Winning Sales before Selling: An Investigation of Business-to-Business Salesperson Attitude towards Internal Selling Processes

Son K. Lam, Andrea L. Dixon, and Thomas E. DeCarlo, 2017, 17-126-12

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As B2B selling is increasingly solution-oriented and data become readily available, efficient internal selling processes (ISPs) are emerging as critical to salesperson and firm success. Yet evidence suggests that efficient ISPs elude even market leaders. For example, one global manufacturer reports that inside-firm reps and field reps spend 75% and 45% of their time, respectively, dealing with internal sales support and deal tracking.

Importantly, many executives do not realize the issues salespeople and customers face due to ISPs. Further, personal selling research has focused on how salespeople interact with customers, with significantly less attention on salesperson interaction with internal functions.

In this study, Son Lam, Andrea Dixon, and create and test a framework for understanding, monitoring, benchmarking, and auditing ISPs. Their findings offer new knowledge and insights to salespeople and managers on how to “win sales before selling.”

First, based on four qualitative studies, they develop a multidimensional framework to investigate how organizational structure and sales force design influence salespeople’s perceptions of ISPs, which in turn influence salespeople’s job attitude and performance and customer outcomes. They then test their framework using data from a publicly traded Fortune 250 company and a cross-industry sample of sales professionals.


Their analysis shows that inefficient ISPs can have devastating effects on salesperson role perceptions, job satisfaction, job performance, and turnover. Externally, poor ISPs have the potential to lengthen sales cycles, impair customer satisfaction, and drive customers away.

Further, while centralization and corporate policy enforcement adversely affect salesperson perceptions of ISPs, departmentalization and a product-centric sales force design exert strong countervailing effects. These structural influences on salesperson perceptions are universally strong, with only a few boundary conditions at play.

Finally, their analysis suggests that managers should pay attention to how differently inside and field salespeople react to poor ISPs.

Overall, their research underscores the importance of ISPs to overall performance, and offers managers knowledge and tools to monitor and improve ISPs, as well as evaluate the internal selling culture and climate at various levels within a firm.

Son K. Lam is Associate Professor of Marketing, Terry College of Business, University of Georgia.  Andrea L. Dixon is Executive Director, Center for Professional Selling and Keller Center for Research, and holds the Frank and Floy Smith Holloway Endowed Professorship in Marketing, Hankamer School of Business, Baylor University. Thomas E. DeCarlo is Professor and Ben S. Weil Endowed Chair of Industrial Distribution, Collat School of Business, University of Alabama at Birmingham.


The authors would like to thank the Marketing Science Institute (MSI) for its support. The authors also thank participating firms that allow access to their sales force for multiple rounds of interviews. Further support from the Baylor University’s Center for Professional Selling is also appreciated.

Related links

How to Identify and Better Manage Hunters and Farmers in the Sales Force
Thomas E. DeCarlo and Son K. Lam (2014) [Report]

Interlocking Networks: How and When Do Connections between Buying and Selling Teams Affect Customer Solutions?
Brian R. Murtha, Sundar G. Bharadwaj, and Christophe Van den Bulte (2014) [Report]


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