The role of salesperson brand selling confidence in enhancing important sales management outcomes: a social identity approach

Bashar S. Gammoh (Marketing and International Business, University of Toledo, Ohio, USA)
Michael L. Mallin (Marketing and International Business, University of Toledo, Ohio, USA)
Ellen Bolman Pullins (University of Toledo, Ohio, USA)
Catherine M. Johnson (University of Toledo, Ohio, USA)

Journal of Business & Industrial Marketing

ISSN: 0885-8624

Publication date: 3 April 2018

Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of the study is to address the gap in understanding how the brand influences sales outcomes by focusing one’s attention on the salesperson perceptions of the brand and the salesperson brand selling confidence.

Design/methodology/approach

The study uses a cross-section survey of professional salespeople. SmartPLS was used to estimate the measurement model and test the hypothesized path relationships.

Findings

The study’s results indicate that salespeople who believe in the strength of the brands they represent are more likely to identify with the brand, are more confident in selling the brand and, overall, tend to perform better, have higher job satisfaction and are more committed to their companies.

Originality/value

This paper contributes to the sales literature by further exploring the relationship between the brand and sales function in the firm. This area has recently received academic attention but has not yet considered the mediating processes that connect the two areas. This study identifies perceptions of brand strength and brand selling confidence as mechanisms that mediate the impact of brand on sales outcomes.

Keywords

Citation

Gammoh, B., Mallin, M., Pullins, E. and Johnson, C. (2018), "The role of salesperson brand selling confidence in enhancing important sales management outcomes: a social identity approach", Journal of Business & Industrial Marketing, Vol. 33 No. 3, pp. 277-290. https://doi.org/10.1108/JBIM-11-2016-0274

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Publisher

:

Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2018, Emerald Publishing Limited


Introduction

Salesperson self-efficacy, the belief (or confidence) in one’s ability to perform a specific selling task within a given context (Bandura, 1986, 1997; Stajkovic and Luthans, 1998), has received considerable attention from both academic researchers and practitioners owing to its importance in influencing key sales outcomes (Wang and Netemeyer, 2002; Ahearne et al., 2005b; Arnold et al., 2009; Krishnan et al., 2002; Jaramillo and Mulki, 2008). For example, existing research shows the positive effect of higher levels of salesperson self-efficacy on their selling intentions of a new product (Fu et al., 2010), job satisfaction (Arnold et al., 2009; Lai and Chen, 2012), sales efforts (Krishnan et al., 2002; Jaramillo and Mulki, 2008) and sales performance (Ahearne et al., 2005b; Krishnan et al., 2002), among other outcomes. Understanding the factors that influence salesperson self-efficacy and confidence is important given its potential payoffs (Krishnan et al., 2002; Jaramillo and Mulki, 2008). Existing research investigates some of the organizational and individual level factors that promote salesperson self-efficacy (Ahearne et al., 2005b). For example, a number of factors such as leadership empowerment behaviors (Ahearne et al., 2005b) and leader’s supportive style (Jaramillo and Mulki, 2008) have been shown to enhance salesperson perceived self-efficacy and selling confidence. Individual differences represent another important type of salesperson self-efficacy. For example, Yang et al. (2011) examined the role of salesperson conscientiousness and extraversion as antecedents of their self-efficacy. Other organizational factors and individual differences may also play a key role.

The brand is an important contextual organizational factor that influences important sales outcomes. Recently, researchers have turned their attention to the role that the salespeople, and the brands they represent play in influencing their attitudes and behaviors and ultimately performance (Hughes and Ahearne, 2010; Badrianarayana and Laverie, 2011; Gammoh et al., 2014a, 2014b; Allison et al., 2016). This work demonstrates an understanding that the brand and the salesperson interact in influencing the success of selling a product, service or solution. However, to date, no one has considered how the salesperson’s perceptions of the brand could potentially impact confidence in selling it, or its impact on other important outcomes. This understanding is especially important because the perceptions and confidence can be directly impacted by sales managers.

At this point, it is important to highlight the difference between what the social cognitive theory (SCT) calls general self-efficacy and domain-specific self-efficacy. The first is viewed as a personal trait-like characteristic that reflects a person’s overall belief in his or her ability to perform a wide variety of jobs under different conditions and in different contexts, whereas the latter reflects belief in one’s ability to perform a specific task within specific context or domain (Bandura, 1986). While most salesperson self-efficacy research has been broad and general in nature, some research has considered more domain-specific aspects of self-efficacy. For instance, Tarafdar et al. (2014) identified a technology domain-specific efficacy, which dealt with the specific confidence a salesperson had in his or her own ability to use selling technologies. They showed that this domain-specific technology efficacy could mitigate the negative effect of technostress on salesperson technology-enabled innovation and in overall performance (Tarafdar et al., 2014). In another recent study, Román and Rodríguez (2015) showed that salesperson technology self-efficacy moderates the influence of technology use on salesperson skills, customer-oriented selling and performance. Interestingly, they found that technology use only enhances the performance of salespeople with high self-efficacy levels. The concept of domain-specific efficacies can be extended to the area of concern here, salesperson brand selling confidence. Rather than a broad confidence in an overall ability to perform the selling role, we define brand selling confidence as a domain-specific efficacy representing the salesperson’s belief (or confidence) in his/her ability to represent the brand in the selling context and is primarily driven by salesperson perceptions and relationship with the brand. More specifically, brand selling confidence is essentially driven by brand related factors such as the salesperson perceptions of brand image strength and level of identification with the brand. However, as we pointed above, overall selling efficacy is influenced by a number of organizational and individual level factors such as leadership empowerment behaviors and personality characteristics (Ahearne et al., 2005b; Yang et al., 2011).

In this paper, we focus on the role of salesperson perceptions of the brand in influencing salesperson brand selling confidence and subsequently some important sales outcomes. More specifically, we investigate the role of salesperson perceptions of the strength of the image of the brand they represent, which we call “brand image strength”, and their level of identification with the brand in enhancing salesperson brand selling confidence. Further, we examine the direct and mediating role of salesperson brand selling confidence in influencing sales performance, organizational commitment and job satisfaction. The purpose of our paper is to hypothesize and empirically test these antecedents and consequences of salesperson brand selling confidence. Doing so holds important theoretical and practical implications. Our study contributes to existing literature by combining social identity and social cognitive theories to further understand the underlying mechanism of the relationship between salespeople brand identification and important sales outcomes. More specifically, we introduce the notion of salesperson brand selling confidence (a domain-specific efficacy), which is driven by perceptions of brand image strength and the degree of identification with the brand. As such, we contribute to the salesperson self-efficacy literature by presenting a brand driven route that positively influences salesperson selling confidence, which subsequently influences important sales outcomes. In addition, this paper builds on recent research in the relationship between salesperson and brand by showing that the perceptions of the brand ultimately influence sales outcomes (Hughes and Ahearne, 2010; Badrianarayana and Laverie, 2011; Gammoh et al., 2014a, 2014b; Allison et al., 2016). Further, and more significantly, it attempts to theoretically and empirically understand the mechanism by which the organization’s brand influences sales outcomes. We do this by using the concept of salesperson brand selling confidence, a domain-specific efficacy routed in SCT, to better understand the relationship between salespeople brand identification and sales outcomes.

Our paper has important implications for salesforce management, as well as brand management. Our paper highlights the importance of aligning the salesforce with what the brand stands for through internal marketing efforts. This is important given the recent research findings that brand representatives (e.g. customer-contact service employees and salespeople) play a key role in connecting the brand and external stakeholders (Lynch and de Chernatony, 2007; Gupta et al., 2010). Our results indicate that salespeople who believe in the strength of the brands they represent are more likely to identify with the brand, are more confident in selling the brand and overall tend to perform better, be more satisfied with their jobs and more committed to their companies.

The rest of the paper proceeds as follows. First, we provide an overview of relevant literature on identification and self-efficacy and highlight the importance of salesperson brand identification and brand selling confidence within the sales management context. Second, we develop specific hypotheses relating to the antecedents and consequences of salesperson brand selling confidence. Third, we explain our methodology and present and discuss our results. Finally, implications, limitations and directions for future research are discussed.

Literature background

Social identity theory and identification

Within an organizational context, social identification has been defined as “the degree to which a member defines himself or herself by the same attributes that he or she believes define the organization” (Dutton et al., 1994, p. 239). In general, the identification construct is grounded in social identity theory (SIT; Tajfel, 1978; Tajfel and Turner, 1985), which postulates that individuals develop a sense of who they are by defining themselves in term of social identities of the different social group they belong to. According to SIT, social identities are created through two processes. The first involves self-categorization which denotes that individuals assign themselves to different social groups to which they belong (e.g. workgroup, organization, etc.). The second is a process of social comparisons in which these groups act as a reference point for in-group and out-group comparisons that in turn derive and influence their beliefs, attitudes and behaviors’ (Tajfel, 1978; Tajfel and Turner, 1985). An important premise of SIT is that individuals are driven to engage in behaviors that protect and enhance the image and status of the groups they identify with. Such motives and behaviors are considered self-serving and self-sustaining because these groups play a key role in defining and preserving an individual’s own social identity and self-esteem (Tajfel and Turner, 1985; Ashforth and Mael, 1989).

Over the last few decades, SIT and identification has been used to understand employees’ identification with their organizations (Ashforth and Mael, 1989; Dutton et al., 1994; Van Dick, 2001), consumers’ identification with companies and brands (Bhattacharya and Sen, 2003; Bhattacharya et al., 1995) and sports fans’ identification with teams (Carlson et al., 2009). Collectively, consumer–company identification research investigated a number of the antecedents and outcomes of higher levels of consumers’ identification with the companies they favor (Bhattacharya and Sen, 2003; Bhattacharya et al., 1995; Ahearne et al., 2005a, 2005b). For example, Ahearne et al. (2005a) findings show that favorable perceived company characteristics, perceptions of the company salespeople and external company image all enhance customers’ identification with that company. In turn, such identification exerts positive impact on customers’ in role and extra role behaviors. In a more recent study, Haumann et al. (2014) longitudinal study results show that higher levels of customer–company identification have positive initial effects on customers’ loyalty and willingness to pay and that these effects are persistent overtime.

Along the same lines, existing organizational identification research highlights the positive organizational outcomes of higher levels of employees’ identification with the organization they belong to. Employees with higher levels of identification with their organizations tend to perform better (Riketta, 2005; Walumbwa et al., 2008; Wieseke et al., 2009), are more committed to their organizations (Bergami and Bagozzi, 2000; Meyer et al., 2006) and are more satisfied with their jobs (Van Dick et al., 2004). In addition, higher levels of identification with the organization have been shown to have a positive influence on in-role, extra-role behaviors and organizational citizenship behaviors (Homburg et al., 2009; Dukerich et al., 2002). However, most of the research on organizational identification has focused on employees’ identification with the organization as a whole (Ashforth and Mael, 1989; Dutton et al., 1994; Van Dick, 2001). More recently, several researchers highlighted the importance of examining identification at different levels within the organization such as work groups or departments (Van Dick et al., 2004, Bartels et al., 2007).

Only recently, some research efforts in the sales literature examined some antecedents and consequences of salesperson identification with the brands they represent (Gammoh et al., 2014a, 2014b; Badrianarayana and Laverie, 2011; Hughes and Ahearne, 2010). For example, within a retail sales context, Hughes and Ahearne (2010) found that a reseller salesperson’s identification with a manufacturer brand increased effort and extra role behaviors for that specific brand, which in turn enhanced brand performance. Along the same lines, Badrianarayana and Laverie (2011) indicate a positive influence of higher levels of salesperson identification with the brand on sales effort and brand advocacy behaviors. In a more recent study, Gammoh et al. (2014a) demonstrate that a salesperson’s value congruence with their company and the brand they represent enhances their level of identification with the brand and the company, which, in turn, positively influenced some important sales outcomes (i.e. job satisfaction, organizational commitment and outcome performance). In summary, previous research provides evidence that identification with the brand influences salesperson performance. Yet, these research efforts do not account for how these mechanisms operate. Further, the relationships are often relationships that sales managers may have limited ability to control. The inclusion of salesperson perceptions of brand image strength and salesperson brand selling confidence provides a better theoretical understanding of the relationship between salesperson brand identification and important sales outcomes. Brand strength and brand selling confidence may impact the relationship between identification and sales outcomes, offering us a better understanding of the mechanism by which the organization’s brand influences sales outcomes, and additional routes for sales managers to enhance these outcomes.

Social cognitive theory and self-efficacy

In general, self-efficacy refers to the confidence in one’s ability to perform a specific task within a given context (Bandura, 1986, 1997; Stajkovic and Luthans, 1998). More specifically, Bandura (1986), defined self-efficacy as “people’s judgments of their capabilities to organize and execute courses of action required to attain designated types of performance” (Bandura, 1986, p. 391). Self-efficacy is a central construct of SCT that views learning as a dynamic process of interaction between the person, behavior and the environment that involves forethought, action and self-reflection (Bandura, 1986). Existing research has supported the positive relation between self-efficacy and a number of performance outcomes (Gist and Mitchell, 1992; Stajkovic and Luthans, 1998). For example, Stajkovic and Luthans’ (1998) meta-analysis results show a strong positive association between self-efficacy and work-related performance.

As we note above, the SCT literature differentiates between two forms of self-efficacy (Bandura, 1986, 1997; Stajkovic and Luthans, 1998). General self-efficacy is viewed as a personal trait-like characteristic that reflects a person’s overall belief in his or her ability to perform a wide variety of jobs under different conditions, whereas domain-specific self-efficacy reflects belief in one’s ability to perform a specific task within specific context or domain (Bandura, 1986). As such, according to the literature, and in contrast to general self-efficacy, efficacy can be developed at different degrees of task specificity. That is, employees can develop confidence in performing specific tasks within a specific domain. For example, a number of research efforts highlight the importance of salesperson computer self-efficacy or one’s perceptions about his or her ability to use a computer (Compeau and Higgins, 1995), in forming beliefs, attitudes, behaviors and ultimately performance regarding new technology within the work environment (Avlonitis and Panagopoulos, 2005; Speier and Venkatesh, 2002; Tarafdar et al., 2014; Román and Rodríguez, 2015). In our paper, we view brand selling confidence as a domain-specific efficacy, defined as the salesperson’s confidence in his or her ability to successfully represent the brand in the selling context.

Building on SCT (Bandura, 1986, 1997; Stajkovic and Luthans, 1998) and SIT (Tajfel, 1978; Tajfel and Turner, 1985) theories, reviewed above, we develop a theory-driven framework that is illustrated in the model in Figure 1. More specifically, we expect that salesperson perceptions of the strength of the brand image they represent will positively influence their level of identification with the brand and consequently, both will influence salesperson brand selling confidence. Furthermore, sales outcomes such as sales performance, job satisfaction and organizational commitment are expected to be positively related to salesperson brand selling confidence. We also examine the mediating role that salesperson brand selling confidence plays in the relationships between brand identification and each of the three previously mentioned sales outcomes. In what follows, we provide support for each of the proposed relationships in our model.

Research hypotheses development

Brand image strength and salesperson-brand identification

As we cited above, recent research efforts within the sales context highlighted the notion that salespeople may identify not only with their company but also with the brands representing the company (Hughes and Ahearne, 2010; Gammoh et al., 2014a). Similar to Hughes and Ahearne (2010), in this study, we define salesperson brand identification as the degree to which he/she defines himself or herself by the same attributes that he or she believes define a brand (Hughes and Ahearne, 2010, p. 84). This definition is based on Bergami and Bagozzi’s (2000) theoretical conceptualization of identification as a cognitive state in which an individual comes to view himself or herself as a member of a social entity. According to SIT, employees identify with different foci or targets of identification (e.g. social groups, the organization and the brand in our case) to develop their self-image and enhance their self-esteem (Tajfel and Turner, 1985; Ashforth and Mael, 1989). As such, the extent to which the identity of a target of identification influence members’ degree of identification, depends on the attractiveness, distinctiveness and/or the prestige of that identity (Ashforth and Mael, 1989; Mael and Ashforth, 1992; Dutton et al., 1994; Bhattacharya et al., 1995). Considerable research findings within the organizational identification literature empirically demonstrate the positive relationship between employees’ perception of the status and the identity of the organization as a foci of identification and their degree of organizational identification (Mael and Ashforth, 1992; Bhattacharya et al., 1995; Bergami and Bagozzi, 2000; Smidts et al., 2001). For example, Mael and Ashforth (1992) empirically supported the positive association between perceived organizational distinctiveness and higher levels of alumni identification with their alma mater. According to the authors’ organizational distinctiveness provide “a sharper and more salient definition” (p. 107) to members of the organization, which enables them to derive a positive social identity. Bergami and Bagozzi’s (2000) findings indicate the positive influence of perceived organizational prestige and perceived positive organizational stereotypes (such as powerful and caring/participative) on employee’s level of identification. According to the authors, such antecedents enhance a member’s identification because they play a key role in maintaining a coherent sense of self, bolsters member’s distinctiveness and promotes self-enhancement (Bergami and Bagozzi, 2000, p. 562).

As such, we propose the following:

H1.

The higher the salesperson perceived brand image strength the higher the level of salesperson brand identification.

Brand image strength, salesperson-brand identification and brand selling confidence

According to SCT (Bandura, 1986), learning is a process of knowledge acquisition and cognitive processing of information. On the one hand, much of the knowledge and behaviors of employees are generated from the organizational environment they operate within. On the other hand, employees will cognitively process and act upon this knowledge differently depending on their individual differences and personal characteristics (Stajkovic and Luthans, 1998). Employees with a high level of confidence (i.e. self-efficacy) will exert sufficient effort to produce successful outcomes if well executed (Bandura, 1986). Within an SCT framework, the brand can be considered as an organizational factor/asset providing salespeople a rich source of knowledge about what the brand stands for, its main value and how to best represent the brand and deliver its value in different selling situations. However, which and how much of that available information is cognitively processed and actively used by salespeople in taking certain courses of action to achieve desired outcomes differ between salespeople depending on individual differences and characteristics (Sousa et al., 2012). In our study, we propose that salesperson perceptions of the strength of the brand image, as well as the degree of their identification with the brand, are two important individual factors that influence their brand knowledge acquisition and cognitive processing of such information and ultimately their brand selling confidence. Literature on social identification and information processing, suggests that positive information may become more salient to individuals with higher levels of identification with the brand (Bee and Dalakas, 2015). More specifically, salespeople who believe that the brand has a strong image and who have higher levels of identification with the brand should be more motivated and willing to acquire brand information and assign cognitive resources to process such information. Furthermore, such positive perceptions about the brand image strength and their high degree of identification with the brand will enhance their sense of brand selling confidence, that is, their belief in their ability to take the right course of action to achieve the desired outcomes. Salesperson perceptions of strong brand image and their higher levels of identification with the brand enhance their perceptions of control of the situation of selling this brand and enhance their confidence in selling situations.

Similarly, from an SIT perspective, higher levels of salesperson identification with the brand is likely to positively influence their level of confidence in selling the brand. According to Gist and Mitchell (1992), when one models their behavior based on identification with another person, a group or entity, they gain tacit experience or knowledge that enhances their confidence. Such confidence is based on knowing that other people or situations have yielded favorable outcomes. This is consistent with Bandura’s (1997) SCT contentions that when faced with unfamiliar situations, individuals increase their confidence through modeling others in similar scenarios. Identification with the brand should provide salespeople a context to determine how they should act and, in turn, expands their knowledge base and thus their confidence in selling the brand. Salesperson identification with the brand they sell will provide an added sense of personal attachment to the brand which may positively influence their belief about their ability to determine the correct behaviors associated with selling it (Isaksen, 1983; Walumbwa and Hartnell, 2011).

As such, we propose the following:

H2.

The higher the salesperson perceived brand image strength the higher the salesperson brand selling confidence.

H3.

The higher the salesperson brand identification the higher the salesperson brand selling confidence.

Identification, brand selling confidence and sales outcomes

To capture the positive influence of salesperson identification with the brand and salespeople brand selling confidence, we examine three important sales outcomes: sales performance, organizational commitment and job satisfaction. Ingram et al. (2012) noted that performance, commitment and satisfaction are all important contributors to a salesperson’s overall effectiveness. According to the work of Oliver and Anderson (1994), performance can be defined objectively (e.g. revenue generation, profitability, etc.) or subjectively (adapting to customers, customer orientation, sales planning, sales support activities, etc.). We consider that both are important and should be included when considering salesperson performance. In addition to actual performance, other outcomes have often been considered highly important to overall salesforce effectiveness. Job satisfaction is the salesperson’s perceptions of the job as exciting and challenging and has been connected to positive effects such as lower turnover intention. Finally, organization commitment results in such positive benefits as loyalty, extra effort and positive word-of-mouth. Each of these outcomes has been consistently found to be an important outcome in the literature (Ingram et al., 2012).

Identification and sales outcomes

One of the main tenets of SIT theory is that employees with higher levels of organizational identification tend to engage in activities and behaviors that support the organization (Ashforth and Mael, 1989, Mael and Ashforth, 1992). Existing literature provides considerable empirical evidence in support of the positive consequences of higher levels of identification with the organization in terms increasing employees’ psychological attachment, their caring about the organization and achievement of its goals and their willingness to interact more positively with other members in the organization. As we discussed above, SIT argues that individuals associate themselves with groups that they share similarities with and that such identification predicts the behaviors of the group members (Billing and Tajfel, 1973; Turner, 1975). Therefore, when employees identify with the organization, they are more likely to be satisfied and less likely to leave the organization Akerlof and Kranton (2000). As we noted earlier, the organizational literature provides extensive support for the positive relationship between employees’ organizational identification and their performance, satisfaction and commitment to the organization (Chatman, 1989; O’Reilly et al., 1991; Cable and DeRue, 2002). For example, in a more recent research effort, the results of King and Grace (2010) show that an employee’s degree of psychological attachment to their organization positively influences their level of satisfaction, intentions to stay and positive behaviors.

Within a sales context, several research efforts demonstrate the positive outcomes of higher levels of salesperson identification with the companies and/or brands they represent (Wieseke et al., 2009; Hughes and Ahearne, 2010; Badrianarayana and Laverie, 2011; Gammoh et al., 2014a, 2014b). Within a multiple level, leader–follower relationship, organizational context, Wieseke et al. (2009) found a positive relationship between customer-contact employees’ organizational identification and their sales performance. Hughes and Ahearne (2010) results show that reseller (distributor) salesperson identification with the manufacturer brand they represent positively influenced overall sales performance and brand extra role behaviors. Within a similar context, Badrianarayana and Laverie’s (2011) findings indicate a positive relationship between retail salesperson identification with a manufacturer brand and their sales effort and brand advocacy in support of that brand. Gammoh et al (2014a, 2014b) found that higher levels of salespeople identification with the company and brands they represent leads to higher levels of salespeople behavioral and outcome performance, organizational commitment and job satisfaction. Michel et al.’s (2015) findings show that the retailer frontline salesperson–retailer private brand relationship, defined in terms of salesperson level of brand affect, brand trust and perceived customer recognition owing to the brand, strongly influences salesperson sales motivation and commitment to the firm. In a recent research effort, Allison et al. (2016) argue that salesperson brand attachment serves as a unique psychological resource for salespeople. These results indicate that such attachment increases salesperson selling effort toward the brand and ultimately their job satisfaction.

As such, we propose:

H4.

Higher levels of salesperson brand identification will have a positive influence on salesperson a) sales performance, b) organizational commitment and c) job satisfaction.

Brand selling confidence and sales outcomes

The importance of domain specific-self efficacy in influencing employees’ outcomes lies in its ability to motivate employees to exert more effort, be more persistent and learn how to cope with task-related obstacles (Bandura, 1997; Gist and Mitchell, 1992; Stajkovic and Luthans, 1998). People who believe they have the skills and knowledge to succeed in a particular task are more comfortable and motivated to take action. Existing literature provides considerable theoretical evidence (Bandura, 1997) and empirical results to support the robust positive association between self-efficacy and performance in a variety of contexts, including sales (Stajkovic and Luthans, 1998; Ahearne et al., 2005a; Krishnan et al., 2002; Jaramillo and Mulki, 2008). Stajkovic and Luthans’ (1998) meta-analysis results show a strong positive association between self-efficacy and work-related performance. In fact, based on reviewing 114 studies, the authors reported a corrected weighted average correlation of 0.38 between self-efficacy and work related behaviors. Using a sample of frontline employees within a hospitality industry context, Karatepe et al.’s (2006) findings indicate a positive direct effect of self-efficacy on job satisfaction. Lai and Chen (2012), using a sample of automobile salespeople, found that self-efficacy has a positive effect on job performance and job satisfaction. Ahearne et al. (2005b) research results indicate that salesperson self-efficacy positively influences their job performance. On the basis of two studies in different selling contexts, Krishnan et al. (2002) found that self-efficacy has both direct and indirect (by enhancing sales effort) positive effects on sales performance.

While there are no studies that have looked directly at the influence of self-efficacy on salesperson job satisfaction and organizational commitment, existing researchers provide evidence that confidence is critical to job satisfaction (Stajkovic et al., 2015) and to commitment (Riggio et al., 2013). Stajkovic et al. (2015) use self-regulation theories to hypothesize and support a positive relationship between confidence and job satisfaction amongst a group of car sales associates. Looking outside of the sales literature, satisfaction and commitment are found as outcomes of self-efficacy and confidence in personal relationships (Riggio et al., 2013). Taken together and with previous brand–salesperson findings, these studies point to a connection between brand selling confidence and both job satisfaction and organizational commitment.

Overall, higher levels of brand selling confidence increases salesperson’s expectation of his/her own ability in brand selling situations and are likely to increase motivation to act. A salesperson with higher levels of brand selling confidence is more motivated to achieve sales goals and allocate more effort than a salesperson with lower levels of brand selling confidence (Stajkovic and Luthans, 1998). In summary, existing research suggests that higher levels of salesperson brand selling confidence leads to higher levels of sales performance, organizational commitment and job satisfaction.

Therefore, we propose the following:

H5.

Higher levels of salesperson brand selling confidence will have a positive influence on salesperson a) sales performance, b) organizational commitment and c) job satisfaction.

Furthermore, we are interested in exploring the mediating role that salesperson brand selling confidence plays in the relationship between salesperson brand identification and the three sales outcomes. This mediation role of brand selling confidence is consistent with the SCT view of perceived self-efficacy as a cognitive mediator of action (Bandura, 1982, p. 126). Furthermore, existing research findings support the mediating role of efficacy in salesforce performance models. For example, within an insurance sales context in South Korea, Yang et al.’s (2011) results indicate that salesperson self-efficacy plays a mediating role between personal characteristics of conscientiousness and extroversion and sales performance. All this suggests a mediating role of brand selling confidence on the relationship between brand identification and salesperson sales performance, organizational commitment and job satisfaction. The following sections describe the method used to measure and test this model and report the study findings.

Research methodology

Sample

Data were collected using an online survey. An industry cross-sectional sample of salespeople was recruited to complete this survey using a combination of researcher and student solicitation. Overall, approximately two-thirds of the sample was recruited by the research team from salesforces of two firms who agreed to have their salespeople participate while the remaining portion of the sample was identified by undergraduate students (for extra credit). The sampling frame consisted of approximately 344 salespeople between the two firms yielding 171 responses. To ensure the validity of the student generated portion of the sample, students were required to submit company, position, contact phone and email information for the subjects they recruited to enable the research team to verify that respondents met the necessary criteria of selling to get an order (versus to take an order as in the case of retail sales). In all, 255 completed the survey. Non-response bias was assessed through conducting an analysis of variance on study variables between early and late responders and between the two portions of the sample (Armstrong and Overton, 1977). A comparison between early and late responders showed no significant differences, nor did a comparison between researcher-generated participants (across two firms) and student–recruited participants. The top industries represented were fashion (33 per cent), consumer appliances (35 per cent), manufacturing (12 per cent), business services (7 per cent) and health care (6 per cent). On average, study respondents were male (63 per cent), about 33 years old and had about 11 years of total selling experience and had been involved with the brand they were selling for over seven years. Average compensation from salary was 69 per cent, from commission – 27 per cent and from bonus – 4 per cent). Approximately 67 per cent of our sample involved B2C sales.

Measures

Appendix 1 illustrates study measures. To measure salesperson brand selling confidence two items measure was used from Larson et al. (2008) after minor adaptation to fit our research context. The Larson et al. (2008) measure was designed to capture confidence in selling the company. Here, with our focus on confidence in selling the brand, we modified terms to fit our focus on the brand. First, we asked the respondents to list the name of the brand that they were primarily selling. Next, we asked the respondent to refer to the listed brand when answering the two items relative to confidence in selling the listed brand. These two items were measured on an 11-point scale anchored by strongly disagree to strongly agree (“I have a great deal of confidence when I sell for this brand” and “Representing this brand gives me the security I need in selling situations”). Antecedent variables were measured using well-established scales adapted from the identification literature. We adopted Bergami and Bagozzi’s (2000) measure of cognitive identification to assess salesperson – brand identification. The scale included two items measured on an 11-point scale anchored by strongly disagree to strongly agree (“My sense of who I am overlaps with my sense of this brand” and “My self-image overlaps with this brand’s image”). Brand image strength was measured by combining four items representative of measures of brand attractiveness and distinctiveness (Gammoh et al., 2014a). Outcome variables were measured using established scales from the sales management literature. A sales performance scale comprised of eight items reflecting both behavior and outcome performance borrowed from Piercy et al. (2001). Mowday et al. (1979) 13-item scale was used to measure organizational commitment and the five items from the “job component” dimension of the satisfaction scale developed by Churchill et al. (1974) was used to assess job satisfaction. To control for effects on salesperson brand selling confidence, we included three single item variables – total industry selling experience, company tenure based on number of total years the subject worked for the company and selling context (B2B versus B2C).

Analysis and results

Convergent validity of the model measures was confirmed by computing the average variance extracted (AVE). Based on the guidelines by Fornell and Larcker (1981), convergent validity is judged to be adequate when AVE equals or exceeds 0.50. All AVE values for model variables fell within this range. Furthermore, all Cronbach’s alpha scores exceeded the 0.70 threshold recommended by Nunnally (1978) to ensure construct reliability. To ensure an adequate measurement model fit, we assessed the indicator reliability for each item within each construct as well as overall construct composite reliability, average variance extracted and discriminant validity. According to Hair et al. (1998), measurement model fit assessment in PLS–SEM is accomplished through the close inspection of the above reliability and construct validity measures. Collectively, values of these measures (see Table I) fell within acceptable ranges, leading us to conclude that our measurement model was adequate.To ensure against multicollinearity among variables, we examined the variance inflation factors (VIF) across all variables. All measures fell within the acceptable VIF limit of 10.0 as recommended by Hair et al. (1998). To minimize the potential for common method variance, we designed the study survey such that the dependent variable followed the measurement of the independent variables, mediators and control variables (Salancik and Pfeffer, 1977). Podsakoff and Organ (1986) recommended the use of a single factor test for the assessment of common method variance. If the solution results in a much smaller number of factors than theoretically suggested, it will suggest the existence of a common methods variance problem. Conducting an EFA with all items intended to measure the six constructs in our model resulted in a six factor solution that accounted for 66.5 per cent of the total variance in the data. These results suggest that common methods variance is not a problem with this data. Based on this as well as the checks for reliability and validity discussed, we conclude that the measures used in our study appropriately represent the constructs of interest. A summary of these measures are listed in Table I.

To estimate the measurement model and test the hypothesized path relationships, we used SmartPLS (Ringle et al., 2005). Researchers (Chin et al., 2008; Peterson and Wilson, 1992) advocate the use of PLS when estimating a model capturing non observable constructs consisted of attitudinal and behavior measures. Most of our model constructs fit this criterion. We used a standard bootstrapping to estimate and assess our model and related hypotheses. From this, we were able to estimate a coefficient for each model path. From the standard error for each path model coefficient, a student’s t–test was performed to measure the significance of path model relationships.

The model fit and test of individual hypotheses was assessed by examining the magnitude (beta coefficient) and statistical significance (t-value) of the path estimates and construct R-squared values. The purpose for reporting the R-squared values is to show the degree to which the model is fully specified by accounting for as much variability in the dependent constructs as possible. These results have been incorporated into the model from Figure 1.

Hypotheses testing results

Direct effects.

A summary of our results find that our model explains about 52 per cent (R-squared = 0.517) of the variance for our focal construct of salesperson brand selling confidence and finds support for 8 of the 9 individual hypotheses (see Figure 2 for research results). H1 was supported as the relationship between brand image strength and salesperson–brand identification was positive and significant (b = 0.420, t = 3.654). As predicted in H2, brand image strength was positively related to salesperson brand selling confidence (b = 0.564, t = 4.598). We found support for the relationships between salesperson – brand identification and salesperson brand selling confidence in H3 (b = 0.267, t = 2.687). For the outcome relationships, we found support between salesperson–brand identification and H4a: sales performance (b = 0.182, t = 1.576) as well as H4b: organizational commitment (b = 0.240, t = 2.244) but not for H4c: job satisfaction (b = 0.146, t = 1.158). Support was found for the relationships between salesperson brand selling confidence and H5a: sales performance (b = 0.451, t = 4.208), H5b: organizational commitment (b = 0.471, t = 3.876) and H5c: job satisfaction (b = 0.483, t = 3.793).

Mediating effects.

One of our research objectives was to investigate the mediating role of salesperson brand selling confidence on the relationship between salesperson brand identification and the three sales outcomes. On the basis of our results, we can confirm some of these interesting mediating effects. According to Baron and Kenny (1986), a variable is said to mediate a relationship if the independent variable (IV) to mediating variable (MV) effect is significant and the MV to dependent variable (DV) relationship is significant. If the above two conditions are met, then full mediation occurs if the IV has no significant effect on the DV when the MV is controlled for. If the direct IV–DV is significant, then partial mediation may occur if this direct effect is weaker than the mediated effects. To conduct these tests of mediation, we followed the methodology of Baron and Kenny in three distinct steps. First, we determined that the relationship between salesperson brand identification and salesperson brand selling confidence was significant (H3). In step two, we found the relationship between salesperson brand selling confidence and job satisfaction to also be significant (H5c). Given this, we proceeded to step three, which was to examine the direct relationship between salesperson–brand identification and job satisfaction (H4c). This direct path was not significant; therefore, we were able to conclude that salesperson brand selling confidence fully mediates the relationship between salesperson–brand identification and job satisfaction. On the basis of a similar three-step mediation test, we determined that salesperson brand selling confidence partially mediates the relationships between salesperson–brand identification and sales performance as well as organizational commitment. In keeping with the approach by Baron and Kenny (1986), partial mediation was determined based on weaker (yet significant) direct path weightings between brand identification and sales performance (H4a) as compared to the stronger path weightings between brand identification and brand selling confidence (H3) as well as between brand selling confidence and sales performance (H5a). The same approach was applied to comparisons between H4b and H3/H5b. Both direct and mediating effect results may be further illustrated in Table II.

Discussion

First, we introduce the notion of brand selling confidence. This salesperson confidence in ability to represent the brand has not been previously studied in the sales literature and can help us to better understand the connection between the brand and salesforce, two critically important marketing tools in the marketplace. Further, we identify that brand strength and brand identification affect brand selling confidence. These findings help us to understand how perceptions of the brand and actual sales outcomes relate to each other. This understanding is important to connecting marketing strategy to sales management practice. We are also able to demonstrate the mediating role of brand selling confidence, which helps to both extend and better understand the work already done on brand and salesperson (Gammoh et al., 2014a, 2014b).

Our research focuses on the role that perception of brand play in enhancing salesperson brand selling confidence and its subsequent implications on important sales outcomes. More specifically, we focus on the role of salesperson perceptions of brand image strength and their level of identification with the brand in driving salesperson brand selling confidence and its subsequent effects on sales performance, organizational commitment and job satisfaction. Although the subject of salesperson identification with the brand has been examined recently, no work to date has looked at mediating processes. We develop a research model in which we explored the key role that the brand plays in driving salesperson brand selling confidence and the resulting sales outcomes. More specifically, we proposed that salesperson perceived brand image strength positively influences level of identification with the brand, and in turn, they both enhance salesperson level of brand selling confidence. Furthermore, we examined the direct and mediating role of brand selling confidence on three important sales outcomes – sales performance, organizational commitment and job satisfaction. We use SIT to better understand these effects, showings viability in not only understanding interpersonal relationships in the firm, but also the relationship a salesperson may have with inanimate constructs in the workforce. SIT was well supported as all of our hypothesized relationships were significant.

Building a strong brand, thus, extends ramifications further than previously studied. A strong, relatable brand can drive salesperson confidence in selling the brand and, thus, sales outcomes. Further, we can see that mechanisms for assuring strong brand include brand distinctiveness and brand attractiveness as both dimensions are present in our brand strength measure. By making the brand more distinct and attractive, as well as relatable, we not only improve brand with the customer, but build the salesforce’s confidence in selling the brand and ultimately leading to important sales outcomes. Further, because we consider salesperson perceptions of the brand strength, sales managers can impact it to affect brand identification.

Understanding that brand selling confidence drives sales performance, organizational commitment and job satisfaction provides important insight to an additional contextual factor that influences salesforce effectiveness. While we had previous evidence that brand identification was important to these outcomes, we now add brand strength and brand selling confidence to this understanding, providing a more thorough picture and theoretical framework to explore the area. Brand selling confidence partially mediates salesperson brand identification on two sales outcomes of interest (sales performance and organizational commitment) and fully mediates the third (job satisfaction). As confidence can also be affected by sales management actions (e.g. coaching and training), his provides another path to help achieve better sales outcomes. More specifically, internal branding efforts to educate the salesforce about the brand, its values and what it stands for and to coach and train the salesforce about how to represent the brand should contribute to salespeople overall confidence in representing the brand.

Theoretical implications

Our research builds on social identity and social cognition theories to provide a better understanding of the underlying process of the relationship between the salespeople, the brand and important sales outcomes. In doing so, we contribute to research literature focusing on investigating the salesperson–brand connection as well as research area focusing on salespeople self-efficacy. First, our findings support an expanded role for SIT in understanding both the brand and salesforce literatures. Although traditionally used to understand personal relationships, here we use the theory to help understand the person’s relationship with an intangible construct, a brand. Despite the extension, the theory holds well and all findings are significant. In addition, we add to the sales literature by expanding the role of the brand in selling effectiveness. Brand strength provides understanding of how the established relationship between the brand and the salesperson impacts sales success and brand selling confidence helps explain how these effects occur. Furthermore, our findings are consistent with recent literature regarding the importance of employees as brand ambassadors in front of external entities (Gupta et al., 2010). For example, within a business-to-business branding context, Gupta et al. (2010) emphasized the key role that brand representatives play as a medium between the brand and resellers which enhance reseller’s understanding of the brand and foster reseller’s favorable brand evaluations.

Equally important, we contribute to the salesperson efficacy literature by introducing the brand, as an important contextual factor, that has the potential of influencing salesperson effectiveness. More specifically, we extend this literature by examining salesperson brand selling confidence (a domain-specific efficacy) that is driven by perceptions of brand image strength and the degree of identification with the brand. Our findings indicate that a salesperson brand selling confidence play a key direct and mediating role in influencing important sales outcomes.

Further, we also address theoretical concerns in the branding literature. The salesperson is one mechanism by which the brand is communicated to customers, but has typically been neglected as a vehicle for doing that. Our work here helps branding researchers to understand that the effects of brand strength and brand identification are further reaching than previously understood. Finally, there are some important implications for the potential role the brand could play in bridging the divide between the marketing-sales interface (Matthyssens and Johnston, 2006). Further work on this interface must consider the role brand plays in uniting (or distancing) the two areas.

Managerial implications

Our paper has important managerial implications for salesforce management, as well as brand management. Sales managers’ main goals are to improve the performance of salespeople and the effectiveness of the salesforce. Understanding the perceived brand strength and brand selling confidence can provide an additional tool to management for impacting these areas. First, sales and marketing must cooperate to assure that the brand is relatable for the salespeople and that it is perceived to be strong (distinctive and attractive). Sales management can provide training and information on the brand to the sales force to assure that there is clear understanding and strong perceptions of the brand consistent with the brand values and goals. Confidence can be built through training (Bandura, 1997), and thus, brand training might be a viable method for building brand selling confidence and should be an integral part of a company internal marketing efforts. Future work should explore this connection. Finally, there is a possibility for brand to help inform recruiting and selection attempts, ensuring that sales hires identify with the brand to enhance sales outcomes. From a brand management perspective, our findings clearly support the key role that the brand plays in motivating and influencing the performance and effectiveness of internal stakeholders (i.e. the salesforce). As such, brand managers are encouraged to focus on communicating the brand to internal stakeholders as part of their overall brand management efforts. Such focus should have a positive impact on overall customers experience and result in a more productive and loyal employees. This is consistent with recent findings in the literature that highlight the importance of effective internal brand communication among employees to build better customer experience and stronger brand equity (Zhang et al., 2016).

Limitations and future research directions

Like any other research, there are limitations to this study, many of which can be addressed in future research. First, this study does not explore a situation in which a salesperson works for a company with several brands as respondents were asked to complete the survey with only one brand in mind. Future research that could uncover the nuance of what happens when a salesperson sells several brands could be valuable in addressing how brand selling confidence works in such a scenario. If there are disparate levels of brand selling confidence across the various brands in a salesperson’s portfolio, this could lead to interesting results regarding which brands they identify with, as well as the various sales outcomes such as performance, organizational commitment and job satisfaction. It may be possible that one very strong brand could compensate for several weak and non-efficacious brands or that, similarly, the strong brand alone drives job satisfaction or organizational commitment.

In addition, our data were collected from a single source, the salesperson and at a single time. As such, all constructs were measured with self-report scales. While the purpose of the study was to capture salesperson perceptions of the brand, and thus, self-report was appropriate, future research could seek to collect data from two sources. In particular, future studies may benefit from objective or manager reported outcome variables such as performance. Future research may also benefit from longitudinal studies regarding brand selling confidence. This may be particularly interesting as brand images are not static. It would be valuable to explore future research that could provide insight into how salespeople react to an event (such as a public relations coup or, conversely, a disaster) that impacts the way that they perceive their brand. Data collected over a longer timeframe would provide insight into how brand selling confidence fluctuates over time and subsequently impacts sales outcomes such as sales performance, organizational commitment, job satisfaction or other outcome variables.

Finally, our study data allowed us to make general conclusions across a broad range of industries. Future research is encouraged to explore brand selling confidence within different industry contexts. It is possible that brand selling confidence is more important and has a larger bearing on sales outcomes in certain industries than in others owing to factors such as the competitive environment or the nature of the product or service being sold.

Figures

Conceptual model and research hypotheses

Figure 1

Conceptual model and research hypotheses

Research results

Figure 2

Research results

Means, standard deviation and correlation among variables

Study measures 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
1. Brand image strength (0.95)
2. Salesperson brand identification 0.42* (0.88)
3. Salesperson brand selling confidence 0.68* 0.50* (0.89)
4. Sales performance 0.37* 0.41* 0.54* (0.79)
5. Organizational commitment 0.50* 0.47* 0.59* 0.42* (0.91)
6. Job satisfaction 0.44* 0.39* 0.56* 0.52* 0.70* (0.89)
7. Selling experience 0.01 0.11 0.01 0.07 −0.02 −0.05 (1)
8. Company tenure 0.04 0.10 0.04 0.10 0.03 0.01 0.82 (1)
9. Selling context 0.02 0.08 0.04 0.06 0.03 0.02 0.13 0.11 (1)
Mean 8.48 8.24 9.88 9.69 9.98 9.89 9.16 7.12
SD 2.01 2.21 1.14 1.21 1.17 2.37 9.06 7.52
Adj. R2 0.18 0.52 0.32 0.39 0.33
CR 0.97 0.94 0.95 0.84 0.93 0.92
AVE 0.88 0.89 0.90 0.51 0.66 0.75
Notes:

*p < 0.01; numbers in the diagonal cells are Cronbach’s alphas for study measures

Model results

Path b-value t-value Comment
BrImage → BrandId 0.420 3.654 * H1 – supported
BrImage → BrandCon 0.564 4.598 * H2 – supported
BrandId → BrandCon 0.267 2.687 * H3 – supported
BrandId→ SalesPerf 0.182 1.576 ** H4a – supported
BrandId → OrgComm 0.240 2.244 * H4b – supported
BrandId → JobSat 0.146 1.158 H4c – not supported
BrandCon → SalesPerf 0.451 4.208 * H5a – supported
BrandCon → OrgComm 0.471 3.896 * H5b – supported
BrandCon → JobSat 0.483 3.793 * H5c – supported
Control Variables
SelExp → BrandCon −0.058 0.399
CoTenure → BrandCon 0.037 0.315
SalesContext → BrandCon 0.027 0.281
Notes:

*p < 0.01;

**p < 0.10; Key: BrImage = Brand image strength; BrandID = Salesperson–brand identification; BrandCon = Salesperson brand selling confidence; SalesPerf = Sales performance; OrgComm = Organizational commitment; JobSat = Job satisfaction; SelExp = Selling experience; CoTenure = Company tenure; SalesContext = Selling context (B2B/B2C); Mediation effects illustrated as follows: Step 1 – confirm that the relationship between salesperson brand identification and salesperson brand selling confidence was significant (H3). Step 2 – confirm the relationship between salesperson brand selling confidence and job satisfaction to be significant (H5c). Step 3 – examine the direct relationship between salesperson–brand identification and job satisfaction (H4c). As H4c was not significant, we were able to conclude that salesperson brand selling confidence fully mediates the relationship between salesperson–brand identification and job satisfaction. On the basis of a similar three-step mediation test, we determined that salesperson brand selling confidence partially mediates the relationships between salesperson–brand identification and sales performance as well as organizational commitment. Partial mediation is based on the fact that the direct paths of H4a and H4b have weaker b-values than the mediated paths of H3, H5a and H5b

Appendix. Study measures

  1. Brand Image Strength Gammoh et al. (2014a):

    • I like what this brand stands for

    • This brand has an attractive identity

    • This brand has a distinctive identity

    • This brand stands out from competitor’s brands

  2. Salesperson–Brand Identification Bergami and Bagozzi’s (2000):

    • I feel that my self-image overlaps with this brand’s image

    • My sense of who I am overlaps with my sense of this brand

  3. Salesperson Brand Selling Confidence Larson et al. (2008):

    • I have a great deal of confidence when I sell for this brand

    • Representing this brand give me the security I need in selling situations

  4. Sales Performance Piercy et al. (2001):

    • I listen attentively to identify and understand the real concerns of my customers

    • I use established contacts to develop new customers

    • I communicate my sales presentations clearly and concisely

    • I work out solutions to a customer’s questions or objections

    • I make sales of those products with the highest profit margins

    • I generate a high level of dollar sales

    • I identify and sell to major accounts in my territory

    • I exceed all of my sales targets and objectives

  5. Organizational Commitment Mowday et al. (1979):

    • I am willing to put in a great deal of effort beyond that normally expected to help my organization be successful

    • I feel very little loyalty to this organization ®

    • I would accept almost any type of job assignment in order to keep working for this organization

    • I find that my values and the organization’s values are very similar.

    • I talk up my organization to my friends as a great organization to work for

    • I am proud to tell others that I am part of this organization

    • I could just as well be working for a different organization as long as the type of work was similar ®

    • This organization really inspires the very best in me in the way of job performance

    • It would take very little change in my present circumstances to cause me to leave this organization ®

    • I am extremely glad that I chose this organization to work for over others I was considering at the time I joined

    • For me, this is the best of all possible organizations for which to work

    • There’s not too much to be gained by sticking with this organization indefinitely ®

    • Often I find it difficult to agree with this organization’s policies on important matters relating to its employees ®

  6. Job Satisfaction Churchill et al. (1974):

    • My job is never dull and monotonous

    • My job gives me a sense of accomplishment

    • I am satisfied with my job

    • My job is challenging

    • My job is exciting

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Further reading

Green, S.B., Salkin, N.J. and Akey, T.M. (2000), Using SPSS for Windows, Analyzing and Understanding Data. Prentice Hall, Upper Saddle River, NJ.

Corresponding author

Bashar S. Gammoh can be contacted at: bashar.gammoh@utoledo.edu