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Industrial Marketing Management 36 (2007) 408 – 419

Assessing the evolution of sales knowledge: A 20-year content analysis


Brian C. Williams a,⁎, Christopher R. Plouffe b,1
a
Department of Marketing, Terry College of Business, University of Georgia, 131 Brooks Hall, Athens, GA 30602, United States
b
College of Business, Washington State University, 14204 N.E. Salmon Creek Avenue, Vancouver, WA 98686, United States

Received 21 June 2005; received in revised form 26 September 2005; accepted 29 November 2005
Available online 26 January 2006

Abstract

1012 articles appearing in 15 prominent journals over the period 1983–2002 were content analyzed in order to assess the state of published
research in the domain of selling and sales management. The results provide a comprehensive, two-decade look at the key topical, theoretical, and
methodological patterns prevalent at the aggregate level as well as within selected journals. Without question, the sales field has generated a
considerable body of knowledge representing a range of issues, empirical approaches, and conceptual foundations. However, this review reveals
several longer term trends that may challenge the sales community to consider new approaches to designing and executing sales research.
Implications of these findings for researchers and industrial marketing practitioners are discussed.
© 2006 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Keywords: Selling; Sales management; Academic publishing; Content analysis

1. Introduction back from their individual “trees” in order to assess the entire
“forest” of knowledge generation within a discipline.
Systematically analyzing the state of knowledge develop- The sales literature is ripe for such a review. Over the last two
ment in an academic field is a critical step in any discipline's decades, sales has emerged from its historical roots as a narrow,
growth and maturity. Reviewing published research in peer- tactically focused marketing specialty to become a topic of
reviewed journals is one of the most useful and relevant approa- strategic importance within the industrial marketing field (Hon-
ches for evaluating a field's accrued knowledge. Although time eycutt, 2002). During this period, the sheer volume of published
consuming and data intensive, journal content analyses can sales articles has also increased substantially. In response to this
mark a discipline's progress, while simultaneously providing evolving landscape, a number of prominent scholars have ob-
direction into future areas of needed inquiry. In addition, served, at least anecdotally, that sales research should break new
reviews that cover extended time periods are especially helpful ground, make use of new theoretical perspectives, and employ
because they offer insight into a research community's longer new methods in order to continue its advancement (Leigh &
term topical, methodological, and theoretical trends. Given that Tanner, 2004; Marshall & Michaels, 2001). Likewise, a casual
so much of the effort of individual researchers focuses on review of managerial publications reveals that sales profes-
purposefully restricted studies and research questions, taking sionals continue to struggle with a set of enduring issues that
the time to consider a discipline's broader knowledge output have yet to be addressed adequately by academics (e.g., Gallan-
can make future research investments more productive to both ter, 2003; Marchetti, 2004). Although a few comprehensive
academics and managers. In many ways, a comprehensive con- reviews of the business-to-business (B2B) literature have been
tent analysis of published research encourages scholars to step conducted (e.g., Reid & Plank, 2000), their focus has been
somewhat general with little attention given to detailing and
⁎ Corresponding author. Tel.: +1 706 542 2123. classifying the various aspects of all published articles. Within
E-mail addresses: bcw@uga.edu (B.C. Williams), cplouffe@wsu.edu the sales field specifically, a number of limited content reviews
(C.R. Plouffe). have been published (e.g., Moncrief, Marshall, & Watkins,
1
Tel.: +1 360 546 9147. 2000), but unfortunately, the conclusions from the last major
0019-8501/$ - see front matter © 2006 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
doi:10.1016/j.indmarman.2005.11.003
B.C. Williams, C.R. Plouffe / Industrial Marketing Management 36 (2007) 408–419 409

study—a four-journal content analysis by Bush and Grant While these previous reviews provided an invaluable under-
(1994)—are now well over a decade old. standing of the sales field's evolution, their somewhat restricted
This paper presents the results of a comprehensive content scope is worth noting. No doubt, for reasons of practicality,
analysis covering two decades of research on the domain of each of the previous analyses incorporated a relatively limited
industrial selling and sales management. Our review, which set of journals and thus excluded many key journals that regu-
evaluated more than 1000 articles published across 15 key larly publish sales manuscripts. For example, the industrial–
journals, provides a descriptive snapshot of the status of con- organizational (I/O) psychology field has generated a notable
temporary sales research, including the patterns that have char- body of research on salespeople, yet journals from areas outside
acterized its development over a recent two-decade period. the core marketing discipline were not included in prior
After a brief background review and methodological summary, reviews. Similarly, the European Journal of Marketing was
we present the major findings of the analysis. Included in these not analyzed in previous studies, potentially giving past results
results are details regarding the most dominant topical issues, an overly North American-centric perspective. A review incor-
theoretical foundations, and empirical research approaches porating a broader collection of journals, especially over a
appearing within the sales literature from 1983 to 2002. In longer period of time, can provide a more complete understand-
addition, journal-level statistics reveal trends across the range ing of the field's knowledge development, even in the years
of reviewed publication outlets. Beyond its primarily descrip- covered by previous studies. Given the dual importance of
tive reporting, a major aim of this paper is to encourage reflec- assessing: (1) a larger and more diverse collection of journals
tion and dialogue among industrial marketing and sales and (2) the most recent decade's worth of sales research pub-
scholars into ways to advance future sales research. We con- lished since the last large-scale review, a new content analysis
clude by discussing implications of these findings for research- can provide a greater understanding of the sales field's evolu-
ers, managers, and other stakeholders. tion, current status, and future direction.

2. Background 3. Methodology

Journal content and publication trend analyses have been To uncover the major trends within the selling and sales
conducted at the overall discipline level (e.g., Baumgartner & management literature, we content analyzed sales articles
Pieters, 2003) and within specific streams of marketing (e.g., appearing in the following 15 journals during the 20-year
Helgeson, Kluge, Mager, & Taylor, 1984; Yale & Gilly, 1988). period of 1983–2002: Journal of Marketing (JM), Journal of
Sales research is no different in this respect. Swan, Powers, and Marketing Research (JMR), Marketing Science (MS), Journal
Sobczak (1991) offered one of the first formal attempts to study of the Academy of Marketing Science (JAMS), Journal of
sales publishing trends by reviewing a set of articles appearing Retailing (JR), Journal of Business Research (JBR), Industrial
during the period of 1980–1990. Their effort, which focused on Marketing Management (IMM), Journal of Business and In-
manuscripts published exclusively in the Journal of Personal dustrial Marketing (JBIM), Journal of Personal Selling and
Selling & Sales Management (JPSSM), categorized 175 articles Sales Management (JPSSM), European Journal of Marketing
by topic and analyzed the degree to which JPSSM articles were (EJM), International Journal of Research in Marketing (IJRM),
cross-cited in Journal of Marketing (JM), Journal of Marketing Marketing Letters (ML), Psychology and Marketing (P&M),
Research (JMR), and Industrial Marketing Management Journal of Marketing Theory and Practice (JMTP), and Jour-
(IMM). That same year, Bush and Grant (1991) identified the nal of Applied Psychology (JAP). Included in this selection are
leading contributors to sales research published in JM, JMR, the most prestigious journals within marketing (JM, JMR, MS,
JPSSM, and IMM during the decade of the 1980s. Later, JAMS, JR), the more prominent field journals focused on B2B
Moncrief et al. (2000) evaluated authorship trends for approx- and industrial marketing (IMM, JBIM, JPSSM), a number of
imately 250 articles appearing in 16 marketing journals during notable, but more secondary marketing journals (JBR, ML,
the 1993–1997 time period. Although Moncrief et al.'s find- P&M, JMTP), a representative set of non-U.S.-based journals
ings did include the frequency of sales articles appearing in the (EJM, IJRM), and the premier I/O psychology journal (JAP). A
examined journals, they gave primary attention to tracking the 16th journal, Journal of Consumer Research, was included in
doctoral training and current institutional affiliation of publish- the original journal sample, but was not incorporated into the
ing researchers during the 5-year timeframe. subsequent analysis because it contained only four articles
The most comprehensive analysis of sales publication trends specifically focused on selling or sales management over the
to date is the work of Bush and Grant (1994), which examined studied timeframe. This selection of journals appears to repre-
sales research published in JM, JMR, JPSSM, and IMM over sent the vast majority of published sales-related research during
the period of 1980–1992. This study identified 358 articles, this period.2 The specific timeframe of 1983–2002 was chosen
which were classified according to topical categories first used to provide a long-term (20-year) view of sales research through
by Swan et al. (1991), plus two additional categories. Also
reported in this analysis were the number of articles published
by year in terms of journal outlet, empirical method, sampled 2
Four journals (IJRM, JBIM, JMTP, and ML) commenced publishing at
unit, statistical analysis approach, target audience, and theoret- some point after 1983; therefore, the analysis does not include a full 20 years of
ical/conceptual foundation utilized. coverage for these journals.
410 B.C. Williams, C.R. Plouffe / Industrial Marketing Management 36 (2007) 408–419

the most currently available and completed publication year at new topic, “intraorganizational aspects of the sales role”, was
the time this study commenced. included to reflect increasing recognition that tasks associated
In the initial phase of this research, we manually reviewed with their internal work environment may be pivotal to the
every issue of the 15 examined journals in order to identify salesperson's overall job performance (Sujan, 1999; Weitz &
articles for inclusion in the analysis. We independently read Bradford, 1999). Finally, the two previously separate topics of
each paper's title and abstract and, in many cases, inspected the “budgeting” and “sales and cost analysis” were collapsed into
full article in order to select those related to selling and sales one topic labeled “budgeting and cost analysis” because the two
management. Consistent with the approach followed in previ- topics were so closely related on a conceptual basis and repre-
ous research (Bush & Grant, 1994; Swan et al., 1991), a very sented an extremely small number of the articles analyzed in
small number of publication entries—including editorials, Bush and Grant's (1994) study.
abstracts, book reviews, and practitioner profiles—were ex- Coding for the other content dimensions followed the basic
cluded. In total, this identification phase yielded a sample of structure used in prior sales content analyses. One of three
1012 sales articles. codes were assigned to the “article type” dimension to reflect
whether or not the article was “empirical”, “conceptual”, or
3.1. Content dimensions “other” (typically, short practitioner commentaries or technolo-
gy-oriented product discussions most often found in early
The second phase of the study involved systematically cate- issues of JPSSM). “Data collection method” was assigned one
gorizing the major aspects of each sales article. Following the of six possible categories (“survey”, “lab experiment”, “field
approach used by Bush and Grant (1994), which itself mirrors experiment”, “archival/secondary data”, “qualitative methods”,
the structure found in the content analyses of other fields, such and “other”). The “data analysis method” dimension was coded
as management (Mahoney, 1985) and advertising (Yale & Gilly, as “descriptives”, “correlations”, “analysis of variance” (e.g.,
1988), we coded each article according to the following dimen- ANOVA, MANOVA, ANCOVA, etc.), “factor analysis”, “data
sions: topic, article type, theoretical/conceptual foundation, data classification” (e.g., cluster analysis, discriminant analysis,
collection method, sampled unit, and data analysis method. Two etc.), “regression” (e.g., univariate, multiple, logistic, etc.),
additional dimensions, product category/industry focus of the “structural equation modeling” (e.g., SEM, PLS, etc.), “longi-
sample (goods, services, or combination) and research design tudinal data analysis” (e.g., time series, hazard, survival mod-
(longitudinal or cross-sectional), were added to provide a more eling, etc.), “qualitative analysis”, or “other”. Finally, the
granular perspective on emerging research issues (Day & Mon- dimension of “sampled unit” was assigned one of six possible
tgomery, 1999; Vargo & Lusch, 2004). One dimension original- codes: “salespeople”, “sales manager”, “buyers”, “students”,
ly used in Bush and Grant's (1994) analysis—“audience “multiple”, or “other”.
addressed”—was eliminated. In our view, it was too challenging In contrast to all other dimensions, the category structure for
and ultimately imprecise to attempt to discern who might read “theoretical/conceptual foundation” was not determined a
any specific article. We assumed that the vast majority of the priori, but rather followed an inductive process. Bush and
reviewed articles were targeted to an academic readership. Grant (1994) used a similar approach to ensure that their coding
We independently evaluated and coded the eight dimensions captured the widest possible array of applied theoretical per-
of the 1012 manuscripts. All of the categories within each spectives. We carefully reviewed each article's introduction,
dimension were considered mutually exclusive, and in the literature review, reference list, and, where applicable, formal
case of certain articles covering several topics or deploying proposition or hypothesis-development sections. While most
multiple data collection and/or analytical approaches, we articles briefly or indirectly cited related studies or other bodies
attempted to identify the primary or focal category, be it of literature, the focus here was to determine whether or not
topic, data collection, analytic method, etc. Within the content authors grounded their models, hypotheses, and/or arguments
categories, we made minor adjustments to the coding scheme in a clearly identifiable theoretical base. A determination was
utilized in previous sales content analyses. For instance, Bush then made as to which academic discipline or literature base
and Grant's (1994) original list of 18 topics, which itself fol- each theoretical perspective originated or was primarily devel-
lowed the list utilized by Swan et al. (1991), was modified to oped. In total, eight “theoretical/conceptual foundation” cate-
create a list of 20 potential topical categories. Specifically, we gories emerged as a result of this process.
added three new topics to reflect changes occurring in the Finally, two additional dimensions for each empirical article
general selling and industrial marketing environment. The were gathered. “Research design” was classified as either
first addition, “salesforce automation/technology”, was incor- “cross-sectional” or “longitudinal” and “sampled product cate-
porated in response to the proliferation of technology (includ- gory” was coded as one of four possible categories: “good”,
ing laptops, PDAs, cell phones, CRM software, etc.) in the “service”, “combination” (heterogeneous), or “not applicable”
everyday life of a salesperson (Plouffe, Williams, & Leigh, (most typically applied to student sample-based studies).
2004; Schillewaert, Ahearne, Frambach, & Moenaert, 2005).
A second new topic, “the salesforce and marketing/firm strate- 3.2. Reliability
gy”, was added to capture the growing interest in how the
salesforce interfaces with the firm as a whole and higher level Given the subjective nature of the categorization process in
strategic issues (Capron & Hulland, 1999; Jap, 2001). The third content analyses, disagreements are expected to arise between
B.C. Williams, C.R. Plouffe / Industrial Marketing Management 36 (2007) 408–419 411

raters. A number of statistical methods can be used to evaluate IJRM (n = 17). In addition, the article frequency data reveals
the level of consistency between the raters' coding, thus gen- that sales research appears to be of interest to both scholars and
erating a formal assessment of the data's reliability. One of the journal editors associated with areas outside the set of “pure”
more robust and relatively conservative measures of inter-rater marketing journals. For instance, a modest number of sales
reliability is Cohen's kappa, an index with a value between 1 articles have been published in JAP during the 20-year period
(perfect consensus between raters) and 0 (agreement is no better (n = 13).
than chance) (Neuendorf, 2002). As noted in Appendix A, the
Cohen's kappa reliabilities for the eight dimensions ranged 4.1. Article topics
from a high of .99 for “article type” to a low of .89 for
“topic”, well within acceptable ranges for studies of this nature The findings illustrate that there is a considerable range of
(Krippendorff, 2004; Neuendorf, 2002). topics being addressed by researchers in the sales field. Table 2
In the case of disagreements, the authors discussed the details the frequency of the article topics across the studied
specific article category until consensus was reached (e.g., timeframe while Table 3 provides additional details and com-
Scandura & Williams, 2000). In the small number of cases in mentary about each topic. The two most common topics, com-
which such discussion failed to yield an agreement, the final bining for nearly one quarter of the articles, represent “classic”
classification was assigned the code suggested by the senior salesforce issues of concern to most practicing managers: sell-
author. ing process and technique (n = 146) and salesperson motivation
(n = 102). Other topics receiving a great deal of attention in-
4. Results and analysis clude salesforce and marketing/firm strategy (n = 80), buyer
behavior (n = 79), supervision (n = 69), and sales organization
A total of 1012 sales articles appeared from 1983 to 2002 and positions (n = 68). Few overall topical patterns are discern-
across the 15 journals. As noted in Table 1, a historical view of able from the data, except for the fact that articles addressing
the frequencies reveals a steadily growing number of published issues at the intersection of the salesforce and broader firm-
sales articles across an increasingly diverse set of journal out- level strategy as well as matters delving into buyer behavior
lets. The output of sales researchers has been relatively robust, are becoming more prevalent. The increasingly strategic posi-
with an average of 50.6 (standard deviation of 10.9) articles tioning of the sales function by executives and the growing
published per year during the 20-year timeframe. It comes as sophistication with which industrial firms view their buyers
little surprise that the largest percentage of sales-related manu- may account for the positive trend in the volume of these
scripts have appeared in JPSSM (45.1%), followed by IMM studies.
(14.6%), and JBIM (6.9%). Interestingly, JAMS, a more gen- Beyond the “popular” topics, it is worth considering the
erally focused marketing outlet, published the fourth largest topics less frequently pursued in the sales literature. Four
number of sales articles, nearly 6% of the total. Among the field-level or implementation-oriented topics (time and territory
three “elite” marketing journals included in this study (JM, management, quotas, forecasting, and budgeting/cost analysis)
JMR, and MS), JM appears most receptive to sales research, were the least researched topics during the evaluated time
having published 5.1% of the total article pool over the exam- period. It is somewhat surprising to see such a small number
ined time period, with an average of 2.6 articles per year. of articles focused in these areas, especially since these topics
These results also highlight an important—but often over- are issues of daily concern to many sales managers. These four
looked—body of sales research in journals with a primarily topics may also frequently involve financial aspects of the
non-North American orientation, such as EJM (n = 25) and firm's operations. Because the marketing-finance interface,

Table 1
Sales article frequency by journal and year
1983 1984 1985 1986 1987 1988 1989 1990 1991 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 Total
JM 0 7 1 4 5 2 3 2 2 1 2 5 1 3 4 3 2 1 2 2 52
JMR 3 3 5 5 2 2 2 3 1 2 3 2 0 0 0 1 1 1 0 0 36
MS 0 0 2 2 0 0 1 2 0 0 0 2 0 1 0 2 0 1 1 0 14
JAMS 3 3 3 2 4 1 5 2 5 1 3 4 2 3 3 1 3 2 8 2 60
JR 2 1 0 0 0 2 2 1 0 0 0 0 1 1 1 1 1 3 0 0 16
JBR 1 1 1 1 1 2 3 3 3 2 0 4 2 1 3 3 4 0 3 3 41
JPSSM 13 13 14 25 22 21 23 30 30 28 27 24 21 23 22 21 24 27 27 21 456
IMM 6 4 9 6 9 4 6 4 7 6 7 5 6 11 7 6 15 3 10 17 148
JBIM 0 0 0 4 3 4 2 2 4 3 4 5 1 7 12 1 5 9 3 1 70
EJM 0 0 1 1 0 1 0 0 0 1 0 1 1 6 1 4 1 2 0 5 25
IJRM 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 10 0 0 0 0 1 3 0 0 1 0 1 0 17
ML 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 3 1 0 2 0 1 0 0 1 9
P&M 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 8 0 1 1 2 2 3 2 20
JMTP 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 5 10 2 0 1 0 9 1 4 3 35
JAP 2 0 0 0 1 0 0 2 0 0 2 0 0 2 0 1 1 1 0 1 13
Total 30 32 36 50 47 40 47 61 53 45 53 65 47 61 57 45 70 53 62 58 1012
412 B.C. Williams, C.R. Plouffe / Industrial Marketing Management 36 (2007) 408–419

Table 2
Sales article frequency by topic and year
1983 1984 1985 1986 1987 1988 1989 1990 1991 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 Total
Selling process 1 6 9 8 6 7 4 7 6 5 4 15 11 9 5 4 14 9 8 8 146
and technique
Motivation 3 6 7 7 1 7 4 4 3 2 9 8 3 5 8 4 6 4 1 10 102
Salesforce and 3 1 1 4 4 2 1 2 3 2 4 6 5 6 4 7 6 4 10 5 80
marketing/firm
strategy
Buyer behavior 1 1 2 2 2 5 3 2 5 3 4 7 4 7 7 2 6 4 10 2 79
Supervision 1 3 3 3 1 0 1 3 5 1 4 3 4 6 5 6 5 6 6 3 69
Sales organization 3 1 2 4 3 3 1 6 0 3 1 3 1 5 11 4 8 3 2 4 68
and positions
Social, legal and 3 2 1 2 1 5 2 1 9 6 1 5 4 2 2 3 1 5 2 3 60
ethical issues
Recruiting and 4 1 4 2 4 2 4 5 2 8 4 0 2 3 1 2 4 2 3 1 58
selection
Sales evaluation 4 1 3 4 3 1 6 5 3 0 5 2 2 2 2 4 3 3 1 0 54
and performance
General selling 1 2 0 4 4 3 3 1 9 2 2 4 1 1 1 1 1 2 4 4 50
and sales
management
Technology/ 0 2 3 3 7 2 3 5 2 1 2 2 1 1 3 0 1 1 4 4 47
salesforce
automation
Training 0 1 0 1 2 0 5 2 1 3 4 1 2 5 2 1 2 3 2 7 44
Turnover and 3 2 0 1 4 2 5 7 3 1 2 2 1 2 1 0 2 3 0 2 43
retention
Measurement 0 2 0 1 0 0 1 3 0 2 3 2 3 4 2 0 4 1 4 2 34
Compensation 2 0 1 2 2 0 3 3 0 2 0 1 2 1 1 5 2 1 2 0 30
Intraorganizational 0 1 0 0 1 0 0 3 0 2 4 2 0 0 0 1 2 2 1 2 21
issues
Time and territory 1 0 0 2 1 0 0 1 0 2 0 1 0 2 0 1 2 0 2 0 15
management
Quotas 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 0 0 0 0 0 2 0 0 0 0 1 5
Forecasting 0 0 0 0 1 1 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 4
Budgeting and 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 1 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 3
cost analysis
Total 30 32 36 50 47 40 47 61 53 45 53 65 47 61 57 45 70 53 62 58 1012

cost control, and “revenue management” represent areas of vation research, not completely unexpected given this journal's
considerable interest within both academic and practitioner interest in individual-level cognition. But in general, no journal
circles (Marketing Science Institute, 2004), it is interesting to appeared to focus exclusively on any one topic. In addition, the
note what appears to be a strong financial theme inherent in topical patterns across the 15 journals remained somewhat
topics of least interest to sales researchers. In addition, in a bit steady over the 20 years covered in this review. This relatively
of a surprise, the number of articles related to technology and consistent topical pattern may reflect the rather defined content
salesforce automation did not dramatically increase over the 20 domain of sales research, preference for these topics by editors
examined years. Although there were four technology-oriented and reviewers, or some combination of both.
articles published in each of the last 2 years studied—and
technology was a modestly frequent topic across the 2-decade 4.2. Theoretical/conceptual foundation
period—there was no dramatic upswing in technology-focused
manuscripts in the latter years as might have been expected Perhaps one of the more insightful ways to assess a disci-
given the recent influx of technology into the business and pline's knowledge generation is to evaluate the theoretical
selling environment (Morgan & Inks, 2001). domains it leverages. Toward this aim, we categorized the
It is also interesting to observe topical trends at the journal major theoretical/conceptual foundation of each sales article
level. For instance, “selling process and technique” and “moti- in order to identify which disciplines and literature streams
vation” were among the most popular topics in the more pres- have had the greatest influence on the field during the last 20
tigious journals, including JM, JMR, and JAMS. In contrast, years as well as how those influences may have changed over
MS almost exclusively published articles addressing issues this period. Although authors commonly cited previous studies
related to compensating and structuring the salesforce. IMM, as justification for an article's perspective without mention of
JBIM, and JPSSM published articles devoted to a wide range of an underlying theoretical mechanism or integrated body of
sales topics, while JAP seemed to concentrate more on moti- literature, at issue was whether or not one or more theories or
B.C. Williams, C.R. Plouffe / Industrial Marketing Management 36 (2007) 408–419 413

Table 3
Summary of sales research topics
Topic Description Comments
Selling process Individual-level approaches to improving the Represents the biggest theme within published sales research; dominated by
and technique effectiveness of customer and prospect interactions the individual level of analysis. Additional focus on the customer side of the
and sales outcomes. interaction dyad is needed.
Motivation Theories and practices designed to better understand Steady in popularity throughout the studied timeframe, research in this area
salespeople's goal attainment, retention, and has grown largely incremental in more recent times, perhaps because of a
satisfaction. lack of new underlying theories and applied constructs.
Salesforce and Higher level sales management issues related to the A major area not assessed as a separate topical category in prior content
marketing/firm firm's overall and/or marketing strategy. analyses of sales research. Most studies consider the primary unit of analysis
strategy to be the salesperson, not the sales function. In particular, additional focus
needed to examine the enduring problems associated with the marketing-
sales interface.
Buyer behavior Theories and models associated with the activities, Many of the same perspectives leveraged frequently, although new theories
emotions, and responses of prospects and customers. and perspectives from consumer behavior show promise in more recent
sales research.
Supervision The direction, management, guidance, and mentoring The constant supply of manuscripts reveals the popularity of this stream of
of first-level salespeople. work, but applied theoretical perspectives (e.g., transaction cost economics;
role theory) are of uncertain utility to practicing sales managers.
Sales organization The deployment of sales personnel, organizational Work in this area appears aligned with actual sales practice, with one
and positions structure, and titles/job responsibilities of salespeople. exception: the dearth of much needed research on selling teams and “next-
generation” salesforce deployment options.
Social, legal and Assessment of how the sales function impacts, or A number of areas assessed over the studied timeframe, including
ethical issues itself is impacted by, social, legal, and ethical demographic and racial composition of the salesforce; legal issues (e.g.,
trends/issues. bribes); and work–life balance for salespeople. Most empirical tests limited
to student samples.
Recruiting and The process and characteristics by which salespeople Topics included educational attainment and salesperson performance; pros/
selection are recruited and selected for the firm. cons of hiring “green” vs. “experienced” salespeople, etc.
Sales evaluation Research which endeavors to understand how to Common themes included subjective vs. objective measurement of sales
and performance measure/assess the performance of salespeople. performance; levels-of-analysis issues; other metrics of performance beyond
“traditional” ones (e.g., customer satisfaction), etc.
General selling Work which clearly pertained to the rubric of “sales Typically a small number of articles per year fell into this umbrella category.
and sales and sales management,” but for which no clear-cut
management topical coding category could be assigned.
Technology/ The impact and usage of new and emerging Individual productivity tools, including mobile phones and computers,
salesforce technologies and innovations by the salesforce in emphasized in the early years of the analysis; firmwide salesforce
automation the conduct of their day-to-day work. automation and CRM systems addressed in more recent years.
Training Strategies and techniques to ensure the salesforce is A marked uptick in published literature in the final years of the study.
prepared to serve its customers and prospects. Emerging topics include mentoring and outsourcing sales training.
Turnover and The extent to which salespeople are retained, and A fair amount of interest in the middle portion of the studied time period
retention factors which negatively/positively influence this (∼1989–1996). Perspectives from I/O psychology are heavily leveraged in
outcome. exploring this area.
Measurement Work which advances the science and practice of The vast majority of this work dealt with introducing or critiquing/refining
conducting empirical research in sales. (1) existing measurement scales, or (2) best practices on how sales
researchers should gather primary data. Little attention given to qualitative
and archival data collection methods.
Compensation Remuneration schemes and plans for rewarding the For the most part, this research involves the application of some form of
salesforce. modeling technique to help elucidate logical or idealized compensation
schemes. Potential for additional behavioral research in this domain.
Intraorganizational Factors and processes associated with how the An under-represented topic in sales research. A small number of pieces,
issues salesperson manages their own internal work mostly conceptual in nature, appeared in the latter portion of the analysis.
environment and those within it.
Time and territory Factors which influence, and mechanisms by which, An important, but little-understood topical area. More work is needed on
management the salesperson works their geographic territory or optimal call routing; equitable distribution of territories; creating territories
sales assignment (e.g., assigned industry). that are balanced in terms of revenue potential, etc.
Quotas Raw amount and metrics associated with what the Just five articles of the 1000+ examined. Research is needed on what works
salesperson is expected to sell for their firm. best: “low,” “fairly set” or “unrealistically high” sales quotas.
Forecasting Processes and techniques for predicting sales volume A dearth of attention over the studied timeframe, perhaps because many
and trends in the future. sales researchers lack the underlying methodological skills or interest.
Budgeting and Planning and monitoring associated with the Ripe for research, perhaps of a cross-disciplinary nature with tools and
cost analysis significant expenditures made on the salesforce. methods from the accounting and finance disciplines.

integrated literature streams were used to logically ground the Eight theoretical/conceptual foundation categories emerged
development of key arguments, research questions, proposi- from the inductive categorization process described previously.
tions, and/or hypotheses. Table 4 details the results of this portion of the analysis. One of
414 B.C. Williams, C.R. Plouffe / Industrial Marketing Management 36 (2007) 408–419

Table 4
Sales article frequency by theoretical/conceptual foundation and year
1983 1984 1985 1986 1987 1988 1989 1990 1991 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 Total
“Atheoretical” 17 13 22 26 28 24 23 30 34 29 25 27 23 28 29 19 34 27 26 24 508
I/O Psychology 2 8 5 4 7 5 8 10 6 4 9 7 4 9 6 7 10 5 10 5 131
Marketing 2 0 2 1 1 1 6 5 2 2 9 11 6 8 5 4 6 7 10 11 99
(Non-CB)
Management 3 2 1 9 3 1 3 6 4 4 4 4 4 4 6 5 5 6 4 7 85
Social 2 6 3 4 4 3 3 4 4 1 4 7 4 4 3 5 4 1 4 4 74
Psychology
Cognitive 3 1 0 4 1 5 3 5 2 2 1 4 2 1 0 0 3 3 1 5 46
Psychology
Economics 1 0 2 2 2 0 1 1 0 1 0 3 2 0 4 3 4 1 2 0 29
Consumer 0 0 0 0 1 1 0 0 1 1 1 1 2 5 1 2 3 2 3 2 26
Behavior
Sociology 0 2 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 1 0 2 3 0 1 1 2 0 14
Total 30 32 36 50 47 40 47 61 53 45 53 65 47 61 57 45 70 53 62 58 1012

the more compelling findings is the substantial number of obvious relevancy to sales, the sociology literature was the
“atheoretical” articles, that is, articles that failed to reference least utilized theoretical perspective.
an identifiable and/or coherent theoretical perspective. A re- At the journal level, the trends for this dimension are even
markable 50% of the 1012 articles were characterized as lack- more revealing. Those journals considered by many to be
ing any discernable theoretical base according to the strict but among the most prestigious in their area of focus (e.g., JM in
appropriate standard utilized in this review process. More re- general marketing, JMR in marketing research, JAP in applied
cently, sales researchers appeared to be using strong theoretical psychology) had the lowest percentage of atheoretical articles.
foundations with greater frequency, but the rate of improvement For instance, just 17% of sales articles appearing in JM, 25% of
in this area is modest. Consider that during the first 5 years of the papers in JMR, and 23% of the manuscripts published in
the analysis (1983–1987), some 54% of the articles were coded JAP lacked a discernable theoretical foundation. JR and P&M
as “atheoretical”. In comparison, during the last 5 years of the also had a relatively low number of atheoretical articles, at 25%
study (1998–2002), approximately 45% of the articles lacked a each. These statistics differ markedly from the considerably
strong theoretical grounding. Although this result provides larger incidence of atheoretical papers in such journals as
some evidence of the need to improve the theoretical rigor of JBIM (77%), IMM (76%), and JPSSM (51%).
sales research, as Bush and Grant (1994) observed, a percent-
age of the atheoretical articles may be attributable, in some 4.3. Article type
cases, to authors and journals attempting to more effectively
communicate with managerial audiences. A core dimension of any journal article relates to its primary
For those articles in which a definitive theoretical/conceptu- purpose: does it seek to provide conceptual commentary and
al foundation was apparent, sales researchers most frequently conjecture on a topic or does it aim to communicate the results
utilized theories and perspectives emanating from I/O psychol- of an empirical research study. Of the 1012 manuscripts ana-
ogy (n = 131). Other subfields within psychology, including lyzed, the majority (n = 738) were classified as empirical in
social psychology (n = 74) and cognitive/learning psychology nature; that is, they were designed to report the findings from
(n = 46), are also important sources of theoretical grounding, a some form of qualitative or quantitative data collection and
clear signal to the influence of that discipline on contemporary analysis exercise. A smaller number were conceptual (n = 230),
sales research. In addition, sales researchers are looking closer including articles positioned as literature reviews; introductions
to home for their guiding frameworks and theories. Perhaps a of new models, frameworks, and taxonomies; or theoretical
sign of marketing's increasing maturity, 19.6% of the sales analyses and related commentaries. An even smaller minority
articles with an identifiable theoretical/conceptual foundation of articles (n = 44) were classified as “other”, generally brief,
tapped into general marketing-based, non-CB related theoreti- non-conventional entries, such as practitioner profiles or other
cal perspectives to ground their efforts. A large component of features commonly found in the early volumes of JPSSM.
this non-CB marketing category involved several theoretical Interestingly, the ratio of empirical to conceptual articles
frameworks developed by the sales field itself in recent years, has fluctuated over the 20-year period. In the early years
including various models of industrial buying behavior and covered by the analysis, a larger percentage of articles were
selling effectiveness. Sales researchers are also more frequently empirical; in the mid-1990s, conceptual papers were more
adapting CB-related theories for use in industrial settings. Fi- frequently seen, and in the most recent years, there was a
nally, the management discipline, representing a number of shift back toward more empirical articles. Articles within the
theories within the domains of strategy, human resource man- non-traditional “other” category described above have all but
agement, and organizational behavior, was the third most fre- disappeared, presumably as editorial and publishing practices
quent theoretical/conceptual foundation (n = 85). Despite its have become more standardized.
B.C. Williams, C.R. Plouffe / Industrial Marketing Management 36 (2007) 408–419 415

From a journal perspective, the ratio of empirical to concep- period. In particular, survey research was the most dominant
tual articles is dramatically different in the subset of the highest method of obtaining data across the two decades evaluated,
tier marketing journals (JM, JMR, and MS). Within these although the use of other techniques has increased modestly
prestigious outlets, a notable 91% of the articles (n = 93) were in recent years. When viewed at the journal level, JMR, JAMS,
empirical. In fact, during the period studied, only one elite-level JBR, and IJRM published articles with a wider diversity of
journal, JM, published any conceptual sales-related articles, the methods compared to other outlets.
most recent of which was back in 1991. Within the entire set of In recent years and in appreciation of the complexities facing
15 journals, JBIM and IMM appear the most receptive to the implementation of sales programs, there has been a major
conceptual manuscripts. In the 1983–2002 period, 44% of call for more longitudinal data collection efforts within the
JBIM's articles and 35% of IMM articles were classified as marketing field. However, it appears that sales researchers
conceptual. In addition to JMR and MS, four other journals (JR, have yet to heed this suggestion. A revealing finding from
ML, P&M, and JAP) only published empirical sales articles in this analysis is the severe imbalance between cross-sectional
the period reviewed. and longitudinal sales research designs. Over 98% of the em-
pirical articles in this review relied on purely cross-sectional
4.4. Data collection method data gathering methods. Interestingly, the number of longitudi-
nal studies did not increase in the latter years of the analysis,
Sales researchers employed a range of methods to collect despite the emergence and acceptance of more sophisticated,
data across the 1012 analyzed articles. Table 5 details the multiple time period approaches. In fact, only one article made
various data collection approaches by year. By far, the most use of a longitudinal approach within the last 5 years of the
typical method of collecting data in the sales field is through the review.
use of surveys (n = 558). In fact, surveys were utilized as the
primary data collection method nearly three times as often as all 4.5. Sampling
other data collection methods combined. Surprisingly, the fre-
quency of survey use is not declining—this despite the emer- A researcher's decision as to what source they will use to
gence of new methods and data sources in recent times. collect their data has important implications in a practical and
Collecting data via archival or secondary data sources theoretical sense. As depicted in Table 6, we found that sales
(n = 48), lab experiments (n = 46), and various qualitative researchers have relied on a range of sampling sources. Not
approaches (n = 44) appeared on an infrequent basis. It is also surprisingly, one-half of the empirical articles focused on the
interesting to note that one of the least employed methods, individual salesperson as the primary unit sampled (n = 373), an
although one with seemingly high relevancy to sales research, approach that remained the most frequent over the entire 20
is the field experiment (n = 25). Finally, the “other” category years investigated. Sales managers and other executive-level
(n = 17) was assigned to a small number of articles using vari- individuals were the second most frequently sampled source on
ous, typically non-traditional approaches to data generation. In an overall basis (n = 104), but sampling at this level has not
most of these cases, the articles were quantitatively oriented always been as popular as it appears in the aggregate. In certain
modeling papers that created “artificial” data sets in order to years, the sampling of buyers was an especially common strat-
evaluate a proposed model or algorithm. It is worth noting that egy within sales research. For instance, in 1997, nearly 27% of
many studies deployed more than one data collection method studies directly tapped the buyer side of the dyad compared to
(e.g., qualitative field interviews used to design a survey, which approximately 5% that sampled sales managers.
was later distributed to a large sample). Because the coding The data also imply that multiple sampling techniques (e.g.,
approach was purposely constrained to record a single data collecting data from both salespeople and their managers and/or
collection method per article, the authors sought to capture salespeople and customers) are occurring with greater frequen-
the primary or principal method. cy in more recent years. During the first 5 years investigated,
From a trend perspective, the pattern of data collection less than 1% of empirical research deployed a multiple sample
methods has not dramatically shifted during the 1983–2002 design. Yet, nearly 11% of the studies had multiple sampled

Table 5
Empirical sales article frequency by data collection method and year
1983 1984 1985 1986 1987 1988 1989 1990 1991 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 Total
Survey 19 14 21 20 14 21 27 29 31 25 38 37 26 35 37 24 36 36 32 37 558
Archival/ 1 3 2 2 5 0 2 4 4 3 3 4 1 1 0 4 3 1 4 1 48
Secondary Data
Lab Experiment 1 1 0 1 2 2 0 3 3 2 3 2 6 2 1 3 1 5 2 6 46
Qualitative 1 2 1 3 3 2 1 3 0 1 1 0 3 2 2 5 5 1 5 3 44
Methods
Field Experiment 1 2 0 0 0 3 3 0 1 2 0 4 2 1 0 0 2 1 2 1 25
Other 1 0 1 2 0 0 0 4 0 0 0 2 1 2 1 1 1 0 1 0 17
Total 24 22 25 28 24 28 33 43 39 33 45 49 39 43 41 37 48 43 46 48 738
416 B.C. Williams, C.R. Plouffe / Industrial Marketing Management 36 (2007) 408–419

Table 6
Empirical sales article frequency by sampling approach and year
1983 1984 1985 1986 1987 1988 1989 1990 1991 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 Total
Salespeople 11 12 16 21 11 15 18 23 15 12 23 28 15 20 24 15 24 24 19 27 373
Sales Manager 5 2 4 1 3 3 7 6 5 6 10 5 4 3 2 7 9 6 10 6 104
Buyers 1 4 3 0 1 6 4 1 7 4 2 7 6 7 11 3 3 2 7 5 84
Students 4 2 1 3 4 3 1 4 5 2 4 0 5 3 1 3 2 7 2 4 60
Other 2 1 1 2 4 0 2 4 5 3 3 4 3 3 0 4 4 1 3 1 50
Multiple 1 1 0 1 1 1 1 5 2 6 3 5 6 7 3 5 6 3 5 5 67
Total 24 22 25 28 24 28 33 43 39 33 45 49 39 43 41 37 48 43 46 48 738

Goods Sample 14 12 11 12 11 15 19 21 13 17 26 28 16 22 19 15 23 16 22 23 355


Services Sample 1 1 7 5 3 2 5 8 3 2 1 2 6 3 4 3 3 5 5 4 73
Combination 5 7 5 8 8 9 8 6 15 9 13 14 13 14 16 12 17 13 13 17 222
Not Applicable 4 2 2 3 2 2 1 8 8 5 5 5 4 4 2 7 5 9 6 4 88
Total 24 22 25 28 24 28 33 43 39 33 45 49 39 43 41 37 48 43 46 48 738

units in the last 5 years analyzed. The use of student samples, the dominant focus of sales researchers, with nearly 50% of all
while decreasing somewhat in popularly over the 20 years of empirical studies utilizing samples from firms or individuals
the study, remained a relatively common data collection strat- associated with the sale of tangible products. Although services
egy. Finally, empirical articles using “other” sampled units— represent the largest component of the global economy (Rust,
such as industry-level databases and archival data repositories 2004), studies that exclusively sampled services firms are con-
in the case of quantitative studies, or various media and other siderably less frequent in sales research. What's more, it was
physical artifacts in the case of qualitative research—were not informally observed that the vast majority of services-only sales
pervasive. research focused on the insurance industry, with very little work
At a journal level, there are few discernable trends, although addressing other important service contexts. The goods/services
some journals seemed to favor certain sampling designs. For coding distinction was not applicable to 12% of the studies,
instance, none of the sales articles published in JM used stu- primarily those using student samples.
dents as the primary sample, yet approximately 20% of the
empirical pieces in JMR and P&M relied on student samples. 4.6. Data analysis techniques
JMTP and P&M appeared to be favorable outlets for studies
using multiple sample designs, with 19.2% and 15% of their Once data is collected, it may be analyzed and reported in
respective articles tapping more than one data source, and it is innumerable ways. As noted by Table 7, sales researchers
little surprise that MS, with its traditionally heavy focus on deployed a variety of analytical techniques in their published
modeling and archival data, had the lowest frequency of re- studies. Unlike the overwhelming preference for survey data
search using the individual salesperson as the sampled unit. collection, no single analytical method appeared to dominate
Other outlets with a lower number of salesperson-only samples the sales field. The most popular approaches for analyzing
included ML (33% of articles used salesperson-only samples) empirical data included the use of univariate, multiple, or
and IJRM (31% of studies). logistic regression (23.7%), analysis of variance techniques
Another aspect of sampling involves the industry environ- (22.9%), and structural equation modeling (15%). A surpris-
ment represented in each study. Durable “goods” companies are ingly large number of articles used basic analytical approaches,

Table 7
Empirical sales article frequency by data analysis method and year
1983 1984 1985 1986 1987 1988 1989 1990 1991 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 Total
Regression 4 8 10 6 7 5 8 10 10 6 8 12 9 14 12 5 12 12 7 10 175
Analysis of 8 7 1 7 2 7 7 10 11 12 8 9 14 8 5 10 7 12 10 14 169
Variance
Descriptives 3 0 7 4 6 7 8 5 11 10 9 9 7 5 3 5 8 3 5 3 118
S.E.M. 1 0 4 1 2 2 3 1 3 8 9 0 9 12 9 7 8 16 16 111
Correlations 5 1 1 0 1 4 4 3 2 0 3 6 1 1 2 1 4 3 2 1 45
Qualitative 1 2 1 0 0 1 1 3 0 0 0 0 4 1 3 3 4 1 3 3 31
Analysis
Other 0 2 2 2 2 0 1 5 0 2 0 2 1 2 1 3 1 1 2 0 29
Factor Analysis 0 1 1 4 0 2 1 2 1 0 5 1 1 1 2 1 2 2 0 1 28
Data Classification 2 1 2 1 2 0 0 1 3 0 1 1 2 2 1 0 1 1 1 0 22
Longitudinal Data 0 0 0 0 3 0 1 1 0 0 3 0 0 0 0 0 2 0 0 0 10
Analysis
Total 24 22 25 28 24 28 33 43 39 33 45 49 39 43 41 37 48 43 46 48 738
B.C. Williams, C.R. Plouffe / Industrial Marketing Management 36 (2007) 408–419 417

including simple descriptive statistics (16%) and correlations North America, as is evidenced by the encouraging number of
(6.1%). The least popular analytical methods within sales re- sales articles found in IJRM and EJM. This fact, combined with
search were factor analysis (3.8%), data classification the presence of sales research in journals outside the core set of
approaches (e.g., cluster and discriminant analysis–3%), and marketing outlets, such as I/O psychology, suggest the need for
methods suited for longitudinal data (e.g., time-series model- greater awareness, collaboration, and integration across the
ing–1.4%). Nearly 4% of the empirical articles were coded as seemingly artificial geographic and discipline-based boundaries
“other” to reflect their use of a wide range of less mainstream, of the sales community.
primarily model-based analytical approaches. Overall, sales researchers have demonstrated surprising con-
It was not surprising to find an increasing use of more sistency in their topic selection during the studied timeframe.
sophisticated techniques such as SEM coupled with a cor- While this lack of variation can be quite helpful in building a
responding decrease in the frequency of studies reporting only strong body of knowledge that includes multiple replications
basic descriptives and correlations. Both regression and and extensions of earlier work, it may signal some degree of
ANOVA-based methods remained quite popular among sales stagnation or, at the very least, an opportunity to explore new
researchers during the entire 20-year timeframe. Analytical issues. At a practical level, the findings imply the need to
methods appropriate for qualitative data, although experiencing ensure that the topics being pursued continue to be the most
an apparent drop in popularity in the 1990s, were seen with relevant to sales practitioners and other key stakeholders. As
regular frequency in the latter years of the studied timeframe. reinforced by others (e.g., Ingram, LaForge, & Leigh, 2002),
At the journal level, JPSSM published the widest range of members of the sales academy must consider the alignment
analytical methods while MS published the most narrow. JM between their research questions and the issues of greatest
and JAMS appeared more favorably inclined toward articles concern to sales managers and other industrial marketing
using structural equation-based approaches, with SEM used in executives. As a compliment to these results, a formal “needs
34.9% and 35.7% of their respective empirical sales articles. analysis” of practicing sales professionals might be considered
Interestingly, qualitative analysis most frequently appeared in as one approach to formally evaluate the correlation between
JR, with 12.5% of this journal's empirical sales articles utilizing the research efforts of academics and the interests of
one or more qualitative techniques. practitioners.
This analysis implies the need for additional research in
5. Implications several topical areas. For instance, despite the increasingly
complex and strategic role played by sales (Marshall, Goebel,
Without question, the selling and sales management field & Moncrief, 2003; Weitz & Bradford, 1999), researchers ap-
has generated a significant body of knowledge in recent dec- pear to paint an overly simplistic view of the activities and
ades. The many articles reviewed in this content analysis rep- attributes of the individual salesperson. In addition, too little
resent an increasingly substantial base of intellectual capital attention has been given to examining the challenges and op-
relevant to many stakeholders—those interested in sales re- portunities associated with the interaction between the sales
search, those in industrial marketing, and others within and function and other firm units, such as marketing, finance, and
beyond the academy. Yet, despite this unquestionable progress operations (Sujan, 1999). In this regard, we echo the call by
in knowledge generation and dissemination, this analysis iden- Tanner (2002) to change the primary unit of analysis within
tified a number of areas for concern and further reflection by sales research from the salesperson to the sales function.
members of the sales community. In addition, many new research opportunities may emerge
At the highest level, the frequency data paint a mixed picture by moving beyond industrial goods settings. Although consum-
for sales scholars. First, it is clear that sales researchers face er researchers significantly expanded their horizons with a shift
considerable challenges when attempting to publish in the high- in focus to services in the 1980s, industrial researchers have
est strata of marketing journals. Of the articles appearing in the only begun to tap into the issues and complexities associated
study time period, JM, JMR, and MS published a mere 10% of with the domain of B2B services (Wilson & Smith, 1996).
the total. What's more, today's sales researchers must confront Furthermore, a number of topics of special interest to field-
especially tough historical trends if they seek to publish purely level sales managers appear under-explored. This review
conceptual work at top-tier journal outlets. In fact, this analysis revealed that time and territory management, quotas, forecast-
revealed a dearth of conceptual sales articles at the elite mar- ing, and budgeting/cost analysis-focused studies were less fre-
keting journals, with the most recent non-empirical sales man- quent despite the importance of these areas to successful sales
uscript appearing some 15 years ago. practice. Lastly, in the face of dramatic shifts to marketing
However, the preceding may be somewhat balanced by the brought about by new technology (e.g., Gardiner, Hanna, &
growing number of field-specific and secondary journals, many LaTour, 2002), these results suggest important opportunities to
of whom, such as IMM and JBIM, publish more than four further examine the impact of automation on selling and sales
issues per year. Some of these alternative outlets include titles management.
that many sales scholars may not immediately consider as The findings also support the idea that sales researchers
primary venues for disseminating their research, such as JAP frequently return to many of the same theories and conceptual
and JMTP. In addition, the data in this analysis highlight the models, particularly theoretical perspectives originating from
idea that sales research is being advanced by scholars outside of the field of psychology. Sales academics should challenge
418 B.C. Williams, C.R. Plouffe / Industrial Marketing Management 36 (2007) 408–419

themselves to apply new theoretical domains and literature Evaluating an academic discipline's knowledge production
streams. Exploring new theoretical lenses from such fields as and diffusion is a daunting, complex, and ultimately essential
economics, sociology, and anthropology may yield important responsibility for any community of scholars. Analyzing the
new insights into sales-related phenomena. This appears to be a content of academic journals is only one approach to such a
particular opportunity for current doctoral students and others task, but it may be one of the most revealing. Clearly, there are
with the greater flexibility and resources needed to gain famil- important limitations to any content analysis, including the
iarity with alternative paradigms. challenges associated with subjective coding and the proper
In the face of increasingly vocal concerns by journal editors management of the sheer volume of data, yet such an approach
and others over the lack of methodological sophistication can yield unique insights. In isolation, each journal article
within marketing, the results from this analysis reinforce the offers an acute view into a particular issue, not only the original
need to consider the methods utilized within sales research. In author's ideas and frames of reference, but also those held by
a practical sense, an over reliance by sales researchers on reviewers, editors, and readers. When aggregated together,
cross-sectional, single-informant survey designs implies that however, a collection of journal articles can reveal the larger
many publishing outlets—particularly the top-tier journals— ebbs and flows that mark a field's advancement as well as
may no longer be viable. At a broader, more conceptual level, issues in need of addressing before future progress can be
these findings should challenge the field to expand into new achieved. The results from this content analysis should encour-
methodological territory. Field experiments and supplementing age continued dialogue and renewed debate over the future
survey data with objective data sources may be reasonable development of the sales field.
first steps toward introducing more complexity and diversity
into sales research. In the near future, collecting data from Appendix A. Inter-Rater Reliabilities
multiple informants or over extended time periods, although
more difficult and costly, may represent the new minimum
“bar” of methodological sophistication for journal editors and Dimension Cohen's kappa (κ)
reviewers. Finally, the methodological trends illustrated in Article type .99
these findings should have important implications for the Research design (longitudinal vs. cross-sectional) .97
education of future sales academics. Graduate coordinators Sample product type/industry .96
Data collection method .94
are encouraged to use these results to reassess their program
Data analysis method .92
requirements, while current and future doctoral students can Theoretical/conceptual foundation .91
reference this data when setting their own personal develop- Sampled unit .91
mental agendas. Topic .89
Other stakeholders should consider these findings closely.
For instance, journal editors, critical gatekeepers in the knowl-
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