Revisit: The Sales Force


From Selling to Customer Development, Special issue of Industrial Marketing Management; Deadline 15 Mar 2017


Call for Papers
Special Issue on The Sales Force: From Selling to Customer Development
Deadline: 15 March, 2017

The sales function, is critical to the success of firms since it directly impacts their bottom line. The role of the sales person has always been in a state of flux, but of late the evolution of the sales role has been unprecedented (Sheth and Sharma 2008). Many of the activities previously carried out by salespeople are now increasingly done by customers and service personnel (Sheth and Sharma 2006), leaving salespeople to focus on activities that are best described as customer development. Most of these customer development activities involve a very deep understanding of the customer’s specific business and operations as well as the customer’s industry more generally.

In the sphere of industrial marketing we are simultaneously witnessing a sharp increase in the sophistication of the purchasing function and the phenomenon of procurement playing a much more strategic role within firms (Sheth, Sharma and Iyer 2008). In B2B selling salespeople are called upon to understand the customer’s buying process, the buying center with the different motivations of various stakeholders, and also the stage of evolution of the purchasing function in terms of the strategic role that it plays in the buying firm (Trkman et al., 2015). All these activities of the industrial salesperson also fall under the umbrella of customer development activities.

Another prominent shift is that standard products and services which were previously handled by salespeople are now increasingly being ordered by the customers directly using call centers or the selling firm’s e-commerce sites (Sharma and Sheth 2010). Salespeople are increasingly required to sell customized, high value added solutions that require a deep level of engagement with customers to understand their needs, objectives and business processes (Sharma and Iyer 2011; Ulkuniemi, Araujo and Tähtinen 2015). In business markets this is further complicated because the sales people have to understand not only their immediate customers but their customer’s customers. Along the same lines, a major change is the growing prominence of Inside Sales and their changing role. While it is true that inside sales often handle the more routine products and services, they too are required to be sensitive to customers’ wants and needs. How can inside sales people, who work within the boundaries of the firm, do effective customer development?

Finally, a call of greater accountability of all business functions also requires the sales person to be more entrepreneurial when they approach customers with new solutions and/or products (c.f., Morris, Avila and Teeple. 1990; Morris, Schindehutte and LaForge 2002). Most of these new solutions are complex and require integrated co-creation by the sellers and buyers, where the latter guides the customization of these solutions to their specific context. Selling these complex solutions almost always requires a customization of the sales process itself, and salespeople are required to play the role of entrepreneurs when they develop their territories for such solutions. With well-understood standard products, salespeople require an execution process of a known business model. This is where the standard sales and sales management tools and literature and advice make sense. With entrepreneurial selling of less-understood, customized products the salespeople are forced into a search process of an unknown business model. In these situations the standard sales and sales management process is much less effective. Such entrepreneurial sales tasks require as a critical success factor, and indeed have to start with, customer development (Blank and Dorf 2012).

The purpose of this special issue call is to bring together high quality contemporary research on the customer development activities of sales people in the business-to-business environment. Addressing the myriad challenges and recent developments in sales, the papers in this special issue will provide relevant and interesting managerial implications and outline avenues for future research. We are open to both conceptual and empirical manuscripts with clear relevance to sales and customer development that fit the scope of the Special Issue, and welcome submissions using different methodological approaches. We are looking for submissions with clear empirical and/or theoretical contributions and robust methodological applications. Possible topics include, but are not limited to:

  • Strategy and processes for understanding the needs of business-to-business customers.
  • Strategy for working with buying centers to enhance customer development.
  • Understanding the needs of the procurement function and the interaction of sales people with procurement functions
  • How sales people deal with the increased sophistication of buyers and the purchasing departments
  • Sales skills required for customer development activities
  • The role of hunters and farmers in customer development activities
  • The effect of the emergence of sales/service integration on customer development activities.
  • Customer development issues in solution and consultative selling.
  • Entrepreneurial sales and customer development.

Submission Procedures

To submit a paper please visit the IMM editorial site

register as an author and submit the paper as the site will instruct you. When you get to the step in the process that asks you for the type of paper, select SI: Sales and Customer Development. All papers will be reviewed through the standard double-blind peer review process of IMM. In preparation of their manuscripts, authors are asked to follow the Author Guidelines closely. A guide for authors, sample articles and other relevant information for submitting papers are available at:

All queries about the special issue should be sent to the Guest Editors (see below).

Special Issue Co-editors


Blank, Steve, and Bob Dorf (2012), The startup owner’s manual. K&S: Ranch.

Bonner, Joseph M, & Roger J. Calantone, (2005), “Buyer attentiveness in buyer–supplier relationships”, Industrial Marketing Management, Vol 34, No 1, pp 53-61.

Morris, Michael, Minet Schindehutte, Raymond LaForge (2002), “Entrepreneurial marketing: A construct for integrating emerging entrepreneurship and marketing perspectives”, Journal of Marketing Theory and Practice, Fall, pp 1-19.

Morris, Michael H., Ramon Avila, and Eugene Teeple. (1990), "Sales management as an entrepreneurial activity." Journal of Personal Selling & Sales Management 10, no. 2: 1-15..

Sharma, Arun and Jagdish N. Sheth (2010), “A Framework of Technology Mediation in Consumer Selling: Implications for Firms and Sales Management,” Journal of Personal Selling and Sales Management, 30, 2 (Spring), 121-29.

Sharma, Arun and Gopalkrishnan R. Iyer (2011), “Are Pricing Policies an Impediment to the Success of Customer Solutions?” Industrial Marketing Management, 40, 723-29.

Sheth, Jagdish N., and Arun Sharma (2006), “Surpluses and Shortages in B2B markets,” Journal of Business and Industrial Marketing, 21, 7, 422-27.

Sheth, Jagdish N. and Arun Sharma (2008), “The Impact of Transitioning from Products to Services in Business and Industrial Markets on the Evolution of the Sales Organization,” Industrial Marketing Management, 37, 260–269.

Sheth, Jagdish N., Arun Sharma and Gopalkrishnan R. Iyer (2009), “Why Integrating Purchasing with Marketing is both Inevitable and Beneficial,” Industrial Marketing Management, 33, 8, 865-71.

Trkman, Peter, Willem Mertens, Stijn Viaene and Paul Gemmel (2015), “From business process management to customer process management,” Business Process Management Journal, Vol 21, No 2, pp 250-266.

Tuli, Kapil R., Ajay K. Kohli, and Sundar G. Bharadwaj (2007), "Rethinking customer solutions: from product bundles to relational processes." Journal of Marketing 71, no. 3: 1-17.

> Ulkuniemi, Pauliina, Luis Araujo and Jaana Tähtinen (2015), “Purchasing as market-shaping: The case of component-based software engineering”, Industrial Marketing Management, Vol 44, pp 54-62.