and performance?
Featured image courtesy of n0Nick licensed via Creative Commons.