An investigation of the effects of various sources of role conflict and role ambiguity on the performance of industrial salespeople



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Much of the literature relating to the personal selling process seems to be a mixed bag of rules for selling success. The "how to" approach has dominated publication in the sales literature. Insufficient attention has been given to the question of what factors affect the performance of salespeople. Research concerning the performance of salespeople must be aimed at satisfying two objectives. First, multiple performance criteria must be employed. Second, the factors that influence sales performance should be identified and their relative effects determined. The objective of this dissertation was the development of a conceptual, empirically validated model of sales performance. In this model, salespeople were characterized as boundary spanners. It was proposed that salespeople experience role conflict and role ambiguity from one or more of a number of sources. It was further proposed that the degree of experienced role conflict and role ambiguity is negatively related to sales performance. The model was developed, tested, and refined in a field setting comprised of industrial salespeople and their specific role partners and relations. Interviews were conducted with several sales managers and 12 salespeople over a two week period in an effort to substantiate the literature-based conclusions concerning the nature of the industrial sales job. This led to the selection of items and the design of the questionnaire used in the research. The instrument was administered to approximately 35 sales managers and salespeople for the purpose of pretesting the instrument. For the empirical test, the cooperation of a multinational industrial marketing firm was secured. The revised instrument was mailed to all industrial salespeople, their sales managers, and four other groups of marketing people who are closely associated with the salespeople, and who have a knowledge of the sales job. Approximately 83 percent of the questionnaires were returned. The role conflict and role ambiguity scales were factor analyzed to examine and test structural hypotheses concerning various sources of role conflict and role ambiguity. Factor scores were then used as independent variables in regression analysis in an effort to determine the relative effects of the various sources of role conflict and role ambiguity on the performance of the industrial salespeople. The factor analysis of the role conflict and role ambiguity scales each yielded four factors. Sources of role conflict were found to be organization processes, exchange processes, and two boundary relations - the customer/company boundary and the job/sales environment boundary. These were also found to be sources of role ambiguity. A stepwise regression analysis, followed by an all possible regressions analysis, was conducted. Two variables were found to be significant in their ability to explain variations in salesperson performance (R[squared] = .173). These were role ambiguity emanating from exchange processes and role conflict arising from organization processes. Both were negatively related to sales performance. In addition, several covariates and their interactions with role conflict and role ambiguity were examined for their effects on sales performance. Only years of experience as a salesperson for the sales organization made a significant contribution to explained variance in sales performance (R[squared] = .224). The data indicate several situations that seem quite plausible if viewed from a managerial perspective. For less experienced salespeople, experienced role conflict was found to be positively related to sales performance, while for more experienced salespeople, role conflict was negatively related to performance. A possible reason for this finding is that less experienced salespeople take advantage of role conflict situations and use them to their advantage. They use the conflict as a catalyst for learning and growth in the organization. Role ambiguity, on the other hand, was found to be negatively related to the performance of all salespeople, although less experienced salespeople seemed to suffer more from its effects. Less experienced salespeople often find themselves in new situations, requiring new information, whereas, for experienced salespeople, certain aspects of their jobs tend to become "routinized". As experience increases, less time is required to learn aspects of the job and more time can be devoted to selling activities. In summary, role conflict and role ambiguity were found to be negatively related to the performance of industrial salespeople studied in this research, but their effects are tempered by years of experience as a sales representative.