The first flow of influence is disarming, the process of omitting any signs of power or control on the part of the seller. Second is liking, or how rapport is established and relationships are trigger with strangers. Third is distinctiveness, which refers to the degree that the seller's approach differs from others to which the buyer has been exposed.
Williams (1998) suggests that firms who want to move from traditional transaction oriented selling to relationship building must look closely at all aspects of sales management including recruitment, training, remuneration and sales planning. Conti and Cron (1998) state that the field sales force must be particularly involved in targeting individual customers, implementing relationship-specific offerings, and evaluating relationship outcomes for relationship selling to be effective. To accomplish those objectives, they suggest a planning framework that includes criteria that are conducive to collaborative relationships. The key criteria include; 1) the customer's business philosophy is geared towards supplier relationships, 2) the relative dependence between the buyer and seller organizations are equal, and 3) what they term "leadership edge," i.e., targeting firms that are the sellers lead users (i.e., best customers).
However, not all researchers agree that moving from traditional, transaction oriented selling to a total focus on relationship selling is appropriate. Evans et al. (1998) suggest that transactional selling is not outdated, but an appropriate approach that can be properly balanced with relational strategies. They further state that employing relational selling should not be an all or nothing decision, in fact transactional and relational selling should be used in cooperation and concert to enrich both strategies and environments.
Evans et al. (1998) state that transactional sales are encouraged in single exchange contexts where buyers and sellers have become socialized to maximize single exchange situations. The focus of these buyer-seller exchanges is on the transaction (i.e., the product or service, price discounting) as opposed to relational sales contexts that require sellers to focus on the application of the goods and services. They also make an important point in acknowledging that relational selling approaches require selling companies to make appropriate resource investments that encourage relational exchanges with customers. Not all of these resource investments will be productive unless all factors are considered. They suggest some of the factors to consider are: 1) a selling orientation toward solutions, not products; 2) determining how value is established for buyers and when the product or service is purchased; 3) the development of smooth communication processes between buyers and sellers; 4) the strategic construction of buyer trust; and 5) creating commitment on the part of the supplier. They also stress those sales training needs to be more focused on cultivating long-term relationships and bridging factors into sales opportunities, such as trust and commitment, if relationship selling is to be productive.
The point made by Evans et al. (1998) is that different customers require different selling strategies. One representation of that point is Spiro, Perreault and Reynold's (1977) conceptualizing of the sales process. They recognized that the buyer-seller relationship is affected by the personal characteristics of the individual buyer and seller, as well as the role requirements and characteristics expected by the organizations of both the buyer and seller. These factors lead to the need for adaptation of interpersonal strategies by the seller. The authors make particular note of the fact that buyer and seller strategies are interdependent and may be modified based on actual sales negotiations. Additionally, they state that previous studies indicate the salesperson can substantially control not only his or her strategy, but also the interaction process. Thus, adaptive selling may present the framework for using the appropriate selling approach for each customer.
Principles of Adaptive Selling
Adaptive selling is defined as, "altering of sales behaviors during a customer interaction or across customer interactions based on perceived information about the nature of the selling situation" (Weitz, Sujan & Sujan, 1986, p. 175). Spiro and Weitz (1990) incorporate the following into the practice of adaptive selling: 1) a recognition that different selling approaches are needed in different sales situations, 2) confidence in the ability to use a variety of different sales approaches, 3) confidence in the ability to alter the sales approach during the customer interaction, 4) a knowledge of structure that facilitates the recognition of different sales situations and access to sales strategies appropriate for each situation, 5) the collection of information about the sales situation to facilitate adaptation, and 6) the actual use of different approaches in different situations.
As Weitz (1981) states, "salespeople have the opportunity to match their behavior to the specific customer and situation they encounter" (p. 89). The salesperson is able to evaluate each selling situation and adapt his or her behavior to the appropriate expectations of the buyer. He suggests that a salesperson can adapt his or her behavior along dimensions of: establishment of an expertise influence base, the use of influence techniques (i.e., those that sacrifice long-term relationships to close the sale immediately vs. those oriented toward an open and lasting relationship), and the control of the sales interaction (i.e., the salesperson exerting control when the objective is an immediate sale, as opposed to low pressure selling when continued goodwill is at stake). Weitz (1978) suggests that the salesperson must recognize and adapt or flex to fit different customer communication styles. Weitz's (1978) model of the sales process (ISTEA Sales Process Model) suggests that the salesperson's success in influencing the customer is related to his or her ability to perform five activities. The five activities are: 1) developing impressions, 2) formulating strategies, 3) transmitting messages, 4) evaluating reactions, and 5) making appropriate adjustments. The adjustments are made throughout the entire selling process. In empirically testing the impression formation and strategy formulation constructs of the model with industrial salespeople and their customers, he found the ability of the salesperson to adjust to the customers led to greater sales performance.
Weitz et al. (1986) note that adaptive selling, however, has costs associated with it. It requires the salesperson to spend time doing "marketing research" on the customer. The effectiveness of using the adaptive selling approach is also moderated by the salesperson's ability and skills to practice the technique. The ability and skills are gained from knowledge of the structure of sales situations, sales behaviors, and contingencies that link specific behaviors to situations. They characterize adaptive selling as "working smarter" (i.e., gathering more information about the customer to be able to create more categories and strategies), while the alternative is "working harder" (i.e., simply putting more effort into the task at hand). However, in a study conducted in the Netherlands by Vink and Verbeke (1993), it was found that these may not be two contrasting concepts, but interrelated instead. In other words, to be most effective the salesperson needs to "work smarter" and "work harder." Lambert, Marmorstein and Sharma (1990) confirmed Weitz's (1978) adaptive selling theory in a study of chemical salespeople and their customers. Their findings indicated that salespersons' performance was directly related to the accuracy of their predictions of the customers' expected performance level. It is their conclusion that sales training needs to do a better job of providing insight into customers to enable salespeople to effectively practice adaptive selling.
The effectiveness of sales training to provide insight into customer types was the subject of study by Sujan, Sujan and Bettman (1988). Their study used student callers in a telephone operation designed to raise funds from alumni. They found that after the students had completed a training program designed to provide knowledge of different customer types, they were more effective. Their findings indicated that more effective salespeople have richer and more overlapping knowledge structures of customer types, in terms of both customer traits and strategies for selling to those customers.
Boorom, Goolsby and Ramsey (1998) suggest that adaptiveness requires the salesperson to gather information about prospects and then to use that information to develop unique presentations designed to cover salient buying points and persuade customers to purchase. In order for the salesperson to accomplish this objective; they state that training in presentational methods, knowledge of the salesperson's product or service and customer behaviors, as well as the economic value of the transaction and the personal cost of time and effort needed to gather the information are necessary. They stress that training should emphasize true information gathering (not just fact finding), proposing creative solutions (rather than just offering standard products), and aiding the customer after the sale by answering questions and providing technical assistance. In their study of insurance salespeople, they found that the relational communication skills of attentiveness (willingness to listen and observe non-verbal cues), perceptiveness (ability to interpret observations of the customer), and responsiveness (knowing what message to present and when to present it) all were correlated with the ability to adapt selling approaches to the customer.
Morgan and Stoltman (1990), however, make the point that the knowledge structures Weitz (1978) assumes…