Marketers have long sought to craft marketplace opportunities to provide a differential advantage that is both significant and sustainable. Particularly important in the sales organization, creating and maintaining a marketplace advantage are often the keys to success or failure. In this pursuit, a host of strategies, mechanisms, and processes have evolved through marketing departments as managers constantly seek the "best" tools for rapidly changing marketplaces.
Employing considerable resources to obtain such marketplace advantages, management has sought to integrate many different elements into the marketing domain. One contemporary effort that has received a great deal of attention has been the increased usage of sales force automation, coupled with the need to enhance the relationship management of clients through communications technology. This effort has resulted in an escalated need to determine where and how technology is being used in personal selling (Widmier, Jackson, & McCabe, 2002) to maximize technological integration within the sales organization.
Correspondingly, sellers have become increasingly aggressive in recent years as they seek and implement constructive assets that improve their positions and opportunities for success. For instance, training has become a key strategic organizational tool being visualized as an important vehicle for success (e.g., Leach & Liu, 2003). Spending in some situations more than $100,000 and two years in the development of one salesperson (Johnston & Marshall, 2003) to cultivate a competitive advantage in a single territory, marketers have demonstrated their interest and willingness in acquiring and deploying assets that can cultivate a significant, sustainable differential advantage under virtually any condition.
Actual applications of sales force automation indicate a range of failure that suggests technology cannot be automatically and easily intertwined within the sales force. One study used identity theory to better understand these failures and found salespeople have positive perceptions of the technology immediately after the training; however, six months after implementation, the technology had been widely rejected (Speier & Venkatesh, 2002). To make sales technology more functionally valuable, some European companies have discovered that technology that dictates how salespeople behave will fail while technology that respects how salespeople really behave has a better chance at success (Schrage, 2003). What this suggests is that, while technology may be a positive force in some situations, as with any tool, its usage must be balanced against the value it brings and the resources required for its implementation.
Similar advances in other areas such as hiring practices, market identification techniques, strategic development, and compensation systems are but a few of the elements considered for usage in contemporary marketplaces to gain a differential advantage by salespeople. The critical issue as it relates to the sales force, therefore, is that marketing managers are increasingly demonstrating a willingness to take risks in discovering tools and strategies that maximize field opportunities. In turn, the failure to maximize situations as they occur can result in mixed opportunities.
As the shift toward relational sales approaches and emerging technologies continues to drive the changing nature of selling, it is important for the sales organization to identify, explore, adjust to, and exploit the needs of the marketplace in highly competitive situations. For example, the critical role of marketing communications as part of relational strategies (Andersen, 2001) suggests B2B sellers are learning to craft relational selling strategies in an environment in which e-commerce is increasingly viewed as a critical marketplace tool. In this regard, most marketing tools, whether implemented by upper management or by local field managers, are designed to satisfy the core needs of the seller (identify, explore, adjust, and exploit). …