Does the Customer Matter Most? Exploring Strategic Frontline Employees’ Influence of Customers, the Internal Business Team, and External Business Partners

Christopher R. Plouffe, Willy Bolander, Joseph A. Cote, and Bryan Hochstein
Article Snapshot
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Key Takeaways

The influence of noncustomer stakeholders explains frontline employee's variance in sales performance better than the influence of customers.

Frontline employees (FLEs) can and should be classified into two types:  customer service-oriented and strategic.

FLE performance is not driven solely by their interactions and relationships with customers.

Article Snapshots: Executive Summaries from the Journal of Marketing​

The effectiveness of frontline employee (FLE) influence tactics differs when used across important stakeholder targets​​ (i.e., customers, the internal business team, and external business partners), and noncustomer stakeholder targets are most predictive of FLE sales performance.


“To effectively provide customized offerings for their customers and prospects, modern frontline employees are often required to manage a portfolio of relationships that include not only their customers but also individuals within their own organization and external partner organizations.”​


Research

This research explores how strategic frontline employees (SFLEs) use influence to manage the three different stakeholder groups with whom they interact. Marketing has long assumed that the "customer is king" with respect to the SFLE’s application of influence. However, we find that the customer actually matters the least; instead, the influence directed at the two other seldom-studied stakeholder types -- the "internal bBusiness team" and "external business partners” -- are more significant determinants of SFLE performance.

Method

Using stakeholder theory we test for the effectiveness of FLE influence tactics when used across stakeholder groups (i.e., customers, internal business team, and external business partners) using two sample - one from a real estate context and another from a fitness equipment distribution context. Importantly, and new to the influence literature in marketing, we test the effectiveness of influence tactics on actual, objective sales performance.



The Strategic Frontline Employees’ Influence Tactic Effectiveness Across Stakeholder Groups: A CI Perspective​


Findings

We uncover two major findings: First, we show that influence directed at noncustomer stakeholders (i.e., the FLE's internal business team and external business partners) is more predictive than influence directed at customers.Second, we show that much of what we think we know about influence tactics in marketing relationships does not hold up when influence tactics are tested against objective measures of performance.

Implications

These findings encourage managers to consider how FLEs influence noncustomer stakeholders (i.e., the internal business team and expernal business partners) in the portfolio of relationships they manage. This is particularly important given that our analyses indicate that these noncustomer stakeholders have a stronger impact on FLE sales performance than customers. For researchers, our findings stress the importance of including objective measures of sales performance in our studies of FLEs.


Full Article:
Christopher R. Plouffe, Willy Bolander, Joseph A. Cote, and Bryan Hochstein (2016), “Does the Customer Matter Most? Exploring Strategic Frontline Employees’ Influence of Customers, the Internal Business Team, and External Business Partners,” Journal of Marketing, 80 (1), 106-123.
doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1509/jm.14.0192


Christopher R. Plouffe is Associate Professor of Marketing, College of Business Administration, University of Akron (e-mail: plouffe@uakron.edu).

 


Willy Bolander is Assistant Professor of Marketing, College of Business, Florida State University (e-mail: wbolander@fsu.edu).

 



Joseph A. Cote is Professor of Marketing, College of Business, Washington State University (e-mail: cote@wsu.edu).

 


Bryan Hochstein is Assistant Professor of Marketing, Culverhouse College of Commerce & Business Administration, University of Alabama (e-mail: bwhochstein@cba.ua.edu).​


Author Bio:

 
Christopher R. Plouffe, Willy Bolander, Joseph A. Cote, and Bryan Hochstein
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