Selling new products

Research output: ThesisPhd Thesis 1 (Research TU/e / Graduation TU/e)

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As we proceed into the 21st century, companies are facing increasingly complex and dynamic business environments. Many organizations have to deal with intense competition as more products are introduced faster, with shorter life cycles, and less competitive differentiation. Consequently, companies are pushed to not only be more adept in product development but also in capitalizing on these innovative activities. However, while companies have become more successful in inventing and developing new products, they still need to step up their efficacy in capitalizing on these activities. Recent studies show that especially the sales force is crucial factor to successfully commercialize new products. Yet, given its relevance, it is surprising to see that an in-depth understanding of the role of the sales force during new product commercialization still is lacking. Based on a systematic review of the literature in Chapter 1 of this dissertation, the following research gaps have been identified: (i) the potential trade-offs between the sale of new and established products (i.e., task context) and (ii) the impact of teams (i.e. social- context) on individual performance. Therefore, aim of this dissertation is to investigate in how far salesperson’s new product selling behaviors and performance are influenced by the a) task context and b) social context in which the sale of new products takes place. Three empirical studies were conducted and the results are presented in separate chapters. In Chapter 2, the focus is on the role of the sales manager and how he/she directs salespersons’ proactive behaviors towards the sale of new and existing products. In Chapter 3, considers the role of sales managers in regulating autonomy and providing feedback as mechanisms to stimulate salesperson new and existing product sales performance. Finally, Chapter 4 involves a study on the impact of helping behavior on performance of salespersons organized in sales teams, taking a team diversity perspective. While Chapters 2 and 4 involve studies conducted in industrial setting, the study in Chapter 3 is conducted in a retail context. As such, this dissertation considers the intersections between sales, team, and NPD literatures and offers novel insights for both academics and practitioners. The empirical study in Chapter 2 investigates the consequences of a sales manager’s modal orientation toward either new or existing products on salespeople’s proactive selling behaviors of the other product type. Dealing with complex products and customer relationships paradoxes at the front line may occur in terms of resource allocation and task execution when selling new and existing products. However, the possible deleterious influence of sales managers’ modal selling orientation (selling new or existing products) on salespersons’ proactive selling behaviors for the neglected product type have not yet been considered. Finding sales manager ambidexterity (i.e., a sales manager’s dual orientation toward both new and existing products) and salesperson organizational identification to be mechanisms that buffer this effect, this chapter also identifies boundary conditions of the myopia caused by sales managers’ modal orientations. The results further reveal an interesting interplay between these mechanisms showing that the buffering effect of manager ambidextrous orientation depends on the level of salesperson organizational identification. In turn, the two-part empirical study in Chapter 2 links salespeople’s proactive selling behaviors toward new and existing products to their commensurate forms of objective performance and shows that combining these selling behaviors does not impair performance. The results of Chapter 2 contribute to the literatures on managerial orientations, proactive selling, and organizational identification. The empirical study in Chapter 3 studies the effect of managerial selling orientation on salesperson performance in a retail context. When manufacturers introduce a new product to the market, downstream retail partners are faced with inherent trade-offs. Retail sales personnel needs to support the new product’s introduction with substantial sales efforts, but also sell the existing products in stock, before storage and devaluation costs spin out of control. This chapter shows how retail sales managers can guide sales personnel’s performance of new and existing product selling, respectively. It is argued that a manager may have a selling orientation that prioritizes selling new products, existing products, or both (i.e., an ambidextrous selling orientation). Furthermore, managers align their selling orientations with a frontline management mechanism consisting of task autonomy, performance feedback, and employee age. Based on data gathered from sales representatives and company databases of a large European consumer electronics retailer, a time-lagged partial least squares analysis is conducted to empirically test the conceptual model. The findings demonstrate that ambidextrous sales managers outperform their singular-minded counterparts if they properly utilize the frontline mechanisms. More specifically, ambidextrous managers tend to promote high levels of net profit obtainment by their personnel if they grant their sales employees task autonomy and give little performance feedback. In addition, a remarkable finding is that more aged sales agents tend to outperform their younger counterparts when working under an ambidextrous manager. In this respect, the study contributes to the literature by combining the literatures on ambidexterity, sales research, and work-design. The empirical study in Chapter 4 examines the role of sales teams during the sale of new products. In the modern era of team-based product selling, companies must foster intra-team helping behaviors by individual salespeople driven by individual goals. This chapter shows an analysis of how team composition, in terms of diversity and members’ positions within the sales team, affect each salesperson’s prosocial attitudes and behaviors, as well as his or her new product selling performance. Using survey and time-lagged archival data from 211 salespeople in 32 sales teams, the study results show strong support for a combined impact of team diversity and individual position on willingness to help colleagues. Contrasting effects arise for team composition with regard to sales experience and expected demand: To benefit from experienced members, team diversity should be low, whereas to benefit from salespeople’s high expected demand for the new product, team diversity should be high. Finally, the findings reveal that team members who help peers most diminish the performance differences among team members and succeed better in selling new products than their less helpful counterparts. Overall, the main contribution of this study is to combine the individual-level and team-level foci of research prevalent in research on new product selling and team research, respectively. Finally, Chapter 5 summarizes the main findings of the three empirical studies and shows how they contribute to answering the research question. Subsequently, an integrated perspective is given showing communalities between the separate chapters. First, this dissertation shows that the sales force can and should combine the sale of new and established products. Although companies may consider it more effective to separate the selling of new and established products, this dissertation shows that combining both selling activities is not only possible but also leads to superior performance. Second, key to the facilitation of ambidexterity at the frontline are sales managers. Sales managers have the power to design an environment where subordinates can flourish in several ways. Yet, installing a wrongly designed frontline mechanism may have serious detrimental effects for both individual and organizational performance. Third, this dissertation shows that the role of identification cannot be neglected at the front line. Identifying with the team and the wider organization motivates salespeople to take on their task-related role and their social-related role. Social identities are particularly important during uncertain and challenging tasks such as the sale of new products as it provides salespeople support and reduces uncertainty. The results of this dissertation inform managers about the challenges that their subordinates encounter when selling new products and provides guidelines to deal with these challenges. First, managers should stimulate the concurrent sale of new and existing products. In particular older salespeople are adept to do so because they can deal more effectively with higher levels of autonomy and uncertainty. Second, managers should be aware of the importance of organizational goals, values, and norms. Promoting them among subordinates and showing how they match with subordinates’ personal goals, values, and norms creates self-managing sales representatives who take more balanced decisions that are in the best interest of the company. Moreover, it permits managers to devote their time to more important functions such as planning, strategy development, and training. Third, managers should acknowledge and carefully manage team composition as it determines ‘who helps who’ within the team. When selling new products, it is better to have one relatively experienced salesperson within the team. Being the only experienced salesperson this person will feel responsible for the other team members’ performance and help them out with the sale of new products. In addition, to promote helping in the team, managers should ensure that new product believers are backed up by one or more new product believers. In sum, in today’s selling environment, salespeople are increasingly faced with trade-offs and paradoxes that can no longer be dealt with individually. As a consequence, salespeople have to become (i) more proactive in their selling task and (ii) also become more involved in prosocial activities with their colleagues. Managers are key in facilitating these two roles. This dissertation aimed to provide deeper insight into the new product selling proficiency of individual salespeople, and consequently bridges and extends theory regarding sales, teams, and NPD.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Industrial Engineering and Innovation Sciences
  • Nijssen, Ed J., Promotor
  • de Jong, Ad, Copromotor
Award date3 Oct 2012
Place of PublicationEindhoven
Print ISBNs978-90-386-3215-5
Publication statusPublished - 2012


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