Social Networks Within Sales Organizations: Their Development and Importance for Salesperson Performance

Willy Bolander, Cinthia B. Satornino, Douglas E. Hughes, and Gerald R. Ferris
Article Snapshot
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social networks within sales organizations
Key Takeaways

The social networks salespeople have within their own organization have a profound impact on their sales performance.

Relational and positional centrality drive sales performance because they allow salespeople access to reputational and informational resources.

Relational centrality is when a salesperson is connected to others who are well connected. Positional centrality is when a salesperson is connected to others who are only connected to each other through the salesperson (i.e., salesperson is an "information bridge").​

 

Article Snapshots: Executive Summaries from the Journal of Marketing​


Most sales training efforts are focused on external customer interactions and relationships, but this research shows that building powerful internal social networks can also significantly enhance sales performance.​


"Internal social network structures, and the implied social capital that occupying advantageous network positions provides, affect not only internal outcomes such as performance evaluations and job satisfaction for salespeople but also salespeople’s ability to generate actual sales."

"Researchers should not assume that all centralities represent similar underlying network characteristics."


Resea​rch

For decades, marketing researchers have attempted to explain salesperson performance by looking at either salesperson characterisitcs or behaviors with customers. These efforts often result in models that can explain only 10%-20% of the variance in sales performance. This study explores the impact of salespeople's relationships within their own organization on salesperson performance and produces a model capable of explaining 26.6% of the variance in sales performance.

Method

We use a social network analysis in which salespeople in a single company report all of their significant relationships within their organization to predict objective salesperson performance.


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Findings

Internal social networks (in the form of relational and positional centralities) are extremely valuable determinants of salesperson performance. Managers should spend more time encouraging outside salespeople to develop relationships with others in the organization. Sales performance is determined by more than merely what happens with customers.

 

Implications

Despite the managerial temptation to encourage salespeople to spend all their time with customers and prospects, our results suggest that there is wisdom in encouraging salespeople to develop certain types of relationships within their own firms. Specifically, salespeople gain substantial performance benefits by building relationships with those who are well connected in the firm (i.e., relational centrality, which results in reputational resources) and with those who are not otherwise connected (i.e., positional centrality, which results in informational resources).​


Relational and Positional Centrality: Two network graph characteristics that can provide distinct value to a salesperson.​


Full Article:

Willy Bolander, Cinthia B. Satornino, Douglas E. Hughes, and Gerald R. Ferris (2015), “Social Networks Within Sales Organizations: Their Development and Importance for Salesperson Performance,” Journal of Marketing, 79 (6), 1-16.
doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1509/jm.14.0444​


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



Cinthia B. Satornino (corresponding author) is Assistant Professor of Marketing, D’Amore-McKim School of Business, Northeastern University (e-mail: c.satornino@neu.edu).



Douglas E. Hughes is Associate Professor of Marketing, Eli Broad College of Business, Michigan State University (e-mail: dhughes@msu.edu).



Gerald R. Ferris​ is Francis Eppes Professor of Management, College of Business, Florida State University (e-mail: gferris@business.fsu.edu).


Author Bio:

 
Willy Bolander, Cinthia B. Satornino, Douglas E. Hughes, and Gerald R. Ferris
Willy Bolander is Assistant Professor of Marketing, College of Business, Florida State University (e-mail: wbolander@bus​iness.fsu.edu). Cinthia B. Satornino (corresponding author) is Assistant Professor of Marketing, D’Amore-McKim School of Business, Northeastern University (e-mail: c.satornino@neu.edu). Douglas E. Hughes is Associate Professor of Marketing, Eli Broad College of Business, Michigan State University (e-mail: dhughes@msu.edu). Gerald R. Ferris​ is Francis Eppes Professor of Management, College of Business, Florida State University (e-mail: gferris@business.fsu.edu).
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