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Volume 10, No. 1, Fall 1995


Roger I>. McIntyre
East Carolina University
Martin S. Meloche
Western Michigan University

ABSTRACt. Cognitive style, the ways in which we take in information from the
environment and processthat information,has been shown to influenceinterac-
tions in various behavioral fields.This paper investigateswhether cognitive
style would impact an individual'sorientationtoward the customer or toward
the sale, as measured by the SOCO scale. The results suggest that cognitive
stylecan influenceone'sorientation.This knowledge should prove usefulto sales
managers in design;ng trRining programs for new sales personnel, as well as in
assigning sales personnel to specific selling tasks.


Saxe and Weitz (1982) developed the S O C O scale to measure the

customer or sales orientation of salespeople. Several subsequent studies
have investigated the customer orientation construct (i.e.,Dunlap, Dot-
son, & Chambers, 1988; Kelley, 1992; Michaels & Day, 1985; W'flliRms &
Weiner, 1990). However, littleresearch has focused on identifying the
antecedents of customer orientation (Kelley, 1992; Williams & Weiner,
Previous research has established that cognitive style can influence
an individual'sbehavior. For example, researchers in management have
found that people with differentcognitive styles prefer differentways of
hand];ng conflicts (e.g., Ki]mAnn & Thomas, 1975), different problem-
solving approaches (e.g., Hellriegel & Slocum, 1975), and t h a t t h e y pro-

Roger P. McIntyre is Assistant Professor of Marketing, Department of Marketing,

School of Business, East CarollnA University, Greenville,N C 27858. Martin S. Meloche is
Assistant Professor of Marketing, Department of Marketing, School of Business, Western
Michigan University, Kalamazoo, MI. Contact the firstauthor at (919) 757-6368.
75 @1995 H.mM. S,den~s Pros, Inc.

cess information differently (Smith & Urban, 1978). The psychology, so-
cial-psychology, and education literatures have also amassed numerous
cases revealing that people of diFFering cognitive styles differ in their
approach to information processing, decision m~klng, learnlng, and com-
municating (e.g., Carlson & Levy, 1973; McCaulley & Natter, 1974; Le-
vin, 1978; Thompson, 1984). Since all of these processes impact interper-
sonal interactions, and since interpersonal interactions affect a
salesperson's customer relations, it seems likely that cognitive style will
influence an individual's orientation toward the customer (a customer
orientation) or toward making the sale (a sales orientation).
This paper reports an investigation of the influence of cognitive
style on customer orientation. The first section provides a brief review of
the customer orientation construct. We then briefly discuss cognitive
style and its associated characteristics. Next, we describe the research
methodology employed in the study, followed by a discussion of the find-
ings. We conclude with suggestions for future research and some impli-
cations for sales management.


Saxe and Weitz (1982, p. 343) defined customer-oriented seU/ng as

implementing the marketing concept in interactions between the indi-
vidual salesperson and his or her customer. Customer oriented salespeo-
ple engage in behaviors that enhance long-term customer satisfaction,
possibly at the expense of an immediate sale (Dun]ap, Dotson, & Cham-
bers, 1988). Conversely, sales oriented salespeople focus on m~ki~g the
immediate sale regardless of benefits to the customer, possibly at the
expense of a long-term relationship. Key aspects of a customer orienta-
tion as described by Saxe & Weitz (1982, p. 344) include:

1. A desire to help customers make satisfactory purchase decisions.

2. Helping customers assess their needs.
3. Offering products that will satisfy those needs.
4. Describing products accurately.
5. Avoiding deceptive or manipulative influence tactics.
6. Avoiding the use of high pressure.

An early question concerned whether SOCO measured behavior or

disposition. Williams and Weiner (1990) investigated this issue by ex-
perimentally varying managerial directed short-term selllng emphasis
and method of pay (straight commission or straight salary). Based on
results from their sample of older marketing undergraduates (average
age 26.5 years) with a mlnlmllm of one year selling experience (mean

3.82 years), they concluded that S O C O measures behaviors rather than

dispositions, but that some individuals will naturally act in a more cus-
tomer oriented manner and prove more able to learn to do so. The pres-
ent study attempts to build on these findings to determine whether
cognitive style may be an antecedent variable accounting for the predis-
position of some people to practice customer oriented selling, and thus
develop a deeper understanding of the customer orientation concept.
Saxe and Weitz also recognized that adopting a customer-oriented
approach entailed certain costs, and expected that sellers would use a
customer oriented approach only when the benefits outweighed the
costs. Thus, they suggested the following situational antecedents to a
customer orientation as summarized by Dnnlap, Dotson, and Chambers
(1988, p. 17):

1. The salesperson can offer a range of alternatives and has the

expertise to determine which alternatives will satisfy customer
2. The salesperson's customers are typically engaged in complex
buying tasks.
3. The salesperson typically has a cooperative relationship with his
or her customers.
4. Repeat sales and referrals are an important source of business
for the salesperson.

However, Saxe and Weitz also suggest that antecedents could include
interpersonal differences on such constructs as inner-outer directedness
(Kassarjian, 1962) and self-monitoring (Snyder, 1976).


Carl Jung (1971), the Swiss psychologist, developed a theory of psy-

chological type based on three dimensions, extroversion-introversion,
sensing-intuiting, and tbinl~ng-feeling. The instrument developed to op-
erationalize Jung's theory, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI)
added a fourth dimension, judging-perceiving (Myers & McCaulley,
1985). These four dimensions produce sixteen psychological types, but
researchers often use the more parsimonious construct of cognitive
style, which focuses on just sensing-intuiting and thinklng-feeling (Fris-
bie, 1988).
Sensing (S) and Intuition (N) are information intake functions, and
refer to how people find out about the world. According to Mokwa and
Ev~n.q (1984), sensors emphasize detailed, sensory input such as data
and hard facts about a divisible, concrete reality. Conversely, intuitors

(N) rely on imagination and conceptu~]Jzation to construct holistic real-

ities beyond the abilities of direct sensation, and often accept possi-
bilities and ideals as reality. Gould (1991) claims that sensors are practi-
cal, good with detail and numbers, and like tangible objects, while
intuitives find patterns and trends and are quite at home with intangi-
Thlnldng and feeling are decision malting or information processing
functions. Thinkers (T) emphasize the role of conventional, deductive
logic in decision making, while feelers (F) accentuate values and conflict
in decision making. M o k w a and Evans (1984) describe thlnt~ers as seek-
ing formal and general explanations relatively independent of h u m a n
qualities and values. ThJnlclng aspects are most evident in traditional
logic and conventional science. On the other hand, they portray feeling
as a process of individuation and questioning, as well as the search for
justification and human realization. Characteristics of feeling are most
evident in conventional expressions of aesthetics, ethics, politics, and
religion. Feelers are more able to accept and deal with ambiguity. While
thln1~ers are objective,impersonal, and analytical,feelers are subjective,
personal, and empathi~g.
The combination of one's preferred mode of information intake
(sensing or intuition)combined with the preferred decision-mAlting func-
tion (thlnkiug or feeling)produces a person's cognitive style (cf.Frisbie,
1988; Holt, 1975; Keen & Bronsema, 1981; Mitroff, 1981). The cognitive
styles include ST (sensory-thinkers), N T (intuitive-thinlters),N F (intu-
itive-feelers),and SF (sensory-feelers).Table 1 illustrates some salient
characteristics of the four cognitive styles.


Previous research has shown that persons of differing cognitive

styles vary in their approach to factors related to customer orientation.
For example, Ki]mann and Thomas (1975), Chanin and Schneer (1984),
and Percival, Smither~m, and KeUy (1992) found style-related difl'er-
ences in how individuals prefer to handle interpersonal conflict. McIn-
tyre (1991) found that individuals prefer to interact with sellers similar
to themselves in cognitive style. Additionally, NFs were perceived as the
most trustworthy, and STs were perceived as the most expert of the four
styles in a simulated bAn~ng situation. Further, several researchers
have stated that thlntrers tend to focus on the task, while feelers focus
on the relationship (Hellriegel & Slocum, 1980; Kilmann & Herden,
1976; Sloolm, 1978). An individual's approach to conflict, focus toward
either task accomplishment or relationship development, and develop-
ment of impressions regarding an interaction partner are intrinsic ele-

Table 1
Characteristics of t h e Cognitive Styles

ST (Sensory-Thlnlcer) NT (Intultive-Th!nlcer)

0 Seeks certainty, precision 0 Relies on ideas and calculations

0 Concrete orientation 0 Builds interesting alternatives
0 Seek to find the ~Tight~ answer 0 Inventive and imaginative
0 Detached from work 0 Seeks to solve the puzzle
0 Concerned with methods and tech- 0 Focus on alternatives and outcomes
niques 0 A theoretical perspective
0 An impersonal perspective 0 A generalist
0 A technical specialist 0 Oriented toward the future
0 Reties on observation and measurement
0 Oriented toward the present
Sensing Intuition
SF (Sensory-Feeler) NF (Intuitive-Feeler)
0 Relies upon and seeks intense personal 0 Relies on feelings and emotions
experience 0 Constructs ideal social systems
0 Active and experiential 0 Empathetic and idealistic
0 Seeks to get the job done 0 Systemic orientation
0 Concerned with actions 0 Seeks to address the real problem
0 A behavioral perspective 0 Concern with people's problems
0 A pragmatist 0 Focus on social impacts
0 Live in present, here and now 0 Takes a personal-social perspective
0 An idealist
0 Oriented to future

Adapted from Hirschman (1985), Mitroff, Barabba, and Ki!m.nn (1977), Mokwa and
Evans (1984).

ments of one's relationships with customers. Therefore, it seems likely

that people having differing cognitive styles will also differ on their de-
gree of customer orientation.
Since several authors state that thinkers focus on the task while
feelers focus on the relationship (i.e., Hellriegel & Slocum, 1980;
Kilmann & Herden, 1976; Slocum, 1978), it would appear that the
thlnking-feeling dimension may exert the most impact on customer ori-
entation. Thus, we would expect thlnklng-feeling differences to deter-
mine the poles of a customer orientation continuum, with feelers exhlb-
iting high customer orientation and thinkers exhibiting low customer
orientation. We would also expect the sensing-intuition dimension to
play a secondary role in determining customer orientation.
Sensors tend to live in the present and focus on the here and now,

while intuitives focus on possibilities for the future. Therefore, sensors

may prove less inclined to forego present sales in order to build more
profitable future relationships.
Comparing the dimensions of sensing-intuiting and thlnldng-feeling
might produce a hierarchy of customer orientation. Taken together, the
characteristics of these dimensions suggest that feelers in general will
prove more customer oriented t h a n thinkers, that NFs will prove more
customer oriented than SFs, and that STs will exhibit the lowest level of
customer orientation. The specific hypothesis tested was:

H: Cognitive style as measured by the Myers-Briggs Type Indica-

tor will influence individuals' scores on the SOCO scale. Specif-
ically, the anticipated pattern of results is as follows:
NFc~,t > NTc~,t > SF~,t > ST~,t.


Since our primary interest focused on theory testing r a t h e r t h a n on
application, a student sample proved appropriate (Calder, Phillips, &
Tybout, 1981). Further, respondents were drawn from students enrolled
in introductory marketing courses, providing a more diverse population
base t h a n a salesperson sample which would probably result in under-
representation of some cognitive styles. Of the 218 completed question-
naires, 202 were usable, or 92.7%. The average age was 22.64 years,
with a range of 20 to 47 years. There were 92 males and 110 females.
The cognitive style composition of the sample is shown in Table 2.

Respondents completed the SOCO scale, which consists of 24 items.
Saxe and Weitz (1982) developed the scale and demonstrated its re-
liability and validity. When administered to two different samples of
salespeople, coefficient alpha was 0.86 and 0.83. A sample of 46 sales-
people was retested after a six week interval, reve-]ing a correlation of
0.67, which the authors claimed indicated a moderate degree of stability.
Saxe and Weitz relied on a broad and representative range of items and
a standard method of item selection to provide content validity. The
SOCO scale was positively correlated with a measure of long-term
versus short-term orientation, negatively correlated with Machiavellian-
ism, and not correlated with the Marlow-Crowne Social Desirability
Scale, indicating convergent and discrlminant validity. The pattern of

Table 2
Cognitive Style Composition of Sample

Cognitive Style Frequency Percent

ST 76 37.7
NT 36 17.8
NF 39 19.3
SF 51 25.2

scores from salespeople known to have traits consistent with a customer

orientation also supported the scale's validity. Michaels and D a y (1985)
provided confirmation of the scale's validity by asking industrial buyers
to evaluate the customer orientation of the salespersons who called on
Instructions for the original scale required salespeople to indicate
the proportion of their customers with whom they acted as described b y
each statement. However, since these instructions were not applicable to
a student sample, we followed the precedent of Dunlap, Dotson, a n d
Chambers (1988) and Michaels and D a y (1985) of slightly altering t h e
wording to accommodate the sample as follows:

Assume that you have graduated and are working as a professional

sales representative. For each of the following questions, circle the
appropriate number to indicate how much the statement describes
how you sincerely believe you would actually deal with customers.
Don't try to guess the right answer (there is none), just indicate how
you honestly believe you would really behave.

Responses were measured by a 9-point Likert-type scale where 1 was

"never ~ and 9 was "always. ~ Scores on all items were s u m m e d to provide
a total customer orientation score, a higher score indicating greater cus-
tomer orientation. Respondents also completed the sensing-intuiting
and thi~klng-feeling portion of the MBTI (Myers & McCauUey, 1985) to
allow determluation of their cognitive style.The reliabilityand validity
of the M B T I has been supported by previous studies (Buros, 1970; Tzeng
et al.,1984).


The overall hypothesis was tested by a four condition oneway

ANOVA with cognitive style serving as the independent variable. Re-
spondents' scores on the customer orientation scale served as the depen-

dent variable. Cognitive style was used as the independent variable

since several researchers have claimed t h a t cognitive style is inherent
(Guzie & Guzie, 1984; Mattoon, 1981: McCaulley, 1981; Myers & Mc-
Caulley, 1985; Nutt, 1986; Sharp, 1987; Stevens, 1982), and would
therefore be an antecedent to customer orientation. The F value of 5.74,
with 3 degrees of freedom, was significant at p ffi 0.0009. Thus, the
contention that cognitive style would influence an individual's stance on
customer orientation received support.
The specific predictions of order were tested with Takey multiple
comparisons tests. Table 3 provides the mean scores on the SOCO scale
for each cognitive style, as well as the results of the multiple compari-
sons tests. While the order of the cognitive styles from low to high cus-
tomer orientation was as predicted, the NT-SF, NT-NF, and NF-SF dif-
ferences were not significant. Only the comparisons between STs and
each of the other three styles were significant. Thus, the specific predic-
tions received support to the extent t h a t STs were significantly less cus-
tomer oriented than NTs, SFs, and NFs.


The findings of this study raise some interesting questions for fur-
ther research. In those fields in which a high degree of customer orienta-
tion is desirable, can trAin4ng compensate for a low customer orienta-
tion? If so, what type of trRinlng would prove most effective? For
example, what combination of classroom and field training would pro-
duce the greatest results?

Table 3
Multiple Comparisons and Mean Scores on Customer Orientation

CognitiveStyle Mean Std. Dev. Range

ST 166.62 23.72 112-205
NT 176.31 18.98 137-205
SF 176.63 17.31 137-209
NF 182.68 18.74 143-216
Paired Comparisons Value Slgnt~zance

ST-NT 9.70 .10

ST-NF 16.50 .01
ST-SF 10.02 .05
NT-NF 5.87 NS
NT-SF .32 NS
NF-SF 5.55 NS

Future research could explore the possibility of increasing the cus-

tomer orientation of salespeople. People of cognitive styles inherently
low on customer orientation may prove amenable to relational training,
or they could encounter difficulties in increasing their level of customer
It seems likely that there are other antecedents to customer orien-
tation, such as inner-outer directedness as suggested by Saxe and Weitz.
Further research could help identify these, clarify their impact on cus-
tomer orientation, and explore any ]inkR with cognitive style.


The findings of this study hold several interesting implications con-

cerning the selection of personnel for various types of se|]ing positions.
The results would indicate that NFs might gravitate more naturally to
relationship building and relational seUlng, while STs might feel more
comfortable handling discrete tr_Ansactions (Dwyer, Schurr, & Oh, 1987).
However, the four cognitive styles are not equally represented in the
general population. Table 4 provides the percentages reported by Mc-
Caulley, Macdaid, and Kainz (1985) based on the VALS database, one
measure of the distribution of cognitive styles in the general population.
Developed by the Stanford Research Institute, the Values And Life-
Styles approach segments the marketplace into nine psychographic seg-
ments that reveal different purchasing patterns. Further, evidence indi-
cates that the cognitive styles tend to self select into various career
fields. Table 5 provides the cognitive style composition of several techni-
cal fields from which salespeople are often drawn, as well as several
sales fields. An exRmlnation of Table 5 reveals that various cognitive
styles are over or under represented in all of these fields. This will im-
pact the ease of recruiting potential salespeople with customer oriented
cognitive styles in a particular field. Thus, while it may seem desirable
to recruit cognitive styles with predispositions toward customer orienta-
tion into positions requiring relationship building, the available cogni-

Table 4
EstlmAted Cognitive Style Composition of the General Population


Males 56.3 18.4 8.7 16.6

Females 27.5 6.5 15.5 50.5
Unweighted average 41.9 12.45 12.1 33.55

Table 6
Cognitive Style D i s t r i b u t i o n i n S e l e c t e d C a r e e r F i e l d s

Career N ST NT NF SF Chi Sq p <

VALS Respondents, Un- 1105 41.9 12.45 12.1 33.55

weighted by Sex
Engineer, Aeronautical 64 16.67 24.07 33.33 26.93 65.02 .01
Engineers, Chemical 52 36.54 34.62 11.54 17.30 48.06 .01
Engineers, Electrical and 54 35.19 31.48 16.67 16.66 40.39 .01
Engineers, Mechanical 77 48.05 22.08 19.48 10.39 28.28 .01
Insurance Agents and Brokers 101 36.63 16.83 25.74 20.80 22.88 .01
Real Estate Brokers 166 34.34 22.89 16.26 26.51 11.93 .01
Sales Agents, Retail Trade 67 28.36 29.85 10.45 31.34 29.07 .01

Note: Values under cognitive styles are expressed as percent of sample. Degrees of
freedom ffi 3
Source of VALS Data: McCaulley, Macdaid, and K~inT. (1985)
Source of Career Data: Myers and McCaulley (1985)

tive style pool with the appropriate educational background m a y m a k e

this difficultto achieve. This suggests a need to train potential salespeo-
ple with the appropriate educational background in the attitudes and
behaviors consistent with a customer orientation.


Sales personnel with a customer orientation seek to build relation-

ships for long-run profitability,while those with a sales orientation
focus on short-term g~n~. The results of this study indicate that cogni-
tive style helps to explain these differences in focus toward the customer
or toward the sale. Thus, a w o r ~ n g knowledge of cognitive style should
enable sales managers to make more effective use of the sales force.


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