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The combined effect of customer perceptions about a salesperson’s adaptive selling and selling orientation on customer trust in the salesperson: a contingency perspective

Paolo Guenzi (Department of Marketing, Università Commerciale Luigi Bocconi, Milano, Italy)
Luigi M. De Luca (Marketing and Strategy Section, Cardiff Business School, Cardiff, UK)
Rosann Spiro (Marketing Department, Kelley School of Business, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana, USA)

Journal of Business & Industrial Marketing

ISSN: 0885-8624

Article publication date: 3 May 2016



This paper aims to examine the impact of customer perceptions about a salesperson’s combined use of adaptive selling (AS) and selling orientation (SO) on customer trust in the salesperson. Based on insights from attribution theory, the contingency model of salespeople’ effectiveness, relationship marketing and market orientation literatures, the authors analyze the interplay between customer perceptions of salespeople’s AS and SO, and how this affects customer trust. Furthermore, adopting a contingency perspective, the authors investigate how two important situational variables (i.e. length of buyer–seller relationships and importance of purchase for the buyer) affect this relationship.


This study is based on regression analysis with two- and three-way interactions, using survey data from 134 business-to-business (B2B) buyers.


The results indicate that the interplay between AS and SO is negatively related to trust, and that the above situation is attenuated in sales contexts characterized by high purchase importance or enduring buyer–seller relationships.

Research limitations/implications

The empirical findings are based on firms from a single industry. Second, a cross-sectional research design is adopted. Third, the absence of measures of objective performance (e.g. sales) might be regarded as a limitation.

Practical implications

The study suggests that salespeople willing to win customer trust should modify their approach across the relationship life cycle. Similarly, when purchase importance for the customer is low, salespeople interested in building relationships based on trust should combine AS and customer orientation. In contrast, when purchase importance is high, salespeople can only generate more trust by increasing customer orientation/reducing SO. These findings might inspire sales trainers and sales managers in developing training experiences based on adaptation and customer orientation.


The research contributes in several ways to the literature. First, the simultaneous effect of AS and SO on performance (i.e. customer trust) was investigated. Second, the analysis of the interaction between AS and SO was complemented by testing two important boundary conditions residing in the selling situation: purchase importance and relationship length. Third, this study is the first to examine the interplay among AS, SO and selling context outside using customer data from actual B2B sales interactions. Also, it enhances knowledge of the effects of AS on sales outcomes by adding a long-term, relational outcome (i.e. trust) to previous work that tended to focus on short-term outcomes (i.e. sales revenues). Furthermore, by investigating perceived benefits from the point of view of customers rather than sellers, our findings add to previous studies of AS which relied too heavily, or exclusively, on the voice of the seller. Finally, this study shed further light on the role played by SO in affecting customer-based performance.



Guenzi, P., De Luca, L.M. and Spiro, R. (2016), "The combined effect of customer perceptions about a salesperson’s adaptive selling and selling orientation on customer trust in the salesperson: a contingency perspective", Journal of Business & Industrial Marketing, Vol. 31 No. 4, pp. 553-564.



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