Academic journal article Annals of Business Administrative Science

Five Steps in Sales and Its Skills: The Importance of Preparing before an Interview with Customers

Academic journal article Annals of Business Administrative Science

Five Steps in Sales and Its Skills: The Importance of Preparing before an Interview with Customers

Article excerpt

Introduction: Importance of Sales

In recent years, sales activities in companies have become increasingly important. When salespeople meet customers, they are able to gather various types of information. Therefore, if sales activities can be improved, it becomes possible to respond to changes in the environment, including market changes, and this impacts the execution of the strategy (Slater & Olson, 2000). In addition, as salespeople develop relationships with customers, they become more customer-oriented (Kosuge, 2007, 2015; Kosuge & Takahashi, 2016; Reynolds & Beatty, 1999).

Salesperson skills are one of the most important research areas in sales research (Churchill, Ford, Hartley, & Walker, 1985).1 Rentz, Shepherd, Tashchian, Dabholkar, and Ladd (2002) is a leading study on this topic. They posited that sales skills comprise three aspects: interpersonal skills, salesmanship skills, and technical skills. Subsequently, they developed a scale to measure these skills using five items for each.

However, the scale of Rentz, Shepherd, Tashchian, Dabholkar and Ladd (2002) has shortcomings. First, their "interpersonal skills" are measured by items such as an "ability in general speaking skills" and an "awareness and understanding of others' nonverbal communication." As observed in the use of such terms as "speaking" and "communication," their skills focused only on interviews with customers. In addition, they measured general interpersonal skills that have no direct relationship with sales activities and their results.2 Second, "salesmanship skill" is measured by the "ability to close a sale" and "ability to present a sales message." This is similar to questioning whether the subject has good sales performance, perhaps resulting in a tautology. Third, "technical knowledge" is measured using items such as "knowledge of customers' market and products." However, it is self-evident that ensuring this sort of knowledge is essential for being effective at sales. Rather, for sales management, it would be better to know when and how this type of knowledge was gained and whether a salesperson is using it effectively.

This study indicates that resolving these issues of the sales skills scale in Rentz et al. (2002) requires a focus on sales "actions". Directly measuring sales-related actions rather than general interpersonal skills is more significant for examining the relevance to sales performance. At the same time, a focus on actions is better than ability or knowledge, as it does not become a tautology.

Considering these issues, this study uses unstructured interviews with two very experienced sales practitioners to identify sales actions in isolation from sales performance. While doing so, it becomes certain that sales actions are composed of multiple steps, including actions outside of interviews with customers. The interview with customer emphasized in existing literature, notably Rentz et al. (2002) are merely a limited part of the actions that salespeople adopt. The study employed 142 items to measure the identified sales actions, and their relationship to sales performance was examined. As a result of the survey, items exhibiting a disparity between top and bottom performers were certainly skewed toward pre-meeting steps, particularly the step of preparation. In other words, the results suggest the importance of preparatory steps leading to the interview with customer.

Method

This study was undertaken in cooperation with Softbrain Service Co., Ltd. ("SBS") to shed light on actual actions of salespeople. SBS has accumulated a wealth of practical knowledge regarding sales, through its own sales activities and consulting. The two individuals in the top management of SBS have immense practical knowledge. One gained sales experience while working at a bank and the other with sales at a securities firm. Moreover, the company has trained and consulted with many companies on sales activities. …

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