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University of Nebraska–Lincoln

Sales Research

Center for Sales Excellence

Producing High-Caliber Sales Research

The Center for Sales Excellence helps identify, align and conduct research in collaboration with medium and large-sized companies. The center provides academics and executives an ideal environment to blend theory and practice by encouraging and fostering collaboration. As the selling landscape evolves, companies trust the center to provide research-informed best practices to complement and challenge current decision-making processes. Monitoring and embracing marketplace changes ensure the center’s research is relevant and timely, two elements that are crucial for companies to remain competitive.

As demonstrated by the wide array of sales topics published by our faculty, the center embraces a holistic approach to understanding how changes in the selling field may impact broader, less apparent long-term trends. This vision allows the center and companies to work in tandem to uncover, understand and implement cutting-edge academic and industry knowledge to increase sales effectiveness.

Current Research Projects

The center has several academic and practitioner-based projects underway within the personal selling and sales management fields. Topics include:

  • Salesperson Onboarding
  • Salesperson Training
  • Salesperson Retention
  • Sales Enablement
  • Sales Leadership and Coaching
  • Sales Team Composition and Dynamics
  • Sales and Corporate Strategy Implementation

If you are interested in learning more about academic research and opportunities for custom research for your organization, please contact Dr. Ravi Sohi.

Supporting Research

The Center for Sales Excellence is a member of the Organizational Frontlines Research (OFR) group, created by researchers from leading universities to advance knowledge in sales, service, and other marketing frontline areas. Each year, the center co-sponsors the Young Scholar Research (YSR) Competition and the OFR Symposium. Our faculty are also actively engaged in conferences and symposia aimed at developing and disseminating sales research.

2024 OFR Symposium

Young Scholars and Frontlines in Crisis
Research Competition Awards for 2021

SESSION 1: February 18, 2021, 10am - 11am CST
Young Scholar Research Award - Winner Presentations

Discussants: Bitty Balducci (Washington State), Sterling Bone (Utah State), Andrew Crecelius (Iowa State) and Martin Mende (Florida State)

“Who’s In Control: How Default Tip Levels Influence Customer’s Emotions and Engagement” by Nathan Warren (University of Oregon), Sara Hanson (University of Richmond), and Hong Yuan (University of Oregon)

“The Complex Nature of Customer Orientation in Boundary Spanning Roles: An Investigation of Depletion, Customer Depersonalization and Shirking Behavior,” by Jonathan Beck (Boston College), Clay Voorhees (University of Alabama), and Carol L. Esmark Jones (University of Alabama)

“Defining, Measuring and Managing Networked Customer Experience: A Multi-Method Study of Mobile Payment Apps in Retail Settings,” by Nandini Nim (Georgia State University) and V. Kumar (Georgia State University)

SESSION 2: February 18, 2021, 11:30am – 12:30pm CST
Frontlines in Crisis Competition - Winner Presentations

Discussants: Mike Ahearne (Houston), Mike Brady (Florida State), Mark Houston (TCU), John Rudd (Warwick), Ravi Sohi (Nebraska)

“Stopping the Spread: The Role of Blame Attributions and Frontline Staff Measures in Curbing C2C Misbehavior Contagion,” by Ilias Danatzis (King’s College London) and Jana Moller (Freie University Berlin)

“Customer-Salesperson Relationships in Times of Crisis: A Power-Dependency Perspective,” by Claire Cardy (Warwick Business School) and Johannes Habel (University of Houston)

Selected for presentation and workshop development:
“Which Type of AI Solutions Prove Useful During Crisis? Evidence from the COVID-19 Pandemic,” by Linda Alkire (Texas State University), Yashar Atefi (University of Denver), Kaushik Jayaram (University of Georgia) and Irene Nahm (University of Minnesota)

Research Articles Published by Our Faculty on Sales Topics

Dimotakis, Nikolaos, Sherry Fu, Artemis Boulamatsi, Troy A. Smith, Blake A. Runnalls, Lisa S. Lambert, Bennett J. Tepper, and Todd J. Maurer (2022). “Gains and Losses: Week-to-Week Changes in Leader-Follower Relationships.” Academy of Management Journal (forthcoming)
Although the importance of leader-follower relationships in the workplace is widely acknowledged, the impact of changes in such relationships has not been adequately examined. Leader-Member Exchange (LMX) theory and research suggest that leader-follower relationships develop, mature, and then stabilize. Across two studies, we discuss how comparing this week’s leader-follower relationship to last week’s leader-follower relationship can signal improvement (i.e., gains) or deterioration (i.e., losses) in the relationship, with differential implications for positive and negative affect. The effects noted in this study indicate that maintaining relationships can be as essential as cultivating them in the first place. Our findings suggest that people who fail to maintain (or actively hurt) relationships with their partner may risk deterioration, with negative affective implications. Leaders should not assume that their work relationships are static nor that high-quality relationships are permanently established; this is particularly important because of the many downstream consequences of affect. Knowing that people use referents can also be useful, not just in Leader-Member Exchange, but with other factors that cannot be objectively evaluated. Keeping in mind that past states serve as comparisons can thus help managers understand employees better.

Smith, Troy A., Artemis Boulamatsi, Nikolaos Dimotakis, Bennett J. Tepper, Blake A. Runnalls, Christopher S. Reina, Lorenzo Lucianetti (2022). ““How Dare You?!”: A Self-verification Perspective on How Performance Influences the Effects of Abusive Supervision on Job Embeddedness and Subsequent Turnover.” Personnel Psychology (in press)
Higher performers are critical to the success of organizations, making it essential to understand the factors that impact whether they choose to leave their organizations. While turnover, in general, is organizationally costly, losing higher-performing employees is “disproportionately detrimental to organizational success,” as it undermines organizational performance. Thus, it is critical to understand what impacts higher performers’1 choice to leave their organizations. We show that employees’ work-specific self-views (WSSW), which are impacted by their job performance, can influence how strongly they respond to abusive supervision. Our findings are particularly important because they provide additional insights into the costs associated with abusive supervision, by showing that organizations’ most valuable assets (i.e., higher performers) are much less likely to be organizationally embedded and more likely to quit when they are subject to abusive supervision. Indeed, across three field studies, we find that job and leader satisfaction of higher performers is undermined more severely than lower performers, thus reducing higher performers’ job embeddedness and subsequent likelihood of voluntarily leaving their organizations. These findings are especially impactful given higher performers’ visibility inside their organizations and their abilities to impact other employees’ attitudes and behaviors, and the detrimental impact their turnover has on organizational performance.

Reilly, Tim, Amit Saini and Jenifer Skiba (2020). "Ethical purchasing dissonance: Antecedents and coping behaviors." Journal of Business Ethics 163(3): 577-597.
The pressure of oversight and scrutiny in the business-to-business purchasing process has the potential to cause psychological distress in purchasing professionals, giving rise to apprehensions about being ethically inappropriate. Utilizing depth interviews with public sector purchasing professionals in a phenomenological approach, the authors develop the notion of ethical purchasing dissonance to explain the psychological distress. An inductively derived conceptual framework is presented for ethical purchasing dissonance that explores its potential antecedents and consequences; illustrative propositions are presented, and managerial implications are discussed.

Singh, Sunil K., Detelina Marinova and Jagdip Singh (2020). "Business-to-business e-negotiations and influence tactics." Journal of Marketing 84(2): 47-68.
E-negotiations, or sales negotiations over email, are increasingly common in business-to-business (B2B) sales, but little is known about selling effectiveness in this medium. This research investigates salespeople's use of influence tactics as textual cues to manage buyers' attention during B2B e-negotiations to win sales contract award. Drawing on studies of attention as a selection heuristic, the authors advance the literature on mechanisms of sales influence by theorizing buyer attention as a key mediating variable between the use of influence tactics and contract award. They use a unique, longitudinal panel spanning more than two years of email communications between buyers and salespeople during B2B sales negotiations to develop a validated corpus of textual cues that are diagnostic of salespeople's influence tactics in e-negotiations. These e-communications data are augmented by salesperson in-depth interviews and survey, archival performance data, and a controlled experimental study with professional salespeople. The obtained results indicate that the concurrent use of compliance or internalization-based tactics as textual cues bolsters buyers' attention and is associated with greater likelihood of contract award. In contrast, concurrent use of compliance and internalization-based tactics is prone to degrade buyer attention and likely to put the salesperson at a disadvantage in closing the contract award.

Gupta, Aditya, Alok Kumar, Rajdeep Grewal and Gary L. Lilien (2019). "Within-seller and buyer–seller network structures and key account profitability." Journal of Marketing 83(1): 108-132.
In business-to-business (B2B) markets, the success of key account management (KAM) teams depends on how they are structured and how they handle customer relationships. The authors conceptualize relationships among selling team members as a within-seller (intrafirm) network and the relationships between selling team members and buyer representatives as a buyer–seller (interfirm) network. Drawing on both structural (buyer–seller density, within-seller density, and within-seller centralization) and functional (buyer–seller similar function ties and within-seller cross-functional ties) composition attributes of these networks, the authors examine how the interplay between these networks drives seller account profitability. Using data from 207 key account managers across B2B industries, the authors uncover a nuanced pattern of interplay across the two networks. Densities in the two networks are mutually substitutive, but density in the buyer–seller networks and centralization in the within-seller networks serve complementary roles. Cross-function ties in the within-seller network serve a complementary role too, but only in relation to similar function ties in the buyer–seller network. In contrast, within-seller centralization supports both network density and similar function ties in the buyer–seller network and, thus, emerges as a valuable KAM team characteristic. These findings suggest multiple ways for firms to align interfirm and intrafirm KAM networks to improve account profitability.

Singh, Jagdip, Karen Flaherty, Ravipreet S. Sohi, Dawn Deeter-Schmelz, Johannes Habel, Kenneth Le Meunier-FitzHugh, Avinash Malshe, Ryan Mullins and Vincent Onyemah (2019). "Sales profession and professionals in the age of digitization and artificial intelligence technologies: Concepts, priorities, and questions." Journal of Personal Selling & Sales Management 39(1): 2-22.
Recognizing the rapid advances in sales digitization and artificial intelligence technologies, the authors develop concepts, priorities, and questions to help guide future research and practice in the field of personal selling and sales management. Their analysis reveals that the influence of sales digitalization technologies, which include digitization and artificial intelligence, is likely to be more significant and more far reaching than previous sales technologies. To organize the analysis of this influence, the authors discuss the opportunities and threats that sales digitalization technologies pose for (a) the sales profession in terms of its contribution to creating value for customers, organizations, and society and (b) sales professionals, in terms of both employees in organizations and individuals as self, seeking growth, fulfillment, and status in the functions they serve and roles they live. They summarize their discussion by detailing specific research priorities and questions that warrant further study and development by researchers and practitioners alike.

Skiba, Jenifer, Amit Saini and Scott B. Friend (2019). "Sales manager cost control engagement: Antecedents and performance implications." Journal of Personal Selling & Sales Management 39(2): 123-137.
Many organizations face competing agendas by which they are expected to simultaneously grow sales output while controlling associated costs. At the interface of this organizational pressure and the sales force's implementation of such initiatives is the sales manager. However, questions with significant implications remain regarding how a sales manager's requisite engagement with cost control affects sales performance. To address this issue, the authors conceptualize and operationalize the notion of sales manager cost control engagement. Results from a survey of 178 business-to-business sales managers show the antecedent and consequence effects of sales manager cost control engagement. A variety of organizational factors are shown to effectively direct the sales manager's attention to cost control, which in turn has a positive impact on cost-related sales performance. These findings add to an emergent body of research aimed at understanding key skills required of sales managers for driving sales performance as well as provide a novel perspective for sales managers to consider when balancing pressures between cost inputs and sales outputs. Several theoretical and managerial implications are offered, as are future research directions.

Friend, Scott B., Jeff S. Johnson and Ravipreet S. Sohi (2018). "Propensity to trust salespeople: A contingent multilevel-multisource examination." Journal of Business Research 83: 1-9.
As sales strategies continue to shift toward long-term partnerships, the influence of trust between buyers and sellers as a building block that facilitates relationship development is increasingly important. While considerable work has been done on the formation of trust, scant research exists on how characteristics of the salesperson and customer jointly influence customer trust in the salesperson. In this paper, the authors investigate the role of customers' existing propensity to trust salespeople in determining their trust of salespeople in newly-formed business-to-business (B2B) relationships. The authors also examine the interactive effects of salesperson characteristics—relational customer orientation and adaptive selling—which moderate this relationship. Multilevel-multisource data from 131 newly-acquired customer key informants and 47 B2B salespeople are utilized to assess the model. Findings show a mixture of salesperson characteristics that accentuate and attenuate the association between customers' preexisting tendencies to trust salespeople and their actual trust in the salesperson.

Marinova, Detelina, Sunil K. Singh and Jagdip Singh (2018). "Frontline problem-solving effectiveness: A dynamic analysis of verbal and nonverbal cues." Journal of Marketing Research (JMR) 55(2): 178-192.
This study examines the impact of frontline employees’ problem solving on customer satisfaction (CSAT) during ongoing interactions prompted by service failures and complaints. Using outsourced regulation theory, the authors predict negative moderating effects of frontline relational work and displayed affect on the dynamic influence of frontline solving work on CSAT. Frontline employees’ verbal (nonverbal) cues provide the basis to identify solving and relational work (displayed affect). The authors test hypotheses with data from video recordings of real-life problem-solving interactions involving airline customers as well as a controlled experimental study. They find that frontline solving work has a positive effect on CSAT, and it increases in magnitude as the interaction unfolds. However, this positive effect becomes weaker for relatively higher levels of frontline relational work or displayed affect and, conversely, stronger for relatively lower levels over time. In summary, overdoing relational work and overdisplaying positive affect diminish the efficacy of problem-solving interactions, a finding that provides implications for theory and practice.

Singh, Sunil, Detelina Marinova, Jagdip Singh and Kenneth R. Evans (2018). "Customer query handling in sales interactions." Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science 46(5): 837-856.
Using a novel approach with video-recordings of sales interactions, this study focuses on a dynamic analysis of salesperson effectiveness in handling customer queries. The authors conceptualize salesperson behaviors, namely, resolving, relating, and emoting, as separate elements of customer query handling and empirically identify the distinct verbal and nonverbal cues that salespeople use to display these behaviors during sales interactions. They draw from compensation effects in social cognition theory to propose that customers’ perceptions of a salesperson’s effectiveness are prone to trade-offs between competence (resolving behaviors) and warmth (relating and emoting behaviors). Results, robust to endogeneity corrections, support the proposed tradeoffs such that the effectiveness of salesperson’s resolving behavior is significantly curtailed, even neutralized, by the salesperson’s relating and emoting behaviors. The authors situate these counterintuitive results within existing theory and research on sales interactions, and outline implications for practice.

Johnson, Jeff S. and Ravipreet S. Sohi (2017). "Getting business-to-business salespeople to implement strategies associated with introducing new products and services." Industrial Marketing Management 62: 137-149.
Strategy implementation remains a perennial challenge for firms. While several studies have examined implementation phenomena at the firm level, we know little about what firms can do to get their salespeople to implement strategies for new products and services. Understanding salespeople's individual-level implementation is of particular importance as salespeople are the frontline employees of the firm responsible for implementing strategies with customers. Drawing from motivation, opportunity, and ability (MOA) theory, this examination investigates factors impacting the implementation of strategies associated with introducing new products and services by the salesperson. The study uses a sample of 277 business-to-business salespeople to test the hypothesized relationships. The findings show both positive and negative moderation among the implementation MOA variables and also provide broad support for their proposed drivers. Additionally, the identified implementation facets of responsiveness and effort are found to positively impact implementation success.

Friend, Scott B., Jeff S. Johnson, Fred Luthans and Ravipreet S. Sohi (2016). "Postive pyschology in sales: Integrating psychological captial." Journal of Marketing Theory & Practice 24(3): 306-327.
As positive psychology moves into the workplace, researchers have been able to demonstrate the desirable impact of positive organizational behavior. Specifically, psychological capital (PsyCap) improves employee attitudes, behaviors, and performance. Advancing PsyCap in sales research is important given the need for a comprehensive positive approach to drive sales performance, offset the high cost of salesperson turnover, improve cross-functional sales interfaces, and enrich customer relationships. The authors provide an integrative review of PsyCap, discuss its application in sales, and advance an agenda for future research. Research prescriptions are organized according to individual-level, intra-organizational, and extra-organizational outcomes pertinent to the sales field.

Johnson, Jeff and Ravipreet Sohi (2016). "Understanding and resolving major contractual breaches in buyer-seller relationships: A grounded theory approach." Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science 44(2): 185-205.
In business-to-business relationships, sellers are often faced with instances of contractual breaches by buyers. In many cases, relationship factors preclude legal enforcement of contract terms, requiring sellers to explore alternate resolution options. Literature on contractual breaches has primarily focused on enforcement options based on terms specified in the contract. However, little is known about how companies deal with contractual breaches by their customers when legal enforcement is not a viable option. The authors use a grounded theory approach to investigate this important issue. Based on in-depth interviews with 40 supplier managers and executives in multiple industries, the authors identify: (a) types of out-of-contract alternatives for resolving breaches, (b) factors that lead to use of enforcement options outside the terms specified in the contract, (c) contextual influences, and (d) individual and firm-level consequences of outside-of-contract enforcement.

Skiba, Jenifer, Amit Saini and Scott B. Friend (2016). "The effect of managerial cost prioritization on sales force turnover." Journal of Business Research 69(12): 5917-5924.
Driven by organizational focus on bottom-line profitability, business-to-business (B2B) sales managers face pressure to justify and control sales expenses. As cost information becomes more accessible, higher value may be placed on this information relative to revenue information to help alleviate this pressure. This study conceptualizes cost prioritization and argues that while bottom-line management gains may ensue, cost prioritization may also have unintended consequences for sales force engagement. Therefore, this research examines the effect of managerial cost prioritization on sales force turnover. Output control, behavior control, and micromanagement are identified as key factors impacting the relationship between cost prioritization and sales force turnover. Empirical testing is based on a survey of B2B sales managers from various industries across the United States. Results indicate cost prioritization increases sales force turnover. Output control attenuates, while micromanagement exacerbates, this relationship. In addition, functional and dysfunctional turnover are differentially impacted by cost prioritization.

Johnson, Jeff and Ravipreet Sohi (2014). "The curvilinear and conditional effects of product line breadth on salesperson performance, role stress, and job satisfaction." Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science 42(1): 71-89.
The impact of how product line breadth affects a salesperson is unclear in the existing literature. While numerous product lines can provide certain benefits to the salesperson, they may also have a dark side. This research examines the impact of number product lines handled by the salespeople on their performance, role stress, and job satisfaction. Based on role and schema theories, the study tests a series of curvilinear and conditional effects, using data collected from salespeople across multiple industries. The analysis indicates non-linear relationships between number of product lines handled by the salesperson and salesperson performance and role stress. Further, these relationships are contingent on the complexity of products, complementarity of product lines, and lines acquired through mergers and acquisitions. These results show the complex effects of product lines on the salesperson and recognize both the benefits and drawbacks of product line breadth.

Saini, Amit (2010). "Purchasing ethics and inter-organizational buyer–supplier relational determinants: A conceptual framework." Journal of Business Ethics 95(3): 439-455.
This study examines unethical purchasing practices from the perspective of buyer–supplier relationships. Based on a review of the inter-organizational literature and qualitative data from in-depth interviews with purchase managers from diverse industries, a conceptual framework is proposed, and theoretical arguments leading to propositions are presented. Taking into consideration the presence or absence of an explicit or implicit company policy sanctioning ethically questionable activities, unethical purchasing practices are conceptualized as a three-tiered set. Three broad themes emerge from the analysis toward explaining purchasing ethics from a buyer–seller perspective: (a) Inter-organizational power issues ( inter-organizational power and idiosyncratic investments), (b) Inter-organizational relational issues ( long- term orientation and satisfaction), and (c) Interpersonal relational issues ( interpersonal ties and trust). Theoretical and managerial implications of the conceptual framework are discussed.

Malshe, Avinash and Ravipreet S. Sohi (2009). "What makes strategy making across the sales-marketing interface more successful?" Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science 37(4): 400-421.
Existing research on marketing strategy making (MSM) lacks process-based theoretical frameworks that elucidate how marketing strategies are made when sales and marketing functions are involved in the process. Using a grounded theory approach and data collected from (a) 58 depth interviews with sales and marketing professionals and (b) a focus group with 11 marketing professionals, the study shows that MSM within the sales-marketing interface is a three-stage, multifaceted process that consists of Groundwork, Transfer and Follow-up stages. The model explicates the specific activities at each stage that are needed to develop and execute marketing strategies successfully, the sequence in which these activities may unfold, and the role sales and marketing functions may play in the entire process. Managerially, this paper highlights that successful strategy creation and execution requires marketing and sales functions to be equally invested in the entire process.

Malshe, Avinash and Ravipreet S. Sohi (2009). "Sales buy-in of marketing strategies: Exploration of its nuances, antecedents, and contextual conditions." Journal of Personal Selling & Sales Management 29(3): 207-225.
This study uses a qualitative research design with the grounded theory method to explore the multifaceted nature of sales buy-in--that is, the sales function's belief that marketers' proposed strategy is appropriate and has merit. Based on 49 in-depth interviews with sales and marketing professionals, the findings indicate that obtaining sales buy-in consists of four key components: (1) objectivity and rational persuasion, (2) sensitivity and responsiveness to reality, (3) involvement in strategy creation, and (4) positioning for success. The findings also show that three organizational-level factors play an important role in determining sales buy-in: (1) eliminating interfunctional walls, (2) bridging the cultural divide between sales and marketing, and (3) developing interfunctional relationships. Last, sales buy-in depends on two contextual conditions--hierarchy and strategy absorption time.


Sohi, Ravi
Executive Director of the Center for Sales Excellence
HLH 335 D
P.O. Box 880492
Lincoln, NE 68588-0492