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How to Win More B2B Contracts with Effective E-Sales

Sunil K. Singh, Detelina Marinova and Jagdip Singh

Advances in digital technologies motivate firms to adopt technology-mediated channels for sales interactions. According to reports, 77% customers prefer e-communications over other formats, resulting in a 75% increase in e-negotiations and, by one estimate, 80% of U.S. sales negotiations are conducted online. Yet, little is known about effectiveness of B2B e-negotiations. Compared to face-to-face (F2F) communications, e-communications offer fewer contextual cues and less interactivity and flexibility, but they also benefit from easy accessibility, transparency, and ability to deliver diverse materials via attachments and links.  

A new study in the Journal of Marketing analyzes e-communications to provide sellers with greater insights about buyers’ needs and behaviors. Our research team worked with a B2B firm to collect e- communication data for more than 40 e-negotiations over a two year-period. Using these data, we identified influence tactics expressed as textual cues, and used by salespeople in interactions with buyers during the e-negotiation sales process. Specifically, we identified information sharing, recommendation, promise, and assertiveness as four distinct influence tactics. We also analyzed buyers’ emails to develop a corpus of textual cues that reflect buyers’ attention, which is the degree to which a buyer displays behavioral responses to a salesperson’s e-communications.  

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Our analysis revealed that after accounting for known salesperson and customer factors, buyer attention is a leading indicator of contract award. Further, we demonstrate that no individual influence tactic is sufficient to hold a buyer’s attention or win the contract award. Effective use of influence tactics requires the concurrent use of complementary tactics that prompt either internalization (internal analyzing) or compliance (risk-shifting) but not both. Information sharing and recommendation work by persuading the receiver to focus on the merit of the argument (internal-analyzing). On the contrary, promise and assertiveness work by obtaining the compliance of the receiver without attempting to persuade the receiver of the appropriateness of the decision. Thus, promise and assertiveness are known to mitigate decision risk, simplify information processing, and/or reduce uncertainty (risk-shifting). If the salesperson uses any other combination of influence tactics (which we refer to as competitive combination), such as information sharing used with promise or assertiveness or recommendation used with promise or assertiveness, buyer attention decreases.

Our results hold several important implications for salespeople and those who manage them. First, our study recommends that sales organizations incorporate into their training programs guidelines that build buyer attention during sales e-negotiations. We found that a 30% increase in buyer attention increases the likelihood of a contract award sevenfold. We recommend that sales managers specify buyer attention as a key process metric. By measuring buyer attention for each e-negotiation on an ongoing basis, the manager can establish a new performance indicator and identify skill gaps that require more directed coaching.  

Second, by isolating the benefits of using complementary (internal-analyzing or risk-shifting) influence tactics together, we suggest a different path to winning contracts. For instance, the concurrent use of assertiveness and promise tactics evoke compliance during e-negotiations and boost buyer attention by 14% on average. Likewise, the concurrent use of information sharing and recommendation tactics evokes internalization during e-negotiations and results in a 15% increase in buyer attention. On the other hand, competitive combinations that are concurrently deployed invite losses in buyer attention (30% on average) and significantly diminish the likelihood of contract award. 

Read the full article.

From: Sunil Singh, Detelina Marinova, and Jagdip Singh, “B2B E-Negotiations and Influence Tactics,” Journal of Marketing, 84 (March).

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Sunil K. Singh is Assistant Professor of Marketing, College of Business, University of Nebraska–Lincoln, USA.

Detelina Marinova is Frances Ridge Gay MBA Professor and Professor of Marketing, Robert J. Trulaske College of Business, University of Missouri, USA.

Jagdip Singh is AT&T Professor of Marketing, Weatherhead School of Management, Case Western Reserve University, USA.