What is the impact of salesperson networking behaviors on sales performance?
Salespeople are often encouraged to conduct networking with a range of people and stakeholders, including their peers, customers and other professionals. However, do these activities actually influence sales outcomes?
That was the question posed in a recent study by Kansas State University Assistant Professor of Marketing Mike Krush and his colleague Gerrard Macintosh (North Dakota State University).
The sales industry commonly considers networking as an important tool and ability. Networking may create an opportunity for salespeople to develop new clients, discover and leverage expertise within their organization, and learn from other professionals within their industry. While the sales industry considers networking as an important skill, research examining the effects of networking activities has been relatively sparse.
To understand the effects of networking behavior on sales performance, Krush and Macintosh developed a study, "Networking Behavior and Sales Performance: Examining Potential Gender Differences," which was recently published in the Journal of Marketing Theory and Practice.
Using data gathered from 179 salespeople within the real estate industry, the study focused on three important networking behaviors—networking with one's colleagues (i.e. peers), networking with those in one's profession, and networking with one's customers. Further, the study examined both objective sales outcomes (i.e. commission) and subjective sales outcomes (i.e. the salesperson's perception of their sales performance). Finally, the research team examined if gender differences affected the relationship between the networking behaviors and sales performance.
When the researchers examined the results for all the respondents, (men and women combined), professional networking behaviors and customer networking was linked positively to subjective performance. Customer networking was the only form of networking behavior that was related positively to objective results.
The researchers also divided the sample to examine differences between men and women. The results demonstrated that men and women benefit in different ways from their networking behaviors. For instance, the relationship between professional networking and objective performance was strong for women. In addition, professional networking and customer networking were linked to subjective performance for women. The relationship between customer networking and objective performance was strong for men.
Overall, the study shows as salespeople increase their professional networking behaviors and their customer networking behaviors their subjective performance is enhanced, and a similar effect occurs between customer networking and objective performance. However, women appeared to benefit more from professional networking, while men benefited more from customer networking.
What should managers know?
Managers may want to not only encourage general networking behaviors among their sales professionals but also actively guide their sales professionals to certain forms of networking that may enhance performance. Further, managers may choose to provide reinforcement for targeted networking behaviors, such as incentives.
Managers may also want to consider initiating some type of tracking mechanism for networking behaviors. Measurement communicates the importance of certain actions to the organization and its employees. A measurement system may create some level of accountability for networking behaviors within the salesforce and also provide a data source to measure and understand the effectiveness of networking efforts.
Finally, managers could advocate the value of networking practices based on their measurement data. By tracking networking data, managers can share best practices throughout their sales force.