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Journal of Personal Selling & Sales Management

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Testing an Enhanced, Process-Based View of the Sales

Christopher R. Plouffe, Yvette Holmes Nelson & Frederik Beuk
Published online: 23 Sep 2013.

To cite this article: Christopher R. Plouffe, Yvette Holmes Nelson & Frederik Beuk (2013) Testing an Enhanced, Process-Based
View of the Sales Process, Journal of Personal Selling & Sales Management, 33:2, 141-163

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Testing an Enhanced, Process-Based View of the Sales Process
Christopher R. Plouffe, Yvette Holmes Nelson, and Frederik Beuk

This paper proposes that traditional process-based frameworks of selling may be underspecified given three realities
affecting the sales role today: (1) longer sales cycles, (2) an increased customer demand for total solutions, and (3) a shift
from a product- to a services-centric economy. An argument is offered that suggests that there are additional, plausible
phases in the modern sales process that extant frameworks of the sales process have yet to fully consider. The paper then
develops a research model to test key portions of this framework. “Downstream” sales behaviors and outcomes of these
behaviors are thus the focal point of the enhanced framework, with behavioral outcomes operationalized via the subjective
value inventory, a well-validated instrument on interpersonal negotiation style. Data collected from key account manag-
ers (n = 211) for a large services-based, consultative selling organization are used to test the model. The results show an
encouraging pattern of relationships within the model. Furthermore, a robust amount of variance in sales performance
is explained given both self-reported and objective measures. The paper concludes with a summary of contributions and
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limitations as well as suggested directions for future research.

The sales role is a multifaceted one, affected by elements inside Research has also suggested that marketing’s traditional
the salesperson’s own organization, market-level dynamics focus on discrete customer transactions is increasingly at odds
(e.g., competitors), as well as customer-level needs, wants, given a shift to deeper, long-term buyer–seller relationships.
and idiosyncrasies. In this spirit, the marketing literature has For example, the organizational buying literature has moved
chronicled a much more complex buyer–seller interface, with away from traditional, transactional views of buying behavior.
customers now demanding more from the vendors that they Instead, the literature recognizes both “selling” and “buying”
choose to do business with (e.g., Tuli, Kohli, and Bharadwaj as symbiotic—as a complex set of interrelated, yet often com-
2007; Vargo and Lusch 2004; Weitz and Bradford 1999). peting, processes involving people, resources, and increasingly
Firms that excel at managing this increasingly complex inter- explicit decision criteria (Morgan and Hunt 1994). The gen-
face are suggested to be those best positioned for both short- eral management and strategy literature have also contributed
and long-term success. Thus, one could posit that a firm’s to this broader discourse, arguing that economic exchange is
marketplace success is dependent on emphasizing consulta- an increasingly social process with defined stages and specific
tive, enterprise-level selling (e.g., Rackham and DeVincentis forms of behavior expected between parties as the exchange
1999) and long-term buyer–seller relationships (Crom et al. unfolds (Biggart and Delbridge 2004). Even the supply chain
2003; Stevens and Kinni 2007; Weitz and Bradford 1999). literature contributes by noting that the trend today is a move
Consequently, salespeople today have necessarily evolved into away from least-cost transactions and supplier sole-sourcing
customer relationship managers who are charged with the to long-term buyer–seller relationships with an emphasis on
coordination of a wide range of inputs and the marshaling working through conflict, win-win negotiations, and mutual
of disparate resources in order to be successful (Plouffe and betterment (e.g., Ganesan et al. 2009; Slone 2004; Su and
Grégoire 2011; Steward et al. 2010). Zhang 2008).
Given these trends, this paper seeks to augment the litera-
ture on the sales role in two related ways. The first intended
Christopher R. Plouffe (Ph.D., University of Western Ontario– contribution is a practical one. Key themes that resonate in
Ivey), Associate Professor of Marketing, Fisher Institute for Profes- the introduction above surround the process and behaviors and,
sional Selling, College of Business Administration, University of inherently, the outcomes (e.g., job performance) associated
Akron, with the salesperson’s evolved work role. Accordingly, the first
Yvette Holmes Nelson (MBA, Florida A&M University), Ph.D. part of this paper reviews both the classic and the more recent
Candidate in Marketing, College of Business, Florida State Uni- process-based frameworks of selling, and in so doing, suggests
Frederik Beuk (Ph.D., University of Illinois–Chicago), Assistant
Professor of Marketing, Fisher Institute of Professional Selling, The authors gratefully acknowledge the cooperation of the Fortune
College of Business Administration, University of Akron, beuk@ 500 firm who facilitated the collection of the data reported in this paper.

Journal of Personal Selling & Sales Management, vol. XXXIII, no. 2 (spring 2013), pp. 141–163.
© 2013 PSE National Educational Foundation. All rights reserved. Permissions:
ISSN 0885–3134 (print) / ISSN 1557–7813 (online)
DOI: 10.2753/PSS0885-3134330201
142  Journal of Personal Selling & Sales Management

that the current conceptualizations may be underspecified. requires that salespeople seek ways to identify the complete
Specifically, it will be argued that in order to be congru- array of customer needs and then integrate various products
ent with what is observed in practice, extant process-based and services to meet those needs (Reinartz and Ulaga 2008;
perspectives of selling should include two additional phases: Tuli, Kohli, and Bharadwaj 2007). Lastly, the shift from
(1) “Downstream Deal-Level Selling-Related Behaviors” and product-only sales industries to those that revolve around
(2) the “Outcomes” of those behaviors. In the more granular the delivery of services (e.g., Heskett 1987; Schlesinger and
view of the sales process that follows, a critical differentiat- Heskett 1991; Thomas 1978) has had a profound impact
ing point is made between the discrete sales call (e.g., Dixon, on the marketing function at large (see Fang, Palmatier, and
Spiro, and Jamil 2001) as the primary unit of analysis (as per Steenkamp 2008; Reinartz and Ulaga 2008; Vargo 2008;
Klein, Dansereau, and Hall 1994) and the “sales cycle.” The Vargo and Lusch 2004).
paper’s second contribution is therefore an empirical one in The three preceding trends all significantly affect how selling
that significant portions of the proposed theoretical framework is done in both business-to-business and business-to-consumer
will be empirically tested. settings (e.g., Hempel 2008; Mittal, Sarkees, and Murshed
The rest of this paper is organized as follows. We describe 2008; Stevens and Kinni 2007), and taken together, they sug-
an evolved customer-level interface where trends in the macro- gest that a reinspection of (1) the traditional perspectives of the
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and micro-level business environments create an impetus for sales role, (2) the extant views of the sales process, and (3) the
reconsidering extant, process-based approaches to model- salesperson’s job functioning/behavior may all be prudent.
ing the sales process. Next, we review both the seminal and Consistent with the just-reviewed trends, a critical boundary
emerging process-oriented perspectives of the sales role. As an marker that guides the present research is that the type of selling
outcome of this discussion, an enhanced five-phase framework (or the phenomenon of interest) here is purely the longer-term,
of the sales process and drivers of performance is offered (Fig- “consultative”-type sale associated with complex, “nontransac-
ure 1). Building from this general framework, a research model tional” sales (Rackham and DeVincentis 1999). Put differently,
and related hypotheses are tested (Figure 2) with self-reported simpler sales situations where all key facets of the sale, such as
(survey) data from key account managers at a Fortune 500 firm needs identification, the presentation, and closing, all handled
operating in the services arena as well as multiple measures of within the context of a single, discrete customer encounter (or
salesperson job performance. Ultimately, the results offer some “sales call”), are not the focus of this work.
important insights regarding how salespeople perform their
jobs today and how this in turn affects their job performance. Literature Review
After a broader discussion of managerial implications, the
paper concludes by acknowledging the limitations of both We offer Figure 1 as both a high-level guide as to what the
the developed framework and the empirical study that was extant literature has examined as well as a summary of key gaps
reported to test it, while simultaneously proposing several key that persist. One important caveat with Figure 1 is that it is cast
areas for additional work. within the tradition of general marketing frameworks (Bagozzi
1984; Hunt 1983). Another caveat is that sales—both as a
process and as a profession—will always have more granular
liTeraTUre reView and
idiosyncrasies associated with it in terms of specific industries
fraMeworK deVeloPMenT
(Williams and Plouffe 2007) or even national cultures, for
Emergent Trends Affecting the Sales Role example. Therefore, prior to unpacking the proposed stages of
the framework, we first take stock of the origins and evolution
Three emergent trends have radically affected the sales role of process-based sales frameworks in more general terms.
in recent years, thus suggesting that a renewed inspection of
the sales process and the drivers of high performance may be Holistic Perspectives of Salesperson Job Functioning and the
prudent. First, in most industries, there has been an increase Sales Role
in the total length of time required to complete deals. This
suggests that sales cycles today often result in buyer–seller There have been several notable attempts to articulate the
relationships that can persist over multiple sales campaigns, broad domain of salesperson behavior and job functioning.
ultimately creating years- and even decades-long buyer–seller One of the pioneering contributions was that of Walker,
interactions (Dwyer, Schurr, and Oh 1987; Stevens and Kinni Churchill, and Ford’s (1977) behavioral model of salesperson
2007; Vargo and Lusch 2004). Second, firms are replacing performance. This model suggests two phases, or a salesper-
product portfolio-based delivery models with solutions- son aptitude  → performance relationship. Implicit in this
oriented approaches in hopes of generating greater revenues notion of selling aptitudes was the idea of specific behaviors
(e.g., Foote et al. 2001; Sawhney 2006). Such a strategy being germane to the sales role. Weitz (1981) also offered an
Spring 2013  143

Figure 1
Traditional Process-Based Approach to Modeling Salesperson Job Performance (3 Stage)
Versus Proposed Model (5 Stage)
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Figure 2
Research Model

important view of salesperson effectiveness within the context (1994) model posits that salesperson behaviors (i.e., phase 2
of a contingency-based framework that proposed that effective in Figure 1) play a mediating role and reside in a nomological
selling is behavior shaped by factors such as the resources of chain between traits of the salesperson (i.e., phase 1 in Fig-
the salesperson, the characteristics of the buyer–seller rela- ure 1) and his or her achieved selling effectiveness (i.e., phase 5
tionship, and the nature of the buying task. Weitz’s model in Figure 1). While there have been a few exceptions (e.g.,
again espoused as a two-phased sequence, this time between Plouffe, Sridharan, and Barclay 2010), little has been done to
salesperson behaviors (i.e., phase 2 in Figure 1) and selling test the efficacy of this broadened perspective of the sales role in
effectiveness (i.e., performance; phase 5 in Figure 1). the intervening years since Plank and Reid’s publication. Thus,
Later, Plank and Reid (1994) sought to marry two of the the bulk of sales research and empirical studies tend to focus on
dominant perspectives in the sales literature that both purport either the traits–behaviors relationship (e.g., Deeter-Schmelz
to explain salesperson performance: (1) the Walker, Churchill, and Sojka 2007) or the behaviors–performance relationship
and Ford model (1977) and (2) the various perspectives that (Plouffe, Hulland, and Wachner 2009), but seldom the entire
emerged from Weitz’s work (1978, 1981). Plank and Reid’s nomological pathway.
144  Journal of Personal Selling & Sales Management

Because the extant literature has, to-date, focused most on call (e.g., asking questions, making a presentation, or closing)
Traits (phase 1), Selling Behaviors (phase 2), and Performance and those likely to occur at a later time (e.g., negotiating a
Outcomes (phase 5), we offer only a cursory review of these long-term purchasing agreement after the flow of business with
areas. Instead, we focus more attention on the two key phases a customer has commenced). Therefore, we label phase 2 of
of the modern sales process that extant frameworks have yet to Figure 1 as Traditional, “Sales Call”–Level Selling Behaviors.
fully consider or test (i.e., phases 4 and 5 of Figure 1).
Performance Outcomes (Phase 5)
Salesperson Traits and Individual Predispositions
Research (Phase 1) The study of salespeople’s performance has been a widely
examined dependent variable in marketing research (Churchill
The sales literature has proposed that various individual- et al. 1985; Williams and Plouffe 2007). While there are
specific traits can potentially affect a salesperson’s performance several measurement-level options for operationalizing sales
(e.g., Deeter-Schmelz and Sojka 2007). And in many cases, performance, past work has shown that subjective (i.e., self-
these traits have been shown to be significant predictors of reported) and objective (e.g., archival) measures of salesperson
performance (i.e., generally with R 2 values in the 10+ percent performance each possess relative strengths and weaknesses
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range, and more frequently modeled with subjective/self- (e.g., Bommer et al. 1995; Rich et al. 1999). Plouffe, Hulland
reported measures of performance (see Churchill et al. 1985; and Wachner (2009, pp. 428–431) found that an overreliance
Rich et al. 1999; Vinchur et al. 1998; Wang and Netemeyer on subjective measures of performance may actually lead to
2002). Traits frequently examined in the sales literature include an overstatement of true, “in-the-field” effects and empirical
trait competitiveness (e.g., Brown, Cron, and Slocum 1998; findings, whereas objective measures of sales performance offer
Plouffe, Sridharan, and Barclay 2010), self-efficacy (e.g., Wang a more conservative test of theory while tending to provide
and Netemeyer 2002), and communication style (Boorom, more relevant prescriptions for managerial practice (see also
Goolsby, and Ramsey 1998). Bommer et al. 1995). Thus, multiple measures of performance
are employed in the design of the present study, including
Salesperson Behaviors Research (Phase 2) both objective/archival measures as well as self-reported/
perceptual ones.
Given the trends that affect the sales role highlighted earlier, a
limitation of much of the extant work on salesperson behaviors Downstream, “Deal-Level” Selling-Related Behaviors and
is that such work has tended to focus on the discrete sales call as Associated Outcomes (Phases 3 and 4)
its unit of analysis (see Dixon, Spiro, and Jamil 2001; Johnson
2006; Sujan 1986). Historically speaking, this approach has The focus of this review of the literature now switches to the
served marketing well, as there is much to learn about what identification of significant knowledge gaps that persist given
goes on in a specific sales encounter (e.g., adaptive selling, or the emergent “street-level” realities that affect the sales role
ADAPTS; see Spiro and Weitz 1990). Another reason past highlighted earlier. The path pursued here (as per the top half
work has perhaps rightly focused on the individual sales call of Figure 1) suggests that the common three-phased, process-
as the unit of analysis is because consumption decisions were oriented approach to modeling salesperson job functioning
often made by the buyer in a single buyer–seller interaction and performance—that is, (1) Traits → (2) Traditional, “Sales
(e.g., in the retailing sector; Beatty et al. 1996). However, Call”–Level Selling Behaviors → (5) Performance—may be
the evolution to long-term buyer–seller relationships and underspecified owing to the omission of two key phases, whose
consultative selling noted earlier imply that the sales process origins and role are now characterized.
likely continues after the salesperson has “closed” (which we In framing the need for phases 3 and 4 of the expanded
define for the purposes of this paper and stage 2 of our guiding process-based view of selling proposed in Figure  1, three
framework [Figure 1] as “asking for the business”). Indeed, sources of support are leveraged: (1) anecdotal and manage-
tasks enacted via other behavioral forms, such as negotiations rial accounts, (2)  teaching materials and case studies, and
(e.g., Curhan, Elfenbein, and Kilduff 2009) and the coordina- (3) extant frameworks and perspectives.
tion of specifics pertaining to the deal in question (Steward et First, and importantly, there is abundant evidence from the
al. 2010), also occur after the sale has been asked for and the ranks of practicing salespeople, the managers that supervise
buyer has agreed to proceed with the seller. them, and the consultants that study and work with them
So, while past research has had a predominant focus on that the traditional three-phased view of the sales role cannot
the individual sales call as the predominant unit of analysis, a accommodate some of the realities salespeople confront in
key intent of Figure 1 is to make a distinction between selling the field today (e.g., Rackham and DeVincentis 1999). Rosen
behaviors that happen within the context of a specific sales (2008, pp. 45–49), for example, argues vigorously that selling
Spring 2013  145

today is a more complex process than ever before, which only contribution in getting marketing researchers to think differ-
“begins to end” with final buyer–seller negotiations that arise ently about a broader range of behaviors and related outcomes
after the seller has asked for the sale, and the buyer has agreed that might ultimately affect salesperson’s performance. Sug-
to move in the seller’s direction. And, like many practitioners, gestions for other forms of downstream behaviors (phase 3)
Crom et al. (2003) suggest that the sales process is comprised and outcomes of those behaviors (phase 4) are offered in this
of as many as seven distinct steps. Moreover, from an analysis paper’s conclusion, which we hope will stimulate more work
of over 300,000 salespeople across a host of industries dur- on the overall framework that has been presented. However,
ing a three-decade period, Stevens and Kinni’s work (2007, in the interest of testing both the utility and efficacy of the
pp. 4–42) concludes that sales cycles have gotten longer and enhanced, five-phased framework of selling (Figure 1), we elect
that specialized forms of behavior (e.g., negotiations) germane to focus on a key theme that emerged in the previous review.
toward the end of the sales process are becoming critically We now briefly review the negotiations literature, using this as
important. a proxy to test the enhanced process-based model of selling.
Second, we draw support for an enhanced, more granular
process-based view of the sales role from the realm of best-in- Downstream Behavioral Outcomes: The Negotiations and
class teaching materials and marketing cases on selling. Weitz,
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Management Literature
Castleberry, and Tanner’s (2009, chs. 4, 7) text, for example,
espouses a process-based view that includes additional “phases” To date, the bulk of attention in the marketing literature on
deep in the sales and buying process that extant research- negotiations has focused on international marketing and the
oriented frameworks cannot accommodate (see also Manning, import-export arena, or on the negotiation of advertising or
Ahearne, and Reece 2011). Furthermore, rich marketing cases, channels of distribution contracts (e.g., Dukes and Gal‑Or
such as Deighton and Narayandas’s (2002) “Siebel Systems: 2003; Mintu-Wimsatt and Graham 2004; Srivastava and
Anatomy of a Sale,” characterize the concluding portion of the Chakravarti 2009). Although Weitz’s (1981) pioneering frame-
sales process in terms of deep negotiations between the buyer work tangentially acknowledges that “bargaining outcomes”
and seller prior to the final purchasing decision. As such, we (i.e., negotiations) affect the sales process, there is little work
suggest the need for examining salesperson behavior(s) further in marketing that speaks to negotiations purely from a sales
“downstream” in the sales cycle, well past the point of “adapt- perspective and just a scant amount that examines negotiations
ing” to the customer or tailoring one’s presentation (e.g., Spiro from the buyer’s perspective.
and Weitz 1990). Drawing from the management and strategy literature,
Third, while the marketing literature informs us little in researchers have characterized the negotiation process and
terms of salient perspectives and measurement instruments specific approaches to it in a variety of ways. In simple terms,
that can speak to these types of additional, late-in-the-selling this literature tends to view buyer–seller negotiations as either
process behaviors, the management and organizational behav- competitive or cooperative, where the former is defined as a
ior literature do provide such insights. More specifically, these zero-sum game of wins and losses, whereas the latter empha-
literatures offer a rich discourse and much empirical work on sizes the development and formulation of integrative, win-
negotiations between buyers and sellers (Curhan and Pentland win bargaining solutions, all in the name of an enhanced,
2007; Curhan, Elfenbein, and Xu 2006). Adair and Brett long-term relationship (for an excellent review, see Lewicki,
(2005), for example, posit that exchange relationships in busi- Saunders, and Barry 2009).
ness today “wax and wane” across a much longer time horizon As it relates to the possibilities inherent in empirically test-
and have more intervening steps than in the earlier periods of ing the five-phased selling process outlined in Figure 1, there
modern business history. In particular, they suggest that the is an issue. Across several literature bases, including marketing,
concluding stages of the business relationship are probably the management/strategy, organizational behavior, and industrial/
most pivotal, particularly in terms of the behaviors and processes organizational psychology, the focus has primarily been on the
employed in coming to terms on a final agreement of mutual outcomes of the negotiations process (i.e., phase 4 of Figure 1),
satisfaction to both the buyer and seller (i.e., negotiations). It with minimal attention paid to actual negotiation behaviors
is therefore suggested that much of the work on negotiations (i.e., phase 3 of Figure 1). Furthermore, negotiations behaviors
in the management and organizational behavior literature is tend to be operationalized as video or audio coding of actual
germane to the concluding phases of the modern sales process negotiations (e.g., Curhan et al. 2008; O’Connor, Arnold,
(i.e., phases 4 and 5 in Figure 1). and Burris 2005) or examinations of choices negotiators make
To summarize, it is beyond the scope of the present paper in experimental situations (e.g., Curhan, Elfenbein, and Xu
to create an exhaustive inventory of all the possible forms of 2006; Velden, Beersma, and De Dreu 2007). As such, virtu-
“downstream” behaviors and outcomes associated with the ally no measurement instruments with validated scales exist
modern sales process. We suggest that Figure 1 makes a timely to capture the domain outlined in phase  3 of Figure  1, or
146  Journal of Personal Selling & Sales Management

“downstream” behaviors germane to selling in terms of actual Wang and Netemeyer 2002) and trait competitiveness (e.g.,
negotiations behaviors.1 What does exist, though, are validated Brown, Cron, and Slocum 1998; Plouffe, Sridharan, and
measures of negotiations outcomes (e.g., Curhan, Elfenbein, Barclay 2010). Both gel with the proposed research model,
and Kilduff 2009; Curhan, Elfenbein, and Xu 2006). This has are theoretically complementary, parsimonious, and have
important implications in terms of the scope of the empirical been previously identified as traits that have a very strong and
study conducted here, details of which are now offered. significant influence on work-related performance (Stajkovic
and Luthans 1998; Wang and Netemeyer 2002).
We now test the efficacy of the enhanced, process-based
view of selling outlined in Figure 1. In terms of boundaries Personal self-efficacy represents an individual’s confidence in
and scope-setting, the research model (see Figure 2) seeks to his or her ability to perform specific tasks—especially those
explore the relationship between selected proxy constructs, or that are new or otherwise unfamiliar (Krishnan, Netemeyer,
solid candidates, for (phase 1) Salesperson Traits → (phase 2) and Boles 2002; Verbeke, Belschak, and Bagozzi 2004). Indi-
Traditional, “Sales Call”–Level Selling Behavior → (phase 4) viduals high in self-efficacy evaluate information about their
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Downstream, and “Deal-Level” Behavioral Outcomes (mani- abilities, make their choices, and then assign effort accordingly
fested in the present study as negotiations outcomes)  → (Bandura 1997; Bandura et al. 1980). Among others, Dixon,
(phase 5) Performance Outcomes. Spiro, and Jamil (2001) argue that self-efficacy is a relevant
We pursue this approach in structuring the research model personal construct in the task- and goal-oriented context of
for several reasons. First, and consistent with long-standing personal selling (see also Paulhus 1983). Moreover, self-efficacy
recommendations scholars have made for the generation has been theoretically linked to adaptability (Spiro and Weitz
and testing of new theory in marketing (see Bagozzi 1984; 1990) and sales performance, which are both important place-
Hunt 1983), enhanced perspectives should build on what holders for different phases in the model being tested. We
is known. Second, as the prescriptions set forth for model- therefore include self-efficacy as one of two traits in the exami-
ing and testing process-based frameworks delineate (as per nation of the present study’s research model (Figure 2).
Mackenzie 2000), if the outcomes of antecedents further
“upstream” in a process-based nomological chain cannot Trait Competitiveness
exhibit significant effects on the endogenous or intervening
variables they are hypothesized to have relationships with, Trait competitiveness represents an individual’s “enjoyment of
then neither ultimately matter. Therefore, in the case of interpersonal competition and the desire to win and be better
the research model proposed in Figure 2, a logical starting than others” (Spence and Helmreich 1983, p. 41). As Brown,
point is to first assess whether or not outcomes of downstream Cron, and Slocum (1998) suggest, this definition is consistent
selling-related behaviors have an effect in terms of (1) their with the concept of intentional competitiveness proposed by
ability to be predicted and (2) their ability to predict (i.e., Kohn (1992), which is the predisposition to be “number one”
in this case, selling performance). Third, the nomological at most (if not all) tasks and activities the individual engages
order of the constructs tested here are theoretically consistent in. Both logic and past work suggest that a strong competi-
with the process-based view of the sales role offered in the tive instinct is a positive attribute for salespeople to possess
extant literature (see Plank and Reid 1994; Weitz 1981). (Krishnan, Netemeyer, and Boles 2002; Olson, Cravens,
With these considerations in mind, we now deliberately and Slater 2001). Moreover, as an achievement motivation
unpack the research model (Figure 2) and then discuss the characteristic, trait competitiveness is an individual-level trait
hypothesized relationships in the model. that generally demonstrates a strong relationship with sales
performance (Wang and Netemeyer 2002).
Salesperson Traits (Phase 1) as Antecedents of
Deal-Level Sales Behavior (Phase 2) Sales Call–Level Selling Behaviors
The objective of the research model is to test its efficacy as an To better understand which salesperson characteristics trig-
expanded and enhanced view of the sales role on performance. ger and support selling success, marketing researchers have
Therefore, we set out to identify salient individual-level traits proposed and tested various behavioral perspectives over the
to test as proxies for phase 1 of the framework. While the lit- past 25 years (see Plouffe, Hulland, and Wachner 2009 for
erature does offer a number of germane traits to employ here, a review). Mainstream sales textbooks, sales consultants, and
two solid candidates for antecedents of salesperson behavior successful salespeople readily acknowledge that salespeople
in performance-oriented frameworks are self-efficacy (e.g., who have a strong ability to perceive situational differences
Spring 2013  147

and adjust their customer interactions in different selling people adapt their approach during sales interactions (Spiro
situations will achieve greater success. and Weitz 1990). In this regard, highly self-efficacious sales-
people perceive more latitude to adjust their sales behavior to
Adaptive Selling the demands of the sales interaction (Ahearne, Mathieu, and
Rapp 2005). In addition, high levels of self-efficacy probably
Spiro and Weitz (1990) augmented the literature in this area in instill a sense of competence and capability in work-related
a significant way by offering the “adaptive selling” (ADAPTS) endeavors, leading to the salesperson believing he or she pos-
construct as a key selling behavior in the classic “behavior → sesses a degree of control over the sales interaction and that
performance” nomological chain. At that time, they offered the his or her customer adaptations will be successful (Krishnan,
field the 16-item ADAPTS, which consisted of five subdimen- Netemeyer, and Boles 2002; Wang and Netemeyer 2002). As
sions. Later, work on the ADAPTS scale by Marks, Vorhies, such, the more self-efficacious the salesperson, the greater the
and Badovick (1996) and Robinson et al. (2002) identified degree of adaptive selling he or she engages in. Hence,
psychometric issues with the original scale, as it contained
just four of the underlying five scale subdimensions that were Hypothesis 1: The greater the salesperson’s self-efficacy, the
originally suggested. greater his or her adaptive selling behavior.
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The original definition of ADAPTS notes that this sell- Trait competitiveness also plays an important role in deter-
ing behavior occurs “within and across sales interactions.” mining sales-related behaviors (Spence and Helmreich 1983).
Our interpretation of this critical distinction sides with the Because of its achievement-oriented nature, trait competitive-
camp of marketing scholars that largely view ADAPTS as ness complements the predictive effect that the more control-
a “sales call”–level behavioral form. Thus, adaptive selling oriented self-efficacy trait has on adaptive selling behavior.
fits into phase 2 of our proposed theoretical framework (see Furthermore, according to social cognitive theory, greater trait
Chakrabarty et al. 2004; Franke and Park 2006; McFarland, competitiveness should result in salespeople exerting more
Challagalla, and Shervani 2006; Robinson et al. 2002). This learning effort, as learning about the product and the customer
is because the salesperson might either adapt within a specific allows them to ultimately enhance their performance relative
sales call or across various sales calls with other prospects and to others (Wang and Netemeyer 2002). In this sense, trait
customers—but not across sales calls and a sales “cycle” with competitiveness is congruent with a greater propensity toward
the same prospect/customer. adaptive selling behaviors (as per Spiro and Weitz 1990). Dif-
Adaptive selling has been empirically linked to salesper- ferent from self-efficacy, where the salesperson’s desire and
son performance, however, the results have been somewhat ability to control the sales situation drives adaptive behaviors,
inconsistent and were almost always based on self-reported/ the main reason for high trait competitiveness salespeople to
subjective measures (e.g., Franke and Park 2006; Giacobbe adapt their selling behavior is to gain a competitive edge. We
1991; Spiro and Weitz 1990, p. 66). Therefore, a high-upside therefore propose:
research opportunity remains in this area of marketing, in
terms of further exploring the adaptive selling–job perfor- Hypothesis 2: The greater the salesperson’s trait competitive-
mance relationship with operationalizations of performance ness, the greater his or her adaptive selling behavior.
that are not solely predicated on self-reported measures (see
Plouffe, Hulland, and Wachner 2009, p. 433). Granted, other “Downstream,” Deal-Level Behavioral Outcomes:
selling behaviors could have been examined in this research, The Subjective Value Inventory
for example, the “selling skills” perspective of Rentz and his
colleagues (2002). However, because ADAPTS is (1) a single As highlighted in the review of the negotiations literature,
construct (as opposed to several, in the form of an inventory), we focus here on outcomes associated with the negotiations
(2) prevalent within the sales literature (e.g., Franke and Park process. In particular, we explore (1)  whether “upstream”
2006), and (3) has a demonstrated ability to predict perfor- sales call–level selling behaviors (e.g., ADAPTS) act as an
mance over other “sales call”–level behavioral perspectives antecedent to components of the research framework further
(see Plouffe, Hulland, and Wachner 2009), it is deployed in “downstream” (i.e., “deal-level” behavioral outcomes), and
this research as the focal selling behavior to test phase 2 of the (2) whether these “downstream” behavioral outcomes, in turn,
research model (i.e., “sales call”–level behaviors). exhibit a significant effect on performance.
Therefore, the two phase 1 traits were selected based on In seeking insights to these questions, we turn again to the
their theoretical relevance for the behaviors and outcomes in management and psychology literature. Developed by Curhan
the consecutive phases of the research model. Self-efficacy is and his colleagues, the subjective value inventory (SVI) is a
rooted in theories regarding an individual’s locus of control mechanism for understanding the range of social and psy-
(Paulhus 1983) and is thereby related to the extent that sales- chological outcomes that emerge from negotiations (Curhan
148  Journal of Personal Selling & Sales Management

and Pentland 2007; Curhan, Elfenbein, and Eisenkraft 2010; the sales cycle more generally moves toward closure (Campbell
Curhan, Elfenbein, and Kilduff 2009; Curhan, Elfenbein, and et al. 1993; Morgan and Hunt 1994; Walker, Churchill and
Xu 2006; Curhan et al. 2008). This stream of work posits that Ford 1977; Weitz and Bradford 1999). Kenny’s (1994) social
negotiators’ feelings and attitudes have a lasting effect on the relations model suggests that the (objective) outcome of a sales
negotiation process and its outcomes, and importantly, that interaction depends on both the salesperson and the buyer.
the outcomes of negotiations can be captured with a fourfold A salesperson may “click” better with some buyers than with
structure: (1) feelings about the instrumental outcome associ- others, thereby influencing negotiations outcomes (Elfenbein
ated with a completed negotiation, (2) feelings about one’s self et al. 2008). Similarly, a salesperson who is better at adapting
as a result of the negotiation, (3) feelings about the negotiation to the specifics of the sales situation (Spiro and Weitz 1990)
process itself, and (4) feelings about the present and future as well as the idiosyncratic characteristics of the buyer will
relationship with the other party as a result of completing experience more and better “clicks” with that buyer, thereby
a negotiation (see Curhan, Elfenbein, and Kilduff 2009; improving his or her own sales performance. In other words, a
Curhan, Elfenbein, and Xu 2006; Curhan et al. 2008). better mastery of the individual sales call (phase 2) and discrete
Existing research and theory suggest that current negotia- selling encounters as the sales cycle evolves should correlate
tions episodes generally have future implications because of with more positive outcomes at the aggregate or “deal”-level
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subsequent interactions and relationship-building opportu- (phase 4), such as the outcomes of negotiations that occur
nities between the negotiating parties (Lewicki, Saunders, after the buyer and seller come to agree to do business with
and Barry 2009). More importantly, objective performance one another (see Franke and Park 2006; Jaramillo et al. 2007;
is typically first experienced indirectly through introspective, McFarland, Challagalla, and Shervani 2006).
subjective perceptions (Eagley and Chaiken 1998). Therefore, Given the preceding, the impact of ADAPTS on the
because of its acknowledgment of the social, perceptual, emo- SVI is expected to manifest itself in two ways. First, and as
tional, and relationship-level consequences of negotiations, characterized above, higher ADAPTS should result in higher
the SVI is a well-equipped perspective to determine the shape sales performance. This is expected to primarily affect the
and direction of phase 4 in the proposed process-based frame- SVI–instrumental dimension, as this facet of the SVI is most
works of selling (see Figures 1 and 2). In addition, Curhan, closely related to perceived objective sales (i.e., performance)
Elfenbein, and Eisenkraft (2010) and Curhan, Elfenbein, outcomes (as per Campbell et al. 1993). However, and as
and Xu (2006) argue that the SVI is especially relevant in argued above, ADAPTS also affects the extent to which the
relationship-driven contexts, such as personal selling. This salesperson “clicks” with the buyer, which is reflected in the
makes the instrument gel well with the ADAPTS construct SVI–relationship dimension. Second, greater ADAPTS is
used earlier as the placeholder for phase 2, which also par- associated with perceptions of greater control over the sales
ticularly depends on customer information that becomes call and the overall sales process (Spiro and Weitz 1990). This
more available in longer-term relationship contexts (Spiro greater perceived control for the sales process is expected to
and Weitz 1990). Finally, recent research demonstrates that be reflected in the SVI–process dimension. In other words,
the SVI predicts various outcomes, including compensation/ salespeople who are better able to shape sales call(s) within
pay satisfaction, job satisfaction, and turnover intentions (see the sales cycle (i.e., ADAPTS) are also expected to “value” the
Curhan, Elfenbein, and Kilduff 2009). To this point, however, resultant process more. Finally, because of the transparency
the SVI’s efficacy as a predictor of employee job performance and centrality of sales outcomes and relationships to the sales-
has not been tested, so this remains an intriguing possibility person (Rackham and DeVincentis 1999; Stevens and Kinni
(as per Campbell et al. 1993). Taken together, the preceding 2007), we also expect to find a positive effect of ADAPTS on
suggests that the SVI is an appropriate measurement tool to how the sales process/cycle shapes the salesperson’s self-image
determine if “downstream,” deal-level outcomes associated (see Bagozzi 1980).
with the sales process might affect selling performance (i.e., To test the efficacy of the espoused framework (Figure 1)
phase 4 of Figure 1). and research model (Figure 2), we therefore assess the salience
Although ADAPTS specifically taps what the present study of the direct effects paths from phases 2 to 4. Formally, then,
has framed as “sales call”–level selling behavior, given its con- the following relationships are tested:
ceptual origins and broader content domain (Spiro and Weitz
Hypothesis 3a: The greater the salesperson’s adaptive selling
1990; Weitz 1981), it seems plausible that relatively high levels
behavior, the greater the “instrumental” outcomes he or she
of ADAPTS behavior should serve a salesperson well in terms
garners in his or her negotiations with customers.
of other selling behaviors further “downstream” in the sales
cycle (e.g., negotiations). This is because the ability to adapt, Hypothesis 3b: The greater the salesperson’s adaptive selling
at its core, also represents an overall agility in navigating phases behavior, the greater the “self-focused” outcomes he or she
further “downstream” in the buyer–seller relationship, or as garners in his or her negotiations with customers.
Spring 2013  149

Hypothesis 3c: The greater the salesperson’s adaptive selling Hypothesis 4d: The greater the salesperson’s “relationship-
behavior, the greater the “process-related” outcomes he or she oriented” negotiations outcomes, the greater his or her sales
garners in his or her negotiations with customers. performance.
Hypothesis 3d: The greater the salesperson’s adaptive selling
behavior, the greater the “relationship-oriented” outcomes he METHOD
or she garners in his or her negotiations with customers.
In addition, we leverage the long-studied relationship Overview and Sample
between ADAPTS and selling performance itself (see Franke A survey questionnaire was developed to include measures
and Park 2006; Plouffe, Hulland, and Wachner 2009), expect- for all of the constructs and variables in the research model
ing to find a similar (i.e., positive) direct effect relationship. (Figure  2) as well as a commonly-used, self-reported (i.e.,
It is important to model this relationship because the direct subjective) sales performance scale. The survey was then
path between phase 2 and phase 5 approximates the current, administered to branch-level key account managers at a
predominant way of examining the sales behaviors–sales per- Fortune  500 firm labeled “RentCar” (this firm’s identity is
formance relationship in the literature. Given this, disguised as per confidentiality agreements signed with the
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Hypothesis 3e: The greater the salesperson’s adaptive selling organization in question).
behavior, the greater his or her sales performance. RentCar is one of the world’s largest car rental agencies.
All of the branch locations included key account managers
Effects on Sales Performance (typically one, but sometimes two or more), who are quota-
carrying, commissioned salespeople responsible for developing
Consistent with the previously reviewed work on negotiations new business as well as growing existing customer accounts.
behaviors and outcomes, the final set of relationships in the These key account managers typically call on businesses and
research model posit that if the outcomes of negotiations organizations such as government agencies at all levels (i.e.,
with customers have been fruitful (as per Curhan, Elfenbein, municipal through federal), automobile dealerships, mainte-
and Kilduff 2009; Curhan, Elfenbein, and Xu 2006), other nance shops, travel agencies, corporate/fleet customers, and
related outcomes germane to performing in the sales role have so forth.
also probably been achieved (e.g., becoming the preferred The survey was administered to all RentCar corporate key
vendor; having a specific sales cycle/opportunity decided account managers across the United States (n = 333). Archival
in one’s favor). This is suggested to be the case because the data analyzed in conjunction with the senior management
types of outcomes associated with these “downstream,” sales- at RentCar indicated that the typical sales cycle was seven
related behaviors (i.e., outcomes of negotiations behaviors) to nine months. The RentCar sample is therefore a solid
would generally enhance the buyer–seller relationship (e.g., candidate to test the research framework because it embodies
Palmatier, Scheer, and Steenkamp 2007; Palmatier et al. the trends that influence the sales role noted at the outset of
2008), especially over time and multiple sales cycles (Chonko this paper and because sales occur over time (as opposed to a
et al. 2000; Dwyer, Schurr, and Oh 1987). For example, if a distinct sales call). Finally, RentCar’s key account managers
salesperson reports (as per the measures in the SVI) that he or often had to orchestrate a comprehensive customer “solution”
she (1) has relatively high satisfaction with the outcomes of (e.g., a bundle of related services that might include rental
his or her negotiations, (2) did not “lose face,” and/or (3) has cars, washing/maintenance, insurance coverage, roadside
built a solid foundation for a future relationship with his or assistance coverage, or fleet/inventory management), implying
her customers, then presumably, these elements would mean a consultative, complex sale indicative of the research context
more business, more orders, and thus a higher overall level of (Tuli, Kohli, and Bharadwaj 2007).
sales performance. This, in turn, suggests:
Hypothesis 4a: The greater the salesperson’s “instrumen- Data Collection and Survey Administration
tal” negotiations outcomes, the greater his or her sales
performance. The design and execution of the RentCar survey followed
Dillman, Smyth, and Christian’s (2008) tailored design
Hypothesis 4b: The greater the salesperson’s “self-focused” method. All of the responses were recorded through a secure
negotiations outcomes, the greater his or her sales third-party survey Web-hosting service, with the order of sur-
performance. vey questions randomly presented to each respondent. Senior
Hypothesis 4c: The greater the salesperson’s “process- management at RentCar supported the study by preannounc-
related” negotiations outcomes, the greater his or her sales ing the survey to the sales force and by agreeing to provide an
performance. independent, objective measure of sales performance for each
150  Journal of Personal Selling & Sales Management

responding salesperson at the conclusion of data collection. Subjective Value Inventory

The salespeople were also offered an executive summary of
the study findings. To assess nonresponse bias, the procedures To operationalize “downstream,” deal-level behavioral out-
recommended by Armstrong and Overton (1977) were used comes, the SVI was deployed in the survey as articulated
to compare early versus late respondents. No significant dif- by Curhan and his colleagues (Curhan and Pentland 2007;
ferences were found. Curhan, Elfenbein, and Eisenkraft 2010; Curhan, Elfenbein,
and Kilduff 2009; Curhan, Elfenbein, and Xu 2006).2

Sales Performance
Scales to test the study’s hypotheses were all taken from the As highlighted in the development of the research model
studies referenced in the preceding literature review and and the preceding literature review, both a subjective and
research model development (the Appendix lists all the items). objective measure of salesperson performance are employed
Unless noted otherwise, all the constructs employed seven- in the present study. Subjective performance was assessed
point “disagree/agree” Likert scaling. using six self-reported performance measures collected from
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the RentCar key account managers as part of the question-

Study Controls naire (α = 0.92). These items were based on Johlke et al.’s
(2000) operationalization of Behrman and Perreault’s (1982)
The research design was first set up to control for several performance scale. This scale employs an 11-point Likert
common factors that could provide alternative explanations format where respondents rate their performance from –5
for variation in selling performance over and beyond the “much worse than the other salespeople in this company” to
espoused relationships in the research model. In this regard, 0 “average” to +5 “much better than the other salespeople in
work experience was assessed with five items commonly uti- this company.”
lized to control for in-role/on-the-job experience of person- The objective measure of sales performance was obtained
nel in sales positions (see the Appendix for details). Gender directly from the RentCar management team upon conclu-
was captured by a check box on the online survey and age sion of the survey. Here, RentCar’s management provided a
was captured with an open-ended numerical input question. single, objective measure of job performance for all of the
Educational attainment was measured with seven response responding key account managers who had completed the
choices ranging from “junior high school or less” to “graduate survey. In RentCar’s internal evaluations of their key account
university degree.” managers, the preferred measure is total revenue generated
(labeled “RevGen” hereafter). RevGen is the total annual sales
Self-Efficacy revenue generated by the key account manager in question
within his or her assigned branch/territory over a complete
The seven-item self-efficacy scale devised by Sujan, Weitz, and fiscal year. Because the conclusion of our survey did not cor-
Kumar (1994), which had an alpha of 0.77 in the original respond with the conclusion of RentCar’s fiscal year, manage-
study, was employed in this research. ment ran a separate data query to generate a report containing
the RevGen figures for the full preceding calendar year up
Trait Competitiveness to the date the data collection and the survey ceased. This
was preferred, as it would largely mitigate the possibility of
To assess trait competitiveness, we utilized the four-item scale a temporal imbalance between our objective measure of the
employed by Brown, Cron, and Slocum (1998). endogenous variable of interest (i.e., selling performance) and
the rest of the antecedents and nomological relationships in
Adaptive Selling the research model (as per Bommer et al. 1995; Chonko et
al. 2000; Rich et al. 1999).3
A shortened version of the ADAPTS scale that utilizes just 5
of Spiro and Weitz’s (1990) original 16 items was introduced
by Robinson et al. (2002). Robinson et al.’s findings, from a ANALYSIS and RESULTS
large sample of salespeople across multiple industry settings, Survey Results
showed comparable results for this reduced scale to those
generated by the original ADAPTS instrument. In the pres- Of the 333 surveyed RentCar salespeople, 211 completed,
ent study, we employ this empirically validated short-form of usable surveys were recorded, representing a 63.4  percent
the ADAPTS scale. response rate. The sample exhibited a mean respondent age
Spring 2013  151

of 28.1 years, a reasonable gender mix of 55 percent males value of their item-level loading on the construct in question
and 45  percent females, a high level of educational attain- (see Chin and Newsted 1999; Wildt, Lambert, and Durand
ment with over 90 percent of the sample possessing at least a 1982). Thus, given the acceptable results reported in Table 2,
4‑year college degree, and substantial experience in the sales it becomes defensible to consider the achieved PLS structural
role (mean = 7.1 years selling experience). model results.
Examination of the research model followed the approach
prescribed by Fornell and Larcker (1981a) and Wold (1985) PLS Structural Model Results
for evaluating structural equation models using partial least
squares (PLS). PLS is a well-accepted approach for analyzing At a high level, Figure 3 shows that all of the hypothesized
multivariate data in exploratory, theory-building research relationships proposed in the research model were supported
contexts, much like the present study (see Chin 1998; Hulland by the data with just one exception: H4d, or the relationship
1999). Furthermore, with 211 respondent cases in the data between SVI–relationship and sales performance. It is also
set, data sizing thresholds for PLS were met, and it is thus noteworthy that all of the relationships between the constructs
permissible to assess the research model. in this research were predicted to be positive, and all of the
Consistent with the recommendations in the literature, all significant relationships were, in fact, positive.
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of the constructs reported in the research model—with the Working more systematically through the results, we
exception of the control variables—were modeled with a reflec- see strong relationships inherent in phases  1 and  2 of the
tive epistemic orientation (see Jarvis et al. 2003). As is common model. Both examined traits significantly predict ADAPTS
in this manner of research, the four control variables (including behavior (i.e., self-efficacy, or H1,  0.357 [p  <  0.001] and
the five different measures of work experience) were all mod- trait competitiveness, or H2,  0.287 [p < 0.01]). Moreover,
eled directly and in a formative manner, and independent of the overall variance explained in ADAPTS is quite high (i.e.,
one another, on the endogenous variable of sales performance R 2 = 30.1 percent).
(as is implied in Figure 2, the research model). Thus, the findings with this set of relationships validate two
important things. First, that the salesperson traits → “sales
PLS Measurement Model Results: Psychometric and call”–level selling behaviors pathway holds in the present study.
Discriminant Validity Second, there are solid statistical and substantive relationships
among these three constructs given the data and empirical
We first assessed the adequacy of the PLS measurement model results. This is important because, although self-efficacy, trait
by examining the robustness of item loadings on their respec- competitiveness, and ADAPTS have been well examined in
tive construct (Chin 1998). From this assessment, we dropped sales research, the relationships among these three constructs
two of the original 35 total items that loaded below 0.70 (as per have not been demonstrated in any single known study.
Carmines and Zeller 1979), and re-ran the PLS measurement We also find strong support for the hypothesized rela-
model (i.e., one self-efficacy item had a 0.58 loading and one tionship between ADAPTS and each of the “deal-level”
for SVI–instrumental loaded at 0.54, so both were removed). behavioral outcomes. ADAPTS was hypothesized to act as
Of the 33 measures included in the second and final iteration an antecedent to each of the four negotiations outcomes
of the measurement model, all met the loading guideline of inherent in the SVI and the data, and the results show fairly
≥ 0.70 on their respective construct. Table 1 reports key data convincing evidence that these relationships hold. Specifically,
regarding the constructs and their measures. Note also that a the ADAPTS → SVI–instrumental (H3a, 0.208 [p < 0.01]),
confirmatory factor analysis (CFA) showed evidence of con- SVI–self (H3b, 0.172 [p < 0.05]), SVI–process (H3c, 0.246
struct reliability, convergent validity, and discriminant validity [p < 0.01]), and SVI–relationship (H3d, 0.287 [p < 0.001])
of the dependent variables (as per Fornell and Larcker 1981b). pathways all proved significant. This provides reasonable
Table 1 also contains the measures of CFA fit and item-level evidence that even though the locus of the behaviors is dif-
cross-validated communalities, all of which were acceptable. ferent, being competent and proficient at “sales call”–level
The reliability of constructs captured with a reflective selling behaviors (e.g., ADAPTS) also translates into “deal-
epistemic orientation in PLS was assessed by examining the level” selling behaviors valuable to the overall sales process
variance construct items share, or their internal consistency (e.g., favorable negotiations outcomes). One finding that we
(IC) (Fornell and Larcker 1981a) (see Table 2). When IC val- must interpret with more caution, however, is the R 2 values
ues exceed Nunnally’s (1978) criteria of ≥ 0.70, all constructs achieved on the four SVI dimensions. Since these R 2 values
indicate adequate reliability. We assessed the relationship of range from a low of 3.0 percent (self ) to a high of 8.2 percent
the formative items (i.e., the control variables) through an (relationship), much of their variance is unexplained by the
examination of the statistical significance of the jackknifed research model as operationalized and tested. As noted earlier,
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Table 1
PLS Measurement Model Results—Construct Psychometric Properties
of Construct Original Internal Cross-
152  Journal of Personal Selling & Sales Management

in Research Number of Final Number Standard Consistency Validated

Construct Model Items of Items Mean Deviation (IC)1 Alpha2 Communality

Self-Efficacy3 Reflective 7 6 4.97 0.42 0.85 0.82 0.24

Trait Competitiveness Reflective 4 4 6.31 0.68 0.87 0.85 0.42
Adaptive Selling Reflective 5 5 5.79 0.79 0.88 0.84 0.36
SVI–Instrumental3 Reflective 4 3 5.96 1.03 0.83 0.79 0.21
SVI–Self Reflective 4 4 6.00 0.86 0.82 0.77 0.13
SVI–Process Reflective 4 4 5.72 0.91 0.84 0.78 0.36
SVI–Relationship Reflective 4 4 5.87 0.98 0.92 0.85 0.60
Sales Performance Reflective 2 2 N/A N/A 0.91 0.90 0.34
Totals 34 32

Notes: CFA model fit: χ2 = 1236.24.; df (degrees of freedom) = 674; RMSEA (root mean square error of approximation) = 0.05; TLI (Tucker–Lewis index) = 0.83; IFI (in-
cremental fit index) = 0.86; CFI (comparative fit index) = 0.86. N/A = not applicable. 1 IC values were calculated by the method articulated by Fornell and Larcker (1981b).
 Cronbach’s alpha values based on standardized items were calculated in SPSS and are reported as a complement to the ICs. 3 The dropped item for “self-efficacy” was item 4,
and for SVI “instrumental” was item 4 (see the Appendix for details).
Spring 2013  153

Table 2
Average Variance Extracted (AVE), Discriminant Validity, and Construct Correlations

TCOMP 0.45* 0.79
ADAPTS 0.46* 0.45* 0.77
SVI-INST 0.21 0.20 0.21 0.79
SVI-SELF 0.27 0.12 0.17 0.24 0.73
SVI-PRCS 0.24 0.10 0.26 0.52* 0.38* 0.78
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SVI-RSHP 0.28 0.13 0.29 0.42* 0.32* 0.74* 0.87

PRFMNCE 0.46* 0.30* 0.36* 0.21 0.18 0.20 0.14 0.89

Notes: SELF-EFF = self-efficacy; TCOMP = trait competitiveness; ADAPTS = adaptive selling; SVI-INST = SVI–instrumental; SVI-
PRCS = SVI–process; SVI-RSHP = SVI–relationship; PRFMNCE = sales performance.The lower values on the table’s diagonal are
construct AVEs; the upper boldface value is the square root of each AVE. All the other values in the table are the correlations (r) among
the constructs in the measurement model. If the square root of the construct’s AVE is greater than r, then discriminant validity can be
claimed across all constructs in the measurement model. Significance levels for construct intercorrelations are designated as * if p ≤ 0.05.

Figure 3
PLS Structural Model Results

* p < 0.05; ** p < 0.01; *** p < 0.001; n.s. = not significant.

however, phase 3 of the conceptual framework (Downstream, components are more modest. This is an intriguing avenue
“Deal-Level” Selling-Related Behaviors; Figure  1) was not for future work.
assessed in this research. As such, perhaps the omission of Solid support was also found for the proposed direct
these behaviors is why the R 2 values in each of the four SVI effect between ADAPTS and sales performance (H3e 0.316
154  Journal of Personal Selling & Sales Management

Figure 4 et al. 1998). As a final step and as recently recommended by

PLS Structural Model Results, SVI Constructs on Hair et al. (2011), we also assessed the predictive relevance of
Performance Only the model with the Stone–Geiser test (see Chin 1998). Using
an omission distance of 25, the cross-validated redundancy for
each endogenous construct in the model, also known as the
“Q2 statistic,” is substantially greater than zero (see Q2 values
in Figure 3). These findings further support the conclusion
that the proposed model adequately captures our data.

Impact of Study Control Variables

The impact of the four non-experience-related control

variables embedded in the study—that is, age (β  =  0.024,
t = 0.464, n.s. [not significant]), gender (β = 0.033, t = 0.594,
n.s.), and educational attainment (β = 0.091, t = 1.006, n.s.)—
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were all nonsignificant.

Of the five measures of experience, one did prove to be a
significant covariate of sales performance, that being the total
measure of all years of working/career experience (β = 0.186,
t = 1.884, p < 0.05). This result is not at all surprising and is
consistent with past findings that have shown that the more
* p < 0.05; ** p < 0.01; n.s. = not significant. work experience the employee/salesperson has, the better he or
she tends to perform (Ingram and Bellenger 1983; Schmidt,
Hunter, and Outerbridge 1986). To summarize, with the
[p  <  0.001]). Whereas most past work has examined this exception of this lone measure of work experience, the effects
relationship solely with self-reported measures (see Franke and relationships noted in the research model occur indepen-
and Park 2006; Plouffe, Hulland, and Wachner 2009), this dent of these potential covariates.
result is somewhat unique in that here it has been achieved
based on a more broadly operationalized sales performance Post Hoc Analysis
construct—one formed with both objective and perceptual
measures. The tested model thus exhibited a reasonable degree of robust-
Turning attention to the final set of results associated with ness in terms of the percentage of supported, hypothesized
the research model, we see reasonably strong support for relationships as well as the percentage of variance in sales
the H4x series of hypotheses, which proposed effects from performance that was explained. However, a lingering and
each of the four “deal-level,” selling-related outcomes inher- interesting question is this: How much of the variance in
ent in the SVI to sales performance. Significant effects on sales performance can be attributed solely to phase 4 of the
performance were noted for SVI–instrumental (H4a, 0.139 proposed framework, or “downstream” deal-level behavioral
[p < 0.05]), SVI–self (H4b, 0.113 [p < 0.05]), and SVI–process outcomes? Since exploration of this issue was not a directly
(H4c, 0.125 [p < 0.05]), with a nonsignificant performance hypothesized relationship or goal of this study, a post  hoc
effect noted for the proposed H4d pathway (SVI–relation- analysis to examine this was conducted (see Figure 4).
ship). Although not perfect, these findings suggest that many A new research model was created and estimated with PLS
of the outcomes associated with salesperson negotiation that solely examines the four SVI constructs on the dependent
behaviors do affect performance. The results also provide some variable of sales performance.4 This is a robust test of the
empirical support for the salience of the additional phases of efficacy and role of the SVI as a proxy for phase 4 of the pro-
the expanded, process-based view of selling that this research posed conceptual framework (Figure 1), since the well-studied,
proposes (Figure 1). traditional variables included in the formal research models
Overall, the total R 2 achieved on sales performance is (e.g., ADAPTS, the various traits) were not included.
16.4 percent—a solid result given the generally accepted range Consistent with the full/original model, the results show
in this research stream (i.e., past work and meta-analyses have that three of the four SVI constructs are significant predic-
shown that results in the 10 percent to 20 percent range in tors of performance. Specifically, SVI–instrumental (0.208
terms of variance explained in sales performance is a decent [p  <  0.01]), SVI–self (0.166 [p  <  0.01]), and SVI–process
finding; see Churchill et al. 1985; Rich et al. 1999; Vinchur (0.165 [p < 0.05]) all predict performance. These were the
Spring 2013  155

same three SVI variables that were significant in the full the sales cycle are also considered (i.e., operationalized in the
model, although now, with the removal of ADAPTS and the present study as the four-construct SVI). In our view, this
two person-specific traits, the results actually get somewhat signals the complex interplay that exists between the phases of
stronger in each case. Importantly, 10.1 percent of the vari- the sales cycle—something both classic (e.g., Weitz 1981) and
ance in the sales performance can be attributed solely to the more contemporary (e.g., Plank and Reid 1994; Plouffe and
three significant SVI constructs. This is noteworthy as it Barclay 2007) frameworks of the sales process have conceptu-
provides some evidence that downstream behavioral outcomes ally acknowledged, as have practitioners and consultants who
(phase 4) account for a majority of the variance explained in monitor the selling profession (Stevens and Kinni 2007).
the original model (61.6 percent of the total, original variance).
ADAPTS and the two examined antecedents add 6.3 percent Managerial Implications
more explained variance to the model (i.e., a performance R 2
of 16.4 percent in the original model versus 10.1 percent in This paper began by highlighting three key trends that
this version). managers grapple with as they direct the modern sales force:
(1)  longer sales cycles, (2)  the “solutions”-selling era, and
(3) the shift from a product- to a services-centric economy.
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DISCUSSION These trends suggested a reinspection of pervasive thinking

Theoretical Contributions surrounding process-based sales frameworks. Leveraging a
wide array of related literature, an argument was offered for the
This paper made an initial empirical contribution by validating insertion of two additional “phases” into the common three-
the efficacy of the majority of the proposed guiding conceptual phased approach to modeling the process of selling: Down-
framework (Figure 1). Specifically, the study tested a research stream, “Deal-Level” Selling-Related Behaviors (phase 3) and
model that contained reasonable proxy constructs and salient Downstream, “Deal-Level” Behavioral Outcomes (phase 4).
measurement instruments for four of the five “stages” inherent It was argued that this expanded view of the sales process
in the framework. As such, our approach was consistent with meaningfully augments the pervasive three-phased view
the tradition of both theory building (as per Bagozzi 1984) because it better reflects market-level realities and key forces
and theory testing (as per Hunt 1983) in marketing research. that affect the sales role today. In addition, we believe it will
The goal was to provide evidence that the proposed, multi- stimulate managers to think differently about the competen-
phased framework proves efficacious in better understanding cies required for sales success going forward. Most notably,
the process by which selling occurs today (Mackenzie 2000). we refer to competencies associated with managing customer
So, while the general approach was solid, more can be done to behaviors and interactions across the entire sales cycle (or “deal”),
push the structure and further testing of the framework. rather than representative-level skills and capabilities within
It could also be argued that another contribution of this the context of a single, discrete sales call (e.g., handling an
paper surrounds the strength of the empirical results that objection). There are obvious implications of the preceding
were reported. We observed fairly strong empirical support especially in terms of the training, coaching, and mentoring
for the nomological validity of the research model, as all but of salespeople versus what the conventional wisdom might
one hypothesized relationship was supported. In addition, suggest in these regards.
we found that 16.4 percent of the variance in selling perfor- This research also offers more of direct consequence to
mance could be attributed to the constructs and relationships managers. While the specific characteristics of the salesperson
espoused in the research model. Relative to historical norms (e.g., competitiveness) and his or her discrete, call-to-call
achieved for similar types of studies and research designs in behaviors (e.g., ADAPTS) do play a role in performance, other
marketing research, these results can be considered quite strong constructs and sales-related behaviors—seldom considered to
(see Bommer et al. 1995; Churchill et al. 1985; Franke and this point—also seem to matter a great deal. In this spirit, we
Park 2006; Jaramillo, Carrillat, and Locander 2003; Plouffe, found that a clear majority of the variance in selling perfor-
Hulland, and Wachner 2009; Rich et al. 1999; Vinchur et mance could be attributed to the three significant constructs
al. 1998). In a different light, the results support a guardedly inherent in the SVI. This provides solid evidence that the
optimistic view that the proposed, process-based model of outcomes salespeople garner as a result of negotiating deals
selling might prove to be a fruitful lens for the continued and maintaining longer-term relationships with their custom-
examination of salesperson performance. ers are significant drivers of performance. So, if downstream
Finally, our results showed an attenuated effect for the behavioral outcomes that result from effective buyer–seller
long-studied adaptive selling perspective (e.g., Franke and negotiations drive performance (as this research shows), then
Park 2006; Plouffe, Hulland, and Wachner 2009) when the perhaps it behooves sales managers to more broadly consider
outcomes of selling-related behaviors further downstream in and perhaps assess “negotiations competency” as a screening
156  Journal of Personal Selling & Sales Management

criteria in the salesperson recruitment and selection process. of the present study. While we did acknowledge this limitation
In addition, the results also hint at the importance of offer- in detailing those results, the logical next step was to utilize
ing additional training and guidance to veteran salespeople to all of the construct measures in the initial PLS measurement
further enhance these skills. model, since the CFA results, while lower than desired, were
still reasonable (i.e., to be consistent with past research results
Limitations and the theoretical spirit of each originally developed and
published scale, see DeVellis 1991; Nunnally 1978). As noted
There are limitations of the work reported in this paper—some previously, the more granular results that then came from the
of a theoretical and conceptual nature and some pertaining initial PLS measurement model showed two potentially prob-
to the empirical study that was reported. First, and from the lematic items, which as the PLS methods literature makes clear
broadest possible vantage point, one key limitation of this (see Chin 1998; Chin, Peterson, and Brown 2008; Hulland,
paper is that we did not empirically test all five “regions” of Chow, and Lam 1996), were removed from the second and
the guiding conceptual framework we initially offered (i.e., final iteration of the PLS measurement model and subsequent
Figure  1). As intimated earlier, this debate essentially boils analysis because of unsatisfactory psychometric properties.
down to a “is the glass half full or half empty” type of exercise. A fifth and final potential limitation pertains to the gener-
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On the one hand, there would be a group of scholars (of which alizability of this study’s findings. Examining the key account
we would be a part)—not just in marketing (e.g., Bagozzi sales force at a large, services-focused company operating in
1984; Hunt 1983) but also in the social sciences at large a single industry compels us to consider whether the results
(e.g., Light and Pillemer 1984; Weick 1989)—who would can be generalized to other types of salespeople or the sales
defend the logic and prudence of, in the same paper, offering function at large. While this study had an exploratory focus
a guiding framework or model of some sort, and then testing and made no pretense of generalizing across the sales role,
selected portions of it in the ensuing empirical work that was some support for the generalizability of the findings is the fact
reported. On the other hand, there would be scholars who that all but one of the study’s hypotheses were supported (i.e.,
would chalk this approach up to being either incomplete or weaker results might have been indicative of a nonrepresenta-
misleading. While settling this debate is far beyond the scope tive sample). So additional work in other industry settings and
of this paper, our hope is that by being clear about what would sales contexts, and perhaps work that utilizes other methods,
and would not be tackled in the empirical portion of the seems prudent.
study—and why—at least the reader of this work is now in
a more informed position to take up his or her own position Future Research Directions
on this complex issue.
Second, and from a research design perspective, the respon- Although noted earlier in the papers’s limitations, here we
dents in this study were limited to salespeople. Thus, the other again pick up on the notion that our proposed, updated
half of the buyer–seller dyad (i.e., buyers) was absent from the model of salesperson job functioning (Figure 1) tested only
study design. So, while the research model and results yielded four of five proposed phases in the ensuing empirical study.
interesting and seemingly important insights, in the end, the As it relates to this study, data were only gathered to test the
perspectives and feedback from this important stakeholder outcomes of the salesperson’s negotiations ability and behavior,
group were not included. It would therefore be interesting to but not the precise nature of the negotiations behavior itself.
garner the reactions and perceptions of those with whom the As highlighted earlier, behavioral assessment tools, measure-
salesperson interacts such that the buyer–seller dyad would be ment instruments, or scale(s) that would have been germane to
complete. This, however, might necessitate a more complex phase 3 of our model are basically nonexistent in the literature
network-based research design. (a notable exception in this regard being the scale offered by
A third potential empirical limitation of this study is that Lewicki and Robertson 1989). Thus, future work could look
data on both predictors and outcomes were mainly collected to include measures or perspectives of actual negotiations abil-
from the same source (i.e., key account managers at RentCar). ity/behavior in new studies in this area. Taking this further,
While this is a valid concern, we believe that we have at least the lack of these types of measures has been highlighted here
partially addressed this potential for a common methods bias as a pressing issue not just for marketing research but also
in a critical way by incorporating both an archival measure for the many other areas of the social sciences that consider
of sales performance as well as a subjective (i.e., perceptual, negotiations (e.g., management, organizational behavior,
self-reported) performance measure. industrial and organizational psychology). Hence, this is an
The CFA we initially conducted prior to our PLS analyses area in which marketing and sales researchers could take a
yielded slightly lower model-level results than the convention- proactive role going forward, perhaps via a grounded-research
ally cited norms, and consequently, this is a fourth limitation or a qualitative approach (Denzin and Lincoln 1994; DeVellis
Spring 2013  157

1991). The goal here would be to create specific measurement Robertson’s (1989) work can further inform this issue, at least in
instrument(s) for negotiations behaviors germane to the sales terms of “negative” or unscrupulous negotiations behaviors.
process/role. A related and important point would also be 2. One important caveat germane to how the SVI was op-
to consider the dynamics and temporal processes by which erationalized in the present study pertains to the salient unit of
“deals” and negotiations within the sales process occur over analysis. In the original SVI instrument, the respondents were
primed to think of a specific negotiations encounter they have
time—ideal measurement instruments can and should be able just completed (i.e., a specific negotiations setting, the details
to accommodate this. In a related point, a highly prudent thereof, the individual[s] they interacted with, etc.). As per the
strategy might be to employ longitudinal studies and research goals of the present study, the desired unit of analysis inherent in
designs to further flesh out the sales process, and “downstream” phase 4 of the theoretical and research frameworks is different: it
behaviors/outcomes, such as negotiations. is not the outcomes of a specific negotiations episode that are of
The literature has also offered much with respect to traits interest, but rather, the outcomes associated with all of the cus-
that drive the salesperson’s behavior and job functioning (e.g., tomer negotiations the salesperson engages in across the various
Reid and Plank 2000; Vinchur et al. 1998). Hence, more sales cycles and “deals” he or she has worked on. Therefore, at the
could be done at the “front end” of our proposed framework study design stage, we contacted the developer of the SVI and
explained that our desired operationalization of the instrument
to embed and test other traits. Similarly, there are also other
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was toward a broad-based view of negotiations outcomes (and not

selling behaviors that could be used to further populate and a specific negotiations “episode”). We also provided a suggested
add granularity to phase 2 of the framework. One notable re-operationalization of the SVI for feedback and critique, with
suggestion in this regard, particularly if ADAPTS is being this revision of the instrument being more consistent with the
employed, is Rentz et al.’s (2002) “selling skills” perspective. desired unit of analysis and research objectives of the present
In addition, one other direction for future work (particularly study. No changes to our re-operationalization were suggested
in less exploratory applications) would be to model and assess by the scale’s developer. Thus, both the SVI respondent instruc-
the SVI as a higher-order construct, with its four underlying tions and measures reported in the Appendix are as they were
constructs acting as subdimensions (as per Bagozzi 1984). operationalized for the unique objectives and unit of analysis of
Finally, there are other “downstream” behaviors beyond the present study.
3. As noted previously, there are actually six measures in the
negotiations behaviors (phase 3), as well as the outcomes of
self-reported/subjective sales performance scale. Our approach
these behaviors (phase 4), that could be examined within this was to take these six measures of self-reported performance and
broader nomological network. For example, there is a vast sum their total into a single, subjective performance measure.
body of research and scholarship in the general management, The reason for this is that if all seven items (one objective, six
organizational behavior, and applied psychology literature on subjective) were used to estimate sales performance, the subjective
conflict management behaviors and strategies. Here, validated, measures would be drastically overweighted and, hence, would
well-accepted measurement instruments exist (e.g., Rahim theoretically distort the underlying construct. We conducted
[1983] and Rahim and Magner’s [1995] “ROC II” [Rahim additional analyses on the psychometric properties of the self-
organizational conflice inventory]) that could be used to fur- reported sales performance scale given our data, finding that the
ther examine phases 3 and 4 of the expanded, process-based scale was highly reliable (α = 0.92), which, in our view, further
justifies this approach.
view of selling espoused here (i.e., Figure 1). Another potential
4. In the interest of parsimony in reporting, just the PLS struc-
behavior set concerns that of influence and persuasion. In this tural model results are reported here. However, a full analysis of
area, the organizational behavior and applied psychology lit- discriminant validity between constructs, an examination of item-
erature offer well-tested behavioral perspectives to test phase 3 to-construct factor loadings, and so forth, all, as before, revealed
of the five-phased framework (e.g., Yukl and Falbe 1990; no untoward or unexpected findings.
Yukl and Tracey 1992; Yukl, Chavez, and Seifert 2005). The
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162  Journal of Personal Selling & Sales Management

Construct Measurement

Values in brackets after each item are factor loadings; RC = reverse-coded items; * the measure was dropped from the finalized
PLS measurement model.

Self-Efficacy (as per Sujan, Weitz, and Kumar 1994)

1. I am good at selling. (0.73)

2. It is difficult for me to put pressure on a customer. (RC) (0.72)
3. I know the right thing to do in selling situations. (0.70)
4. I find it difficult to convince a customer that has a different viewpoint than mine. (RC) (0.58)*
5. My temperament is not well suited for selling. (RC) (0.74)
6. I am good at finding out what customers want. (0.84)
7. It is easy for me to get customers to see my point of view. (0.71)
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Trait Competitiveness (as per Brown, Cron, and Slocum 1998)

1. I enjoy working in situations involving competition with others. (0.85)

2. It is important to me to perform better than others on a task. (0.77)
3. I feel that winning is important in both work and games. (0.76)
4. I try harder when I am in competition with other people. (0.75)

ADAPTS (Adaptive Selling) (as per Robinson et al. 2002)

1. When I feel my sales approach is not working, I can easily change to another approach. (0.82)
2. I like to experiment with different sales approaches. (0.76)
3. I am very flexible in the selling approach I use. (0.82)
4. I can easily use a wide variety of selling approaches. (0.85)
5. I try to understand how one customer differs from another. (0.71)


Please refer to the Measures subsection (as well as note 3), which describes the measures and sources of the two-item, reflectively-
modeled sales performance construct.
1. Self-reported performance index (as per Behrman and Perreault 1982; Johlke et al. 2000) (0.92)
2. Objective performance measure, from RentCar. (0.86)

Experience (5 Measures, Each Assessed Independently, as Study Controls, Modeled Formatively)

1. How long have you been in sales (in years)?

2. How long have you been in sales in this industry (in years)?
3. How long have you been in sales with your current employer (in years)?
4. How long have you been selling the products or services you currently represent (in years)?
5. How long have you been selling in your current sales territory (i.e., the specific customer accounts, industry verticals,
and/or geographies you cover) (in years)?

Subjective Value Inventory (SVI) (Outcomes of Negotiations)—Respondent Instructions

The following questions are designed to get a sense for the nature of the negotiations you have with your customers and prospects,
and more importantly, what you believe you have achieved from those negotiations when they have reached their conclusion.
With this in mind, please rate the extent of your agreement with statements below. (Note: the SVI items use different anchors,
Spring 2013  163

depending on the nature of the question; the item anchors are listed in brackets for each item). (The SVI is operationalized as
per the notations in the Post Hoc Analysis subsection and as per Curhan, Elfenbein, and Xu 2006.)


1. How satisfied are you with your own outcomes when negotiating with your customers—i.e., the extent to which the
terms of your agreement (or lack of agreement) benefit you? (anchors are 1 “Not at all,” to 4 “Moderately,” to 7 “Per-
fectly”) (0.87)
2. How satisfied are you with the balance between your own outcome and your counterpart(s)’s outcome(s)? (anchors are
1 “Not at all,” to 4 “Moderately,” to 7 “Perfectly”) (0.90)
3. Do you feel like you forfeit or “lose” in your negotiations with customers? (anchors are 1 “Not at all,” to 4 “Moder-
ately,” to 7 “A great deal”) (0.73)
4. Do you think the terms of your customer agreements are consistent with principles of legitimacy or objective criteria
(e.g., common standards of fairness, precedent, industry practice, legality, etc.)? (anchors are 1 “Not at all,” to 4 “Mod-
erately,” to 7 “Perfectly”) (0.54)*
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5. Do you “lose face” (i.e., damage your sense of pride) in your negotiations with customers? (anchors are 1 “Not at all,”
to 4 “Moderately,” to 7 “A great deal”) (0.68)
6. Do your customer negotiations make you feel more or less competent as a negotiator? (anchors are 1 “It made
me feel less competent,” to 4 “It did not make me feel more or less competent,” to 7 “It made me feel more
competent”) (0.78)
7. Do you behave according to your own principles and values when you negotiate with your customers? (anchors are
1 “Not at all,” to 4 “Moderately,” to 7 “Perfectly”) (0.70)
8. Do your negotiations with customers positively or negatively impact your self-image or your impression of yourself?
(anchors are 1 “It negatively impacted my self-image,” to 4 “It did not positively or negatively impact my self-image,”
to 7 “It positively impacted my self-image”) (0.83)


9. Do you feel your negotiations counterpart(s) listen to your concerns? (anchors are 1 “Not at all,” to 4 “Moderately,” to
7 “Perfectly”) (0.79)
10. Would you characterize the negotiations process with your customers as fair? (anchors are 1 “Not at all,” to 4 “Moder-
ately,” to 7 “Perfectly”) (0.78)
11. How satisfied are you with the ease (or difficulty) of reaching an agreement with your customers? (anchors are 1 “Not
at all satisfied,” to 4 “Moderately satisfied,” to 7 “Perfectly satisfied”) (0.70)
12. Do your customer counterpart(s) consider your wishes, opinions, or needs in your negotiations with them? (anchors
are 1 “Not at all,” to 4 “Moderately,” to 7 “Perfectly”) (0.85)


13. What kind of “overall” impression do your customers make on you when you negotiate with them? (anchors are
1 “Extremely negative,” to 4 “Neither negative nor positive,” to 7 “Extremely positive”) (0.77)
14. How satisfied are you with your customer relationships as a result of your negotiations with them? (anchors are 1 “Not
at all,” to 4 “Moderately,” to 7 “Perfectly”) (0.92)
15. Do your negotiations make you trust your customers? (anchors are 1 “Not at all,” to 4 “Moderately,” to 7 “Perfectly”)
16. Do your negotiations build a good foundation for a future relationship with your customers? (anchors are 1 “Not at
all,” to 4 “Moderately,” to 7 “Perfectly”) (0.91)