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When does salespeople’s customer orientation lead to customer loyalty? The differential effects of relational and functional customer orientation

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Abstract

Is a customer orientation universally effective for salespeople? Or does its effectiveness depend on the selling situation? While previous research has largely neglected this question, this study investigates contextual influences on the link between customer-oriented behaviors and customer loyalty. To do so, it takes a role theory perspective on salesperson customer orientation by distinguishing functional customer orientation and relational customer orientation. It then investigates which type of customer orientation is more effective with regard to establishing and maintaining customer loyalty, given the specific situation. Here, the authors analyze the moderating impact of a customer’s communication style (task orientation and interaction orientation) and specific characteristics of a supplier’s products (product individuality, importance, complexity, and brand strength). Multilevel analysis of triadic data from a cross-industry survey of 56 sales managers, 195 sales representatives, and 538 customers provides empirical support for positive, non significant, and even adverse effects of salespeople’s customer-oriented behaviors on customer loyalty, depending on contextual variables.

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Appendix

Appendix

Scale items for construct measurement

I. Salespeople’s customer orientation

Functional customer orientation (salespeople); adapted from Dubinsky (1980), Saxe and Weitz (1982), Schurr et al. (1985); seven-point scale: “totally disagree” to “strongly agree”

Item reliability

I ask my customers about their specific performance requirements.

.38

I ask directed questions to determine the specific needs of my customers.

.59

In sales conversations, I actively involve my customers to determine their specific needs.

.47

I focus on functional information which is especially relevant for my customers.

.37

I particularly focus on those benefits of our products and services which are of particular relevance for my customers (e.g., cost savings, ease of use, safety etc.).

.51

I adapt my sales pitch very much to my customers’ interests.

.62

When presenting our products and services, I respond very individually to my customers’ requirements.

.51

I talk with my customers about their objections in a detailed manner.

.41

I ask my customers about the reasons behind their objections.

.33

Relational customer orientation (salespeople); adapted from Crosby et al. (1990), Donavan et al. (2004); seven-point scale: “totally disagree” to “strongly agree”

 

In sales conversations, I establish a personal relationship with my customers.

.51

In sales conversations, I show high interest in the personal situation of my customers.

.54

I often talk with my customers about private issues.

.74

I often point out things I have in common with my customers (e.g., common interests, experiences, and attitudes).

.69

II. Customer loyalty

Customer intentions to repurchase

.66

Customer intentions to increase share of wallet

.30

Customer word of mouth

.86

III. Facets of customer loyalty

Customer intentions to repurchase (customers); according to Zeithaml et al. (1996); seven-point scale: “totally disagree” to “strongly agree”

 

We consider company X as our first choice for the purchase of such products and services.

.49

We intend to stay loyal to company X.

.71

Customer intentions to increase share of wallet (customers); according to Zeithaml et al. (1996); seven-point scale: “totally disagree” to “strongly agree”

 

We intend to do more business with company X in the future.

.77

We intend to additionally purchase other products and services from company X in the future.

.51

Customer word of mouth (customers); according to Zeithaml et al. (1996); seven-point scale: “totally disagree” to “strongly agree”

 

We recommend company X to other people (e.g., customers, business partners, friends).

.64

We say positive things about company X to other people (e.g., customers, business partners, friends).

.82

IV. Contextual influences on the effect of salespeople’s customer orientation

Customer interaction orientation (customers); adapted from McFarland et al. (2006), Williams and Spiro (1985); seven-point scale: “totally disagree” to “strongly agree”

 

In sales conversations, I like to talk about private issues with salespeople.

.40

In sales conversations, I like to establish a personal relationship with salespeople.

.72

I am interested in the personal situation of a salesperson.

.69

Customer task orientation (customers); adapted from McFarland et al. (2006), Williams and Spiro (1985); seven-point scale: “totally disagree” to “strongly agree”

 

I make sales interactions as efficient as possible.

.39

In sales conversations, I focus on the task at hand.

.60

In sales conversations, I am highly goal-oriented.

.45

I like to finish sales conversations as early as possible.

.25

Product individuality (sales managers); inspired by Stump (1995); seven-point scale: “totally disagree” to “strongly agree”

 

Our products and services are individually developed for our customers.

.57

Our products and services are highly adapted to our customers’ needs.

.89

The major characteristics of our products and services are highly adjusted to our customers.

.73

Our products and services are highly individualized.

.66

Product importance (sales managers); adapted from Porter et al. (2003); seven-point scale: “totally disagree” to “strongly agree”

 

Our products and services are of high importance for our customers.

.64

Our products and services provide an important contribution to the achievement of our customers’ goals.

.83

Our products and services are of high relevance for our customers’ business operations.

.24

Product complexity (sales managers); adapted from McQuiston (1989); seven-point scale: “totally disagree” to “strongly agree”

 

Our products and services are high in need of explanation.

.57

Our products and services are hard to evaluate without expertise.

.87

Our products and services require a high amount of expertise.

.94

Our products and services require the participation of further experts in the buying decision.

.35

Brand strength (sales managers); seven-point scale: “much lower” to “much higher”

 

How do you evaluate the strength of your product and service brands compared to competition (e.g., with regard to awareness, emotionality, quality signals)?

_a

V. Control variables

Length of relationship with the company (customers)

 

For how many years have you been a customer at company X?

_a

Length of relationship with the salesperson (customers)

 

For how many years has your current account manager been your contact person at company X?

_a

Customer status (customers); four-point scale: “highly attractive” to “unattractive”

 

How do you rate your current status as a customer at company X?

_a

Size of the customer (customers)

 

How many employees work at your company?

.68

How much was your company’s sales last year?

1.00

  1. aConstruct measured through a single indicator, item reliability cannot be computed

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Homburg, C., Müller, M. & Klarmann, M. When does salespeople’s customer orientation lead to customer loyalty? The differential effects of relational and functional customer orientation. J. of the Acad. Mark. Sci. 39, 795–812 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11747-010-0220-7

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