To attain short-term performance, sales managers must motivate their salesforce to close deals (often through use of intra-firm competition). At the same time, to maintain long-term relationships, they must promote a highly ethical selling environment (which may be incongruent with use of intra-firm competition). The present study examines the interactive relationship between competitive psychological climate and ethical psychological climate in predicting salespeople’s ethical intentions and behaviors toward customers. A unique dyadic data set is used to predict salesperson ethical intentions and actual salesperson ethical behaviors reported by customers. For ethical intentions, an “executive control” perspective predicts improved ethical intentions toward customers. However, a “depletion” perspective predicts reduced ethical behavior during actual customer interactions. This result is provocative as fostering an ethical climate in conjunction with a competitive climate is found to reduce ethical behaviors in the eyes of customers, a finding clearly counter to what managers intend.
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Salesperson ethical behavior
I got the impression that the associate would answer questions about a competitor’s products honestly, even if it meant not making a sale.
It seemed that the associate would be completely honest in all interactions with a customer.
I think the associate provided 100% honest information.
Salesperson survey perceived constructs
Competitive psychological climate
My manager frequently compares my results with those of other salespeople.
Every salesperson wants to finish at the top of the sales rankings.
My coworkers frequently compare their sales performance with mine.
Ethical psychological climate
Employees here are held accountable for their actions.
Employees here are expected to act first to further customer interests.
Team members acting unethically for personal gain are punished.
Salesperson ethical intention
If asked about a competitor’s product, I will answer honestly, even if it makes it more difficult to make a sale.
I intend to be completely honest in all my interactions with customers.
I will provide 100% honest information, even if it costs me a sale.
I am interested in other people’s problems.
I feel other people’s emotions.
I am very interested in others.
Salesperson trait customer orientation
Having empathy for customers comes naturally to me.
I achieve my own goals by satisfying customers.
I keep the best interests of the customer in mind.
All scales are 7 items (1 = strongly disagree, 7 = strongly agree).
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Hochstein, B.W., Zahn, W.J. & Bolander, W. Exploring the unintended negative impact of an ethical climate in competitive environments. Mark Lett 28, 621–635 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11002-017-9435-4
- Ethical behaviors
- Ethical intentions
- Ethical psychological climate
- Competitive psychological climate
- Dyadic data