The Impact of Sales Failure on Att Ributions Made by “Resource-Challenged” and “Resource-Secure” Salespeople

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The IMpacT of SaLeS faILure on aTTrIbuTIonS Made by “reSource-chaLLenged” and “reSource-Secure” SaLeSpeopLe Michael Mayo and Michael L. Mallin The present study investigates if the types of attributions salespeople use to account for a sales failure (internal or external) depend on the impact the failure has on their net resource inventory. The relative sizes of net resource inventories (resources left following a sales failure) were used to classify salespeople as either “resource challenged” or “resource secure.” Results indicated that how salespeople were classified as well as the loss of a specific resource at different career stages determine, in part, the attribution type that salespeople assign for their sales failures. Revisions to an expectancy-causal model are suggested and application to other sales areas where managing or comanaging resource inventories is discussed.

Losing a sale may significantly affect employee morale and work efforts (Sujan 1986; Sujan, Sujan, and Bettman 1988; Sujan, Weitz, and Sujan 1988) as well as corporate performance (Dixon, Spiro, and Jamil 2001). The sales literature has primarily examined the type of attributions salespeople make following a sales failure to better understand how they might adjust their subsequent selling behaviors and efforts (Teas and McElroy 1986). Prior research in this area has centered on past performance and individual differences (Dixon and Schertzer 2005; Dixon, Forbes, and Schertzer 2005; Dixon, Spiro, and Jamil 2001) as the basis for salespeople attributing a cause for a sales loss. Although relevant, such factors are limiting in that they only account for certain situational and personal variables as the basis for salespeople assigning cause for their failures. In an effort to identify other important variables, Mallin and Mayo (2006) found that the impact (on personal, career, and financial goals) of a sales failure is an important moderating variable between sales performance and the type of attributions salespeople make. Sales failure, in this context, was defined as a salesperson bidding for a sale that they did not get. Specifically, by using Hobfoll’s (1989) conservation of resource (COR) theory, Mallin and Mayo were able to show that the failure attributions that salespeople make are also a function of certain valued resources that

they strive to retain, protect, and build following some sales failure. Such resources might take the form of objects (e.g., tangible goods), energies (e.g., time, money), characteristics (e.g., physical strength, psychological well-being), and conditions (e.g., job tenure, security). The purpose of this study is to advance the research of Mallin and Mayo (2006) by developing a multidimensional salesperson net resource scale and examining the relationship between net resources available to salespeople following a sales failure and the attributions that they make to explain the failure. Specifically, we go beyond previous studies that link failure attributions to single personal characteristic variables and consider additional salesperson resources relative to career stage, experience, compensation structure, task self-efficacy, and locus of control. This enables us to hypothesize and test that salespeople abundant in net resources are “resource secure” and make internal attributions whereas salespeople deficient in net resources are “resource challenged” and make external ones. The findings of this study contribute to the sales attribution literature by extending the Teas and McElroy (1986) causal and expectancy model to include additional variables beyond individual differences. This provides researchers another paradigm to investigate how salespeople make attributions and provides managers with further insight on how best to support their employees following a setback.

Michael Mayo (Ph.D., Kent State University), Associate Professor, College of Business Administration, Department of Marketing, Kent State...
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