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Gender effects on buyer perceptions of male and female sales representatives in China

Stephen J. Newell (Department of Marketing, Haworth College of Business, Western Michigan University, Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA)
Duke Leingpibul (Department of Marketing, Haworth College of Business, Western Michigan University, Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA)
Bob Wu (Bowling Green State University College of Business, Bowling Green, Ohio, USA)
Yang Jiang (School of Business Management, Shandong University of Finance and Economics, Ji’nan, China)

Journal of Business & Industrial Marketing

ISSN: 0885-8624

Article publication date: 28 June 2019

Issue publication date: 7 October 2019




Women in many countries are breaking through the gender barrier and are working in positions where they have a major impact on the buying and selling activities in business-to-business relationships. A number of studies have investigated the role gender plays in driving perceptions of sales representatives in the USA, however, little research has been undertaken on this important topic in China, one of the largest and most influential countries. Consequently, the purpose of this study is to examine whether the gender of both the buyer and seller, affects perceptions of expertise, trust and loyalty in business relationships.


A survey instrument was developed, tested and used on individuals with purchasing responsibility in China. Confirmatory factor analysis was used in the pre-test and the final study data to develop and refine measurement instruments, assessing construct validity, identifying method effects and evaluating factor variance across groups. Independent t-tests were used to compare male and female buyers on their evaluation of sales reps.


The results indicate that the gender of the sales person does not seem to be a consideration for male buyers in evaluating reps in any of the variables tested. However, female buyers consistently give less favorable evaluations to female sales people than male sales representatives. The possible implications of these findings are discussed.

Research limitations/implications

First, this research uses a quantitative methodology in both the collection and analysis of the data. Thus, future studies may want to use a qualitative data set to gain a more in-depth understanding of the business-to-business relationships between men and women in the workplace. Also, as the study was concentrated on a relatively small number of business professionals from only one area in China, subsequently researchers should consider increasing the geographic domain where respondents are sampled, to help improve the generalizability of the results.

Practical implications

The gender bias by female buyers found in this study has several important implications for businesses in China. Specifically, the suggests that female buyers may carry with them a “collective negative bias” against other women, in this case, female sales reps. The solution to this problem is not to avoid assigning female sales reps to female buyers, rather, it is to change the negative collective social-esteem identity preconceptions. Organizations can do this through training by making women aware of their own predisposition to unfairly evaluate women that they interact with in the workplace.


It has been argued that gender plays a small role in perceptions of sales representatives in buyer-seller relationships. While this seems to be true in the USA, it has not (until now) been empirically tested in China. Somewhat surprisingly, the gender differences we did uncover are not from male buyers in their assessments, but from female buyers in their evaluation of women sales representatives. This result provides some interesting insight into Chinese business relationships and how some women in positions of power are more critical of other women within their sphere of influence.



Newell, S.J., Leingpibul, D., Wu, B. and Jiang, Y. (2019), "Gender effects on buyer perceptions of male and female sales representatives in China", Journal of Business & Industrial Marketing, Vol. 34 No. 7, pp. 1506-1520.



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