Perjantai 3.10.2014 - Ellen Pullins
Greetings from the USA! I am back at the University of Toledo, and have had some time to think about my visit in Helsinki, Week 37. I thoroughly enjoyed my time, which is good, but more importantly, it served to get me even more excited about the important work we will do with the Mania Project. There is so much potential in the project, and the team is fantastic!
Let me start by saying that I have been doing sales research for over 20 years now. Actually, I did industrial research in the sales area even before that, so my practical work experience included conducting studies about salespeople, how they use their time, how training makes them better, best practices, and so on. In addition, I was out in field sales interactions, trained salespeople and more. My academic research has focused on creativity, trust, group differences, negotiation, performance, creating value, compensation, sales technology, mentoring, culture, stereotypes and so forth. My experience in the sales research domain has exposed me to a large body of work. There is one area, though, that I have rarely encountered much research on: the actual selling interaction.
This is what makes the Mania Sales Research Project so intriguing. In an academic world that notes our sales research is often not really practical, or at least not shared with practitioners, and where we are criticized for looking at only one side of the sales transaction, this project is sorely needed. On top of that, sales research tends to do what economics research is often accused of: assume rationality. But we all know that no sale is that easy. Sometimes our own motives, or our client motives, get in the way; sometimes they help facilitate a deal. Some selling relationships are enhanced by our emotions and moods, others are hurt by this. And yet academic research has had little to say on how a practicing salesperson, or the sales manager or director, can influence this process, capitalize on it, or mitigate negative impacts. How can we use emotions, conversational responses, motives, to our advantage to promote relationship development and the development of collaborative solutions to enhance business?
My week began when I was picked up at the airport by Timo. Can you believe that we have never actually met in person, only by skype or videoconferencing? It was great to get to know him better. The next Mania interaction I had was with the Mania academic research team. These folks are great! I really enjoyed getting to know everyone and deepening relationships. This team brings some very interesting tools and experiences to the table. There are traditional academics and practically-leaning academics. There are doctoral students and seasoned professors. There are professors of practice and business professionals. There is marketing and sales expertise, but also members with little knowledge of the context, and great knowledge of other important aspects such as organizational drivers and conversational/interactional understanding. I think the richness of the team, of the perspectives, and of the tools is one of the things is wonderful.
We spent a long afternoon exploring some of the data that has been captured and brainstorming the kinds of question we might answer. I am so intrigued by the possible answers surrounding the actual interaction, and having the data from both sides to shed light. I’m glad we are able to get latent variables, and not just to consider the obvious and the observable behaviors.
After digging deeper into the academic aspects of the project, I was really privileged to have a chance to meet the businesses that are investing in the work. Timo was gracious enough to arrange a seminar for the firms to come and participate. It was rewarding for me to see these fine minds in action. Everyone had great insight to share, and I personally found it interesting to confirm that the ideas seem to translate well despite cultural differences. These businesspeople especially impress me in their willingness to become involved in more academic work, and to really invest in new knowledge development. There are potential tools to be developed, competencies to be explored, new training to be developed. Again, my suspicions were confirmed that this project has all sorts of important contributions just waiting to be made.
Timo and I ended the week by summarizing and prioritizing. I am ready to come back to Helsinki and Haaga Helia in January and begin writing results. Since my return, I have already pulled literature on the rapport building and have begun development on a special session for the National Conference on Sales Management on rapport and relationship building in initial sales calls, which will include an opportunity to explore some of the tools that can be developed from this work to aid businesses with this part of the sales process. This is just the tip of the iceberg though!
So, to my new friends, and those of you who I have yet to meet, and to everyone that I want to get to know better, I say simply, Kiitos for the opportunities and for the future contributions we will make. I am humbled by the chance to work with all of you and to participate in the project. I look forward to seeing you in January!
Torstai 12.6.2014 klo 12:28 - Hanna Timonen
In the MANIA research project we see business-to-business selling as an inherently social and human phenomenon. In fact, the value created by business relationships can never be purely established by looking at the price or quality of the sales offering, but is always uniquely created and determined by and in the relationship itself. As a result, in MANIA we want to take a closer look at the social processes and human interaction that takes place within business-to-business sales.
So, how do we actually do this? With our multidisciplinary research group we are trying out and developing a novel mix of research methods through which we could study both the actual activities taking place in the sales interaction and the underlying processes in the sales and customer organizations. In addition to qualitative, mainly narrative interviews in both the sales and customer organizations, we are also observing the daily activities of salespeople, video-recording actual real-life sales encounters with customers, and conducting MBTI-profiles on both the sellers and the customers involved in the interaction.
Yes, I know! We truly get to see not only internal workings of the sales organization, but can also follow the actual sales meetings and interview also the customers! For us researchers this is all very exciting. It’s a really unique research setting, but it does have its challenges as well. We can only truly thank our company partners and their individual sellers in being open-minded and brave enough to open us not only their own doors, but the doors of their customers as well. Setting up a first meeting with a new customer through cold calling is a challenging-enough task even without having to ask about bringing a researcher with a video camera to the meeting as well.
But if my first months of data collection in two of our company partners have taught me anything, it’s to never underestimate the wily attitude and the social eye for the game of a salesperson. Not only have some of our sellers used the research project and video recording as an argument to get a face-to-face meeting, but also the company representatives managed to fix up several sales meetings amongst themselves during our steering group session. Also, it’s quite impossible to be a passive observer when following salespeople. From the negotiation table to the golf course and to the interview, the sellers actively challenge us researchers too. I’ve found myself speculating customer behavior after calls or meetings, doing a sales pitch of our own research project, and even analyzing the authenticity of my own interaction in the middle of an interview! But it’s only through challenges that we actually learn. Little by little, I’m getting a better idea of what this sales thing is really about.