Exploring Personal Selling as a Career Option: A Case Study of the Perceptions of African-American Students

By Spillan, John E.; Totten, Jeff W. et al. | Academy of Marketing Studies Journal, October 2011 | Go to article overview

Exploring Personal Selling as a Career Option: A Case Study of the Perceptions of African-American Students


Spillan, John E., Totten, Jeff W., Chaubey, Manmohan D., Academy of Marketing Studies Journal


INTRODUCTION

Companies need to build a talented sales force to successfully compete in the marketplace. University graduates provide a rich source for recruiting for entry level sales positions (Terpstra and Sarathy, 1997). Many university graduates start their careers in the sales field and, therefore, there has been a continued interest in measuring students' perceptions of the sales field as a career direction. Stevens and Macintosh (2002-2003) indicate that companies, recruiters and the universities are all interested in this issue (p. 23). A company's interest is fueled by the fact that college students make up a large and attractive pool of job candidates. The recruiters are interested in it because they would like to know the reasons why students are, or are not, attracted to careers in sales. University professors want to know the role that education plays in shaping students' attitudes and perceptions of sales as a career. Considerable research has been conducted to help understand U.S. students' perceptions of personal selling. Historically, students' perceptions of those who practice personal selling have not been positive. It is likely that the negative impression of selling is rooted in anecdotes, stories, novels, stage productions and mass media (Lysonski and Durvasula, 1998).

There is scant research on the attitudes of African-American students toward personal selling. The companies may want to create a diverse sales force as part of their human resource policy. They may want their sales force to reflect the diversity in their market or to meet their goal for diversity in their workforce. The purpose of this study is to identify attitudes and interests of African-American students in the professional selling career. How strongly are the African-American students interested in sales careers? What factors affect their attitudes and interest in personal selling as a career? This study investigates these issues using data from one public state university. It also looks at whether there are any differences in the attitude towards a sales career by gender, class rank or having family members in sales profession of the African-American students.

LITERATURE REVIEW

According to Martin (2005), Caucasian (white) males tend to dominate the field of professional selling (p. 285). Despite the diversity goals of companies, less than five percent of all sales force members, excluding retail positions, are held by African-Americans (Lucas 1996). DelVecchio and Honeycutt (2000) in a study of African-American and white students found that African-American students perceive sales career options as offering a great many important attributes. However, even with these higher ratings, African-American students did not find sales careers attractive. African-American students may well have a negative perception of a sales career for different reasons than those of Caucasian students. Lucas (1996) found trade press indicating that the African-American community takes a dim view of the sales jobs and does not encourage children to pursue sales careers. Alican Kavas (2003) found that students at a historically Black university held a negative image of personal selling as a career option though few differences between business and non-business majors or between men and women students were identified (p. 36). However, DelVecchio and Honeycutt (2000) found no difference between African-American and Caucasian students with regard to their interest in several different sales careers (pp. 49-50). In a follow-up study, DelVecchio and Honeycutt (2002) concluded that "racial group membership does not affect the importance of salary, autonomy, or education in evaluating sales careers (p. 59)."

Some information suggests that African-American college students are averse to engage in careers that do not completely use their educational investment (Lucas, 1996). The extent to which certain characteristics differentially affect African-American and white students' perception of the sales career, has not been fully addressed. …

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