The salesperson-manager exchange relationship: the impact of competence, latitude and loyalty

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Virginia Tech

Sales management researchers apply various leadership measures and theories taken from conventional work-group settings. These applications may be questionable given the unique boundary-spanning context in which the field sales force must operate. This study raises the questions and offers an approach which may be more appropriate. Specifically, this study questions the assumption that the manager acts and the salesperson reacts, and the focus of sales management studies which study managerial behavior in isolation from those of the salesperson he or she is supervising. The Leader-member Exchange theory (and the basis for this theory, social exchange) is offered as an approach which may be more consistent with the work-setting and obstacles faced by the field sales manager. This study offers a conceptual model of salesperson-manager relationships as a guide to explaining effective leadership in the field sales setting.

A study was conducted on a subset of this conceptual model. Using the survey responses of industrial field salespeople and their managers, this study tested (1) the exchange relationships between the perceived behaviors of both the manager and salesperson, (2) the degree to which these exchanges influence the salesperson’s overall assessment of the salesperson-manager relationship, (3) the degree to which this assessment affects job-related outcomes and (4) the impact of environmental uncertainty on this boundary spanning link between salesperson and manager.

The results of this study provides some support for the notion of an exchange relationship between the salesperson and manager. An exchange relationship may exist between the salesperson’s competency and the manager’s latitude. The salesperson’s assessment of the working relationship is based on the latitude received and the loyalty felt toward the manager {rather than his or her contributions of competency). This approach to studying the effects of leader behavior was effective in explaining salesperson satisfaction levels. It was less effective in predicting the goal achievement levels of the field sales force. Finally, the results of this study indicate the amount of uncertainty in the environment may have a direct effect on goal achievement levels of the salespeople, but lacks a moderating influence over the link between salesperson-manager relationships and outcomes.