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Summary of two papers (both meta-analysis) helping you to make better choices in managing sales.

  • Drivers of sales performance: a contemporary meta-analysis. Have salespeople become knowledge brokers? 2009 An analysis of 268 articles, representing 79,747 salespeople from 4,317 organizations
  • Clustering the mediators between the sales control systems and the sales performance using the AMO model: A narrative systematic literature review 2018 An analysis of 142 articles.

These combined is a strong base.

The first research is done by Willem Verbeke & Bart Dietz & Ernst Verwaal, searching for the driving forces behind sales performance.
They find 5 strong drivers for sales performance

  1. selling-related knowledge; These are more the hard skills and captures the quantity and richness of knowledge that salespeople use in selling the products and services of the selling firm in ways that might help solve customer problems across different industries
  2. degree of adaptiveness: This represents the soft skills, “The altering of sales behaviors during a customer interaction or across customer interactions based on perceived information about the nature of the selling situation”
  3. role-ambiguity “takes place when salespeople feel that they have insufficient information to perform effectively and when they are uncertain about the expectations of role partners.”
  4. cognitive aptitude: in this part motivation is integrated, as well as IQ, personality traits etc.
  5. work engagement includes such concepts as enthusiasm, job involvement, dedication to working harder, but also the willingness to do something extra for the firm (citizenship behaviors).

The second paper is written by Alejandro Benet-Zepf, Juan A. Marin-Garcia and Ines Küster.
How should you manage / control your salesforce? Based on outcome or behavior?

Activity control, being both activity and capability based has the most positive impact on sales team’ motivation. Please note this not micromanagement such as monitoring of selling activity, which can effectively limit the salesperson’s task enjoyment, and challenge and recognition seeking.

Behavior based control reaches the highest levels of

  • organizational customer orientation,
  • satisfaction with territory design (by both: the sales manager and the salesperson),
  • transformational leadership,
  • supervisee trust. Additionally,

capability based control reaches the highest levels of

  • organizational customer orientation,
  • sales innovativeness,
  • sales supportiveness,
  • transformational leadership,
  • entrepreneurial orientation

Combination: Managing on behavior and activity leads to even better results if combined with outcome control.
Manage on behaviour and control on activity, behaviour and outcome

As sales becomes more complex, behavior-based control makes more sense. Where previously (<1990) drivers for selling products or services were different as services were regarded more complex, Verbeke’s research does not show this anymore. Probably because products are being seen more as a service / solution and as customers are more informed.

As complexity is increasing and behavior-based control is advised as dominant way, fixed salary pay should be dominant. With the combination of activity and output control being effective, variable pay theoretically could be a small part of total pay.

Note 1: That pay-systems actually is only such a small part in research and effect is interesting. Because the effects of (variable) pay have never been strongly researched, it is not possible to be part of any meta-analysis.

Though it is even stranger that our research has not yet been carried out, looking at the involved value of sales compensation, which in the US alone is already 800 billion USD, of which 20-40% can be variable. As a result, doing this research will add significant insights, based on which you can make better choices for your reward schedule.

Note 2: one of the hypotheses of Verbeke was regarding output versus behavior. However, this was in goal setting on both. They claim that it is better to have goals on output vs. behavior, which is in line with the previous update on goal setting research. The research of Benet also is about behavior and output. They treat behavior not so much as activities but in attitude, culture etc. these items are totally different even though they are both mentioned as behavior based. In Verbeke’s research this is called “work engagement” which is the 5th driver of sales performance.

Care to join in the research, send me an e-mail or message on LinkedIn

Most kind regards,