Did Customer-Salesperson Interactions Change During COVID?

During the COVID-19 pandemic, some industries came to a standstill while others bustled on. Doctoral student and sales manager Claire Cardy seeks to explore companies whose business operations continued with minimum interruptions or pandemic-related challenges. Cardy reflects below on “Customer-Salesperson Price Negotiations During Exceptional Demand Contractions,” which was published in the Journal of Service Research.

A remote worker videochats on his laptop.
(Photo: linkedinsalesnavigator/Unsplash)

What motivated you to pursue this research?

I work as a sales manager, and during the COVID-19 pandemic, I noticed that the dynamics of the interactions between my sales team and their customers somehow seemed different. I wanted to explore what was happening in detail and understand why.

Were there any specific external events—political, social, or economic—that influenced your decision to pursue this research?

COVID had a significant impact on many industries, some of which had to completely stop operations while others saw a boom in demand. For the sector I work in, business operations had to continue almost as usual, albeit in an altered state. I wanted to put a spotlight on these companies who were experiencing less extreme challenges to see how they adapted to the pandemic.

What has been the most challenging aspect of conducting your research? Were there any surprising findings? In what ways is your research innovative, and how do you think it will impact the field?

The challenging aspect has been learning new methods and skills while conducting the research at the same time, but in some ways this has also been helpful because it’s ensured that the research is relevant and also supported by the right methodology. The surprising finding was the polarization of customer and salesperson relationships. Many participants experienced that close relationships strengthened and poor relationships weakened, which really emphasizes the importance of relationship selling even in today’s increasingly digital world. At the end of the day, humans still like to work with humans. I think this research can help sales managers remain realistic in their expectations about how sales might evolve in the future. It will also help sales team to consider fostering more personal but professional approaches to selling to build those key relationships early in the sales process.

What did not make it into your published manuscript that you would like to share with us?

We mainly focused on price negotiations in the manuscript, but in the web appendix, we highlight examples of alternative outcomes that were not necessarily price driven. For example, instead of conceding on price negotiations and offering discounts, we saw that some salespeople offered other added value items, or in some circumstances even pushed back and challenged the customer. These actions complete the picture on how customer and salesperson negotiations evolved during COVID.

What advice would you give to new scholars and incoming researchers in this particular field of study?

It can feel like a huge learning curve at the beginning, but you have to remember that you can’t be an expert at everything, otherwise it becomes quite overwhelming. Also don’t be afraid to be a little creative and share those crazy and weird ideas too. They spark interesting tangents that could lead to your next project and they make the process fun!

What is the most important/influential piece of scholarship you’ve read in the last year?

I really enjoyed reading Habel, Alavi and Linsenmayer’s “Variable Compensation and Salesperson Health.” Working in sales is a very intense and pressured job, and my personal view is that variable compensation exacerbates this pressure and promotes stress and unhelpful internal competitiveness. This article really helps explain the challenges behind this incentivization approach and provides some much-needed guidance on how to implement it more effectively for salespeople taking into account that they have different characteristics, preferences, and abilities.

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Claire Cardy

Claire Cardy is a doctoral student at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology. Her research focuses on personal selling and sales management. For the past decade, Claire has worked in various senior management roles in sales and marketing. She holds an MBA from the University of Warwick.

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