Academic journal article Review of Business

Improving Sales Force Productivity: A Critical Examination of the Personal Selling Process

Academic journal article Review of Business

Improving Sales Force Productivity: A Critical Examination of the Personal Selling Process

Article excerpt

Improving Sales Force Productivity: A Critical Examination of the Personal Selling Process


As sales executives contemplate the role of personal selling in the coming decade, there are a multitude of sobering facts to consider. On one hand, costs of selling continue to escalate, and on the other hand, customers are increasingly resistant to absorbing price increases merely because the costs of doing business are rising. The younger generation, which comprises the most significant portion of the recruiting pool, has been described as less oriented toward traditional work values than their predecessors in the sales force.

American sales managers envy the level of organizational and job commitment among employees in highly competitive foreign firms, while turnover remains a significant problem in many of the nation's sales forces. Meanwhile, buyers are becoming more demanding in their relationships with vendors and would-be vendors. Many firms are paring their lists of approved vendors, such as Xerox which just cut its list of 5,000 vendors down to only 450. For a quick look at what buyers expect from salespeople in today's environment, see Table 1.

In view of this changing environment, a question arises: How can sales executives prepare their sales forces, that is, the infantry troops, for what promises to be marketing warfare at its most intense levels? Recent estimates place the average cost of a single sales call at approximately $200. With selling costs at this level, it is clear that every dollar spent on personal selling must be judiciously evaluated.

In this article, the personal selling process will be reviewed, and areas of wasted effort will be identified for each step in the process. Also, for each step in the personal selling process, activities that will pay off in improved sales force productivity will be identified. See Table 2. A sales manager might interpret this review as a look at "what's in and what's out" in personal selling as we head into the next decade -- an era filled with opportunity for those who are prepared to field a truly professional sales force.

Professional Selling Perspective

To meet the challenges of the coming decade, salespeople and sales executives will have to adopt the perspective of the true professional. Essentially, this means that salespeople must "employ a customer oriented approach that employs truthful, non-manipulative tactics which satisfy the long term needs of both the customer and the selling firm"[1]. This perspective serves as the foundation for each suggestion made in the remainder of this article.

Personal Selling Process

The personal selling process shown in Table 2 is comprised of seven highly interrelated steps. It should be noted that the selling process is broken into steps more to facilitate the discussion than to suggest discrete divisions between the steps. The salesperson's success in any step is heavily dependent on success in all previous steps; for example, it would be extremely unlikely that a salesperson could make a sale if a significant deficiency exists in an earlier step in the selling process.

Prospecting. As indicated in Table 2, the identification of qualified prospects through personal cold calls is declining in most industries. Many buyers are simply too busy to respond to cold canvassing. Furthermore, the increased emphasis on corporate security makes it unproductive to knock on doors. The term "sugging" (selling under the guise of doing something else, usually conducting a survey) has been in the headlines recently. In Europe, anti-sugging legislation has been enacted, and there are fears that similar laws could become a reality in the United States, unless industries self regulate the unethical practice of disguising selling efforts.

To be professional and productive in the area of prospecting, sales executives might consider increasing their usage of computerized data bases, which are widely available from sources such as Business Week, Sales and Marketing Management, and Dun and Bradstreet. …

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