Managing New Salespeople’s Ethical Behaviors during Repetitive Failures: When Trying to Help Actually Hurts

Journal of Business Ethics 144 (3):519-532 (2017)
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Abstract

Despite acknowledgment that performance failure among new salespeople is a prevalent issue for organizations, researchers do not fully understand the consequences of repetitive periods of failure on new salespeople’s unethical selling behaviors. Further, little is known about how a sales force’s reward structure and managerial attempts to intervene following failure affect new salespeople’s behavior. Combining an experiment with longitudinal growth models, we show that repetitive periods of failure increase unethical behaviors, and interventions intended to remind the salesperson to behave in the customer’s best interests attenuate this effect under a non-contingent reward structure. However, counter to managerial assumptions, under a contingent reward structure these customer-oriented interventions actually backfire by amplifying the original relationship between repetitive failure and unethical behaviors. The results have potentially important managerial implications for those who manage new salespeople learning how to sell or during other failure-prone periods.

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