Managing New Salespeople’s Ethical Behaviors during Repetitive Failures: When Trying to Help Actually Hurts

Abstract

Despite acknowledgment that performance failure among new salespeople is a prevalent issue for organizations, researchers do not fully understand the consequences of repetitive periods of failure on new salespeople’s unethical selling behaviors. Further, little is known about how a sales force’s reward structure and managerial attempts to intervene following failure affect new salespeople’s behavior. Combining an experiment with longitudinal growth models, we show that repetitive periods of failure increase unethical behaviors, and interventions intended to remind the salesperson to behave in the customer’s best interests attenuate this effect under a non-contingent reward structure. However, counter to managerial assumptions, under a contingent reward structure these customer-oriented interventions actually backfire by amplifying the original relationship between repetitive failure and unethical behaviors. The results have potentially important managerial implications for those who manage new salespeople learning how to sell or during other failure-prone periods.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    While not included in the model for the sake of parsimony, three stress-related variables were measured by external raters: exasperation, frustration, and withdrawal. Each of these variables exhibit correlations with cumulative failure ranging from 0.68 to 0.72, providing substantial evidence that stress is the mechanism driving the relationship between cumulative failure and unethical behavior.

  2. 2.

    In actuality, the first group of study participants were exposed to 10 rounds or selling attempts. After this first group, it became apparent that seven rounds would be a sufficient number of rounds moving forward.

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Correspondence to Willy Bolander.

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Willy Bolander, William J. Zahn, Terry Loe and Melissa Clark have contributed equally to this manuscript.

Appendix

Appendix

Measurement Scales

All measures utilized Likert-type scales, ranging from 1 (strongly disagree) to 7 (strongly agree), unless otherwise noted.

Emotional Stability (Donnellan et al. 2006).

  1. 1.

    I have frequent mood swings.

  2. 2.

    I have a hard time relaxing.

  3. 3.

    I get upset easily.

  4. 4.

    I frequently feel “blue.”

Trait Customer Orientation (Brown et al. 2002 and Saxe and Weitz 1982).

  1. 1.

    If I had a sales job, having empathy for customers would come naturally to me.

  2. 2.

    If I had a sales job, I would enjoy responding to my customers’ requests.

  3. 3.

    If I had a sales job, I would get satisfaction from making my customers happy.

  4. 4.

    If I had a sales job, I would really enjoy serving my customers.

  5. 5.

    If I had a sales job, I would achieve my own goals by satisfying customers.

  6. 6.

    If I had a sales job, I would always keep the best interests of the customer in mind.

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Bolander, W., Zahn, W.J., Loe, T.W. et al. Managing New Salespeople’s Ethical Behaviors during Repetitive Failures: When Trying to Help Actually Hurts. J Bus Ethics 144, 519–532 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10551-015-2817-8

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Keywords

  • Salespeople
  • Ethics
  • Repetitive performance failure
  • Reward structure
  • Growth models