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Is it important for salespeople to feel connected with each other?

salesA recent study from Edward Nowlin and Doug Walker, marketing professors at Kansas State University, looks at whether feelings of being connected with coworkers influence salespeople’s performance, and whether and how managers should encourage it.

Imagine you are working as a salesperson in a stable work environment with the same boss and unchanging job responsibilities. Moreover, you feel connected to your colleagues. Your work performance is enhanced through the mutual reliability between you and your coworkers.

Now, consider a dramatic change in your environment. Your manager changes, along with the duties of your job. The ambiguity in this new work environment leads to a change in how you interact with your colleagues. You realize that you now depend on them less for motivation and more for determining how best to do your job. Interestingly, your connectedness with colleagues seems to fill different needs for you based upon the stability of your work environment.

Nowlin and Walker, along with their colleague Nwamaka Anaza (Southern Illinois University) investigated the impact of connectedness on salesperson performance in a recent study published in Industrial Marketing Management. The study, entitled “How does salesperson connectedness impact performance? It depends upon the level of internal volatility” examines how and under what conditions feelings of connection with coworkers increase salesperson performance.

Using data gathered from business-to-business salespeople, the study reveals connectedness increases performance either through sales strategy implementation or through selling effort, or both. The findings show that under conditions of high internal volatility, such as manager turnover, connectedness increases performance by improving the effectiveness of the individual’s selling effort. Meaning, a salesperson’s performance will become more effective as a result of tips and insight from colleagues on how to effectively engage with customers as part of the sales process.

Under conditions of low internal volatility, connectedness increases performance through selling effort. In this scenario, management provides the sales strategy allowing salesperson interaction to focus on motivating selling effort, resulting in higher levels of performance. Under conditions of average internal volatility, connectedness increases performance through both sales strategy implementation and selling effort.

What should managers do to increase connections among salespeople in their employees?

First, firms may undervalue the coworker bond, especially given that internal competition is widely preferred by management as the chief source of salesperson motivation as salespeople compete for associated awards and recognition. Contrary to popular practice and belief, we show that there is strength in connectedness among salespeople given that it can serve as a source of guidance or motivation or both, depending on internal conditions, and ultimately act as a driver of performance. That being said, we do not suggest that connectedness and competition are mutually exclusive. Our data suggest that they are not correlated, suggesting that managers can have both connectedness and friendly internal competition. Instead, what we suggest is that managers can foster friendly competition without sacrificing coworker connectedness.

Second, Managers should actively promote connectedness among team members by including outside activities involving social interaction. Team-building activities could be particularly valuable in preparing salespeople for times of high volatility. For example, salespeople could also be actively involved in the hiring process of colleagues, providing time in the process to reveal shared interests, commonalities, and similarities that could aid in developing connections. In addition, creating opportunities for salespeople to identify shared commonalities could be viewed as a potential waste of firm resources. However, research suggests that creating such opportunities for people to discover similarities leads people to find commonalities, which in turn would lead to feelings of connectedness.

Finally, a connected sales team offers managers insight into how they can effectively leverage their efforts to increase their salespeople's productivity. This means that in very volatile situations with a sales team with high social connectedness, managers should narrow their focus to helping their salespeople implement their sales strategy. Conversely, under conditions of low internal volatility, managers should encourage their salespeople's selling effort.