Personal Branding

Unleashing salesforce performance: The impacts of personal branding and technology in an emerging market

Abstract

Today’s sales force play crucial roles and are considered essential and strategic for enhancing competi- tiveness and sales growth. Thus, effective management of the sales force has assumed top priority for the marketing function in organizations, particularly in emerging markets to capture the millions of newly affluent consumers. This paper assesses how sales force management leverages the dynamics of personal branding and technology-enabled sales tools in the emerging market context to improve sales force productivity and performance. Using structural equation modelling with SmartPLS, responses from 209 sales executives in the insurance and fast moving consumer goods sector in the Greater Accra region of Ghana were analysed. Results highlight the relevance of appropriate training, motivation and recruitment processes on sales force ability to develop personal branding and use of technology to facilitate sales.

1-Introduction

Emerging markets are countries that are undergoing transition in their political or economic systems and experiencing rapid economic development. According to Lagarde [49], the combined contribution of emerging and developing economies to global GDP has increased from just about half a decade ago to almost 60%. Lagarde [49] further credits emerging and developing economies as drivers behind the significant reduction in global poverty and the resurgence in global economic growth since the since the 2008 financial crisis.

Many authors including [1] and [42] have studied Ghana as an emerging market economy. They note that Ghana’s economy is benefiting from liberal economic reforms which coupled with political stability have led to a vibrant private sector and spurred Ghana’s rapid growth and development. The economy, thus, continues to portray characteristics consistent with an emerging market; attaining lower-middle income status with a vibrant consumer segment.

Due to their characteristic rapidly growing middle-class and affluent consumers, emerging markets are fast becoming home to a new generation of multinational companies [16]. But these markets are immensely diverse and complex e culturally, geographically and even economically, and requires effective marketing strategies to improve sales performance and firm profitability. Today’s sales force play crucial roles and are considered essential and strategic for enhancing competitiveness and sales growth. For this reason, effective management of the sales force has assumed top priority for the marketing function in several organizations [3]. for instance attest to the positive correlation between effective sales force management and sales maximization. Owing to the complexity of emerging markets, the rst objective of this paper is to examine how organizations facilitate personal branding to improve sales force ability to function effectively and generate high sales.

The Internet has given sales representatives a range of innovative alternatives to facilitate the completion of different stages of the purchase process by means of the Internet channel or physical shops [9]. This is because the online environment influences the general purchase-related factors that affect how customers construct their decision-making processes [47]. To enhance the purchase experience of customers; first, sales representatives ought to understand the needs and concerns of customers in this online environment and secondly, provide immediate product/ service personalization based on this knowledge to customers [43,48]. Therefore, the second objective of this paper is to ascertain how the sales force utilize technology-enabled sales communication tools to navigate and facilitate the sales process for improved performance.

2-Managing the sales force

Today’s sales force play crucial roles and are considered essential and strategic for enhancing competitiveness and sales growth. They are the individuals or group with the responsibility to champion the sale of products or services to customers in assigned sales ter- ritories delineated by geographic locations, market segments, and product lines or by specific customers/prospects [22]; [40]. Several authors [3,14,25] and [18] contend that effective management of the sales force goes beyond equipping them with the basic skills in salesmanship (pushing sales people to sell the firm’s products and services). In fact, it entails planning, implementing, and controlling personalized programs designed to achieve the sales and profit objectives of the firm.

As such, effectively managing the sales force through appropriate recruitment and selection processes, adequate training and suitable motivation are crucial in directing the sales force towards increased sales growth and superior performance. The paper investigates how effective sales force management impacts the productivity and performance of sales representatives in fast-retail companies in Ghana with emphasis on personal branding and technology-enabled sales. Three components of sales force management are assessed: sales force motivation, sales force training, and sales force recruitment and selection process. This section presents a review of previous research and develops theoretical propositions to guide the empirical analysis.

2.1-Personal branding and the sales force

In his seminal article titled ‘The Brand Called You’, Tom Peters brought the concept of personal branding to the mainstream and pointed out the need for everyone to understand the importance of branding regardless of age, position, or business orientation. Peters [38] defined personal branding as the discovery, understanding and marketing of an individual’s unique attributes. Individual sales professionals may never have the financial power to build an enormous brand image like companies such as Coca cola, MTN, Vodafone, Barclays Bank and UT Bank. Yet, it is imperative that all salespeople develop and build their personal brands to be successful. A good personal brand enable the sales person to deliver his/her message clearly; connect to target prospects emotionally; motivate the buyer and generate customer loyalty purchase [24]. As stated by Ref. [2]; individuals who make the effort to build their personal brands are likely to achieve greater output in individual or personal performance, workforce productivity and great career successes.

The recruitment  and  selection  process  is  at  the  heart  of  an effective sales force, yet, often a neglected area in sales management. In fact, it would be difficult to manage sales force that is poorly screened, recruited and selected to meet sales target and goals for superior firm performance. According to [45]; there are many qualified applicants in the job market, hence the best way to get past them and be selected is to impress recruiters with the “unique” and “authentic” you. Recruiters are looking for candidates who know their strengths and how to leverage such strengths appropriately to the benefit of the company. Thus, by standing out and clearly delivering your personal brand [38] tells your story and matches it to the recruiter expectation; creating a memorable experience in their minds. The paper, therefore, posits that:

H1. The sales force recruitment process positively induces personal branding

Basically, sale training is meant to increase sales force performance. In this regard, it is important to design and implement training programs that enable sales people to develop distinct personal brands to effectively market their products and services and induce purchase decision [24]. Effective personal branding could yield benefits to both the company and the sales person: by opening new business opportunities to the company and positioning the sales person as a top performer in the organization. Indeed, successful sales persons are those who know how to leverage their strengths and key attributes. The paper contends that with the appropriate and adequate training, sales people are able to understand, discover and develop core personal brands that distinguishes them from others in the same domain. Hence,

H2. Training leads sales persons to develop unique personal brands

Certainly, by motivating sales force is to help them establish tangible goals, which offers each sales person something to look forward to and to focus their efforts in attaining such goals, even in the face of frustrations and hindrances. Incentives play major role in sales force management for optimum performance results as it directly influences the level of sales force enthusiasm in selling products and services to prospects. Adequate and suitable motivation is key to building commitment and developing core personal brands of sales force that ensures continuous and steadfast support towards attaining sales targets. Hence, the study posits that:

H3. Adequate and suitable motivation relates positively to personal branding of sales force

2.2-The impact of technology on the selling-buying process

The Internet influences all phases of the consumer buying process by offering consumers diverse channels and tools to search for information, evaluate different options, and make a purchase [11,37]. The Internet also allows for cross-channel buys where the purchase process may occur by means of the Internet channel or physical shops [9]. However, previous studies indicate that a fundamental issue concerning online buying decisions is that the amount and type of information accessible online is different [5]. As there is a huge amount of information available on the Internet, consumers are unable to evaluate all the alternatives in depth prior to making a choice. This has the tendency to create confusion and lower the decision satisfaction [36]. It is, therefore, essential to understand the necessities and concerns of customers in the online environment. This knowledge can then be utilized to enhance the shopping experience and provide instant personalization based on the knowledge of consumers [43,48]. In so doing, consumers are helped to make product evaluations more quickly and improve their satisfaction with purchase decisions.

Sales people are embracing technology-mediated sales communication (STMC) tools such as videoconferencing systems, cell phones, websites, and EDI in an attempt to control selling costs and maintain a personal touch [31] with business buyers. Internet integration into the buying and selling process can affect every aspect of a consumer and sales person’s decision making process and can therefore have a major effect on sales performance. The internet can provide opportunities to improve sales person efficiency. It can provide representatives with easier access to information, faster communications with customers, simpler alternatives to premise visits, labour saving opportunities to out- source simple tasks (e.g., research) and options for automating mundane chores (e.g., pre-call planning and post-call reporting).

To win  customers in the  online  market place,  where  all  the competitors and their products are readily accessible, salespeople require a comprehensive understanding, not only of their customers, but also how to effectively navigate this technology- enabled community of consumers and competitors. Noting that sales force training is based in how to improve sales force productivity and increase performance, the study contends that such training is important to introduce and build capacity of sales force to cross-platform technology-enabled sales tools. Hence, posits that:

H4. Sales force training leads to increased use of technology- enabled sales tools

The Internet has given sales representatives numerous new alternatives for expanding the profitability of such endeavours. For instance, salespeople may utilize electronic versions of product directories to identify firms that conduct certain types of operations and therefore may need specific products or services. Salespeople may also search online databases to assemble scattered information on industry trends. The study argues that, a motivated sales force would put in more effort to utilize sales technology-mediated tools to reach and pitch to prospective buyers, in the effort to garner higher sales volumes and meet targets. Hence, we posit that:

H5. Sales force motivation relates positively to increased use of technology-enables sales tools

2.3-Unleashing sales force performance

The paper argues that personal branding and technology sales tools improve sales force productivity and performance. By developing a personal brand, the sales person is able to clearly communicate his/her sales messages to prospective buyers, affirm his/her credibility by clearly demonstrating knowledge of products and services, thereby, connecting emotionally with prospective buyers which eventually leads to purchase. This creates important connections with clients and builds loyalty that leads to re- purchase and new business opportunities [2]. further note that individuals who make the effort to build personal brands are likely to achieve greater output in their personal productivity, sales performance and career success. Hence, the study posits that:

H6. Personal branding relates positively to superior sales force performance

The internet offers consumers diverse tools and capability, thereby creating sophisticated consumers and altering their purchase behavior [29]. It is therefore essential to understand their necessities and concerns in this online environment, and provide instant product/service personalization based on this knowledge to enhance the shopping or purchase experience [43,48]. Integrating internet based and technology-mediated sales communication tools into the buying and selling process can affect every aspect of a consumer and salesperson’s decision making process and greatly impact sales performance. These technology-mediated communication tools can provide opportunities to improve salesperson efficiency by providing easy access to information, faster communications with customers, simpler alternatives to premise visits and options for automating mundane chores (e.g., pre-call planning and post-call reporting). More so, according to [30]; the Internet and sales technology-mediated communication tools encourage collaboration among sales force, enabling them to share common marketing information resources at the lowest cost, within the least time and with minimal effort. This greatly enhances sales force knowledge-base and capability to effectively engage clients towards higher sales performance. Hence, the study argues that:

H7.  Technology-enabled  sales tools improves sales force performance

3-Methodology

This study draws upon literature on marketing in emerging markets [50,51,52] to examine how various factors, such as sales force recruitment, sales force training, sales force motivation and personal branding as well as use of technology-enabled sales tools affect sales force performance in Ghana. Data in this study were collected from sales force persons in the insurance and fast moving consumer goods industry in the Greater Accra region of Ghana. Stratified sampling method was used to select sample, with a total of 300 questionnaires distributed. Collectively, 250 completed questionnaires retrieved and 210 were fully completed and deemed usable for the purposes of the study.

Constructs examined how sales force recruitment; sales force training, sales force motivation, technology-based buying and selling processes and personal branding affect sales force performance. Measurement for these constructs was done using a 5-point lickert-scale format, anchoring at “1”–strongly disagree and “5”– strongly agree. These variables were analysed using exploratory factor analysis, confirmatory factor analysis, unidimensionality, and construct validity. Structured equation modelling was used to test the relationship amongst the constructs in the research model: sales force recruitment, sales force training, sales force motivation and personal branding, and technology-based selling  and buying on sales force performance in Ghana.

4-Results and discussions

4.1-Respondent characteristics

The respondents included private sector employees, self- employed, civil/public servants and retired personnel with varied educational background and income variances. The heterogeneity of the sample respondents is appropriate to investigate the current phenomenon of sales force performance in Ghana. Table 1 presents detailed characteristics of sample respondents.

4.2-Data validations (measurement model)

Reliability and convergent validity of measures of the constructs were assessed using Composite Reliability (CR) and Average Vari- able Extracted (AVE). The measures were found to be internally consistent with CR values greater than 0.70 and indicated accept- able convergent validity with AVE for each factor being greater than 0.50, consistent with recommendations by Chin [53] as depicted in Table 2 below. To test discriminant validity of the reflective mea- sures, the square root of the AVE for each factor was found to be greater than correlation with other factors, an indication that each factor shares higher variance with item in its own factor than those in other factors, consistent with Chin [53]. Cross-loadings also indicate that factors load higher on their own construct than other constructs. Correlations and cross-loadings are depicted in Tables 3 and 4 below.

4.3-Structural model results

The structural model result is depicted in Fig. 1 with explanatory factors (R2) and path co-efficient (b). Overall, results from the analysis show support for 6 of the 7 hypotheses of the study. Only hypothesis H7 (stated as: Technology-enabled sales improves sales force performance) gained partial support showing negative relation for technology-enabled buying to the contrary. However, the total effects of the exogenous constructs: personal branding, technology-enabled consumer buying process and technology- enabled selling process) on sales force performance was significant explaining 58.9% (See Fig. 1) and 60.1% (See Fig. 2) of the variance in the original model and post-hoc analysis respectively.

The study revealed that sales force motivation, sales force training and effective sales force recruitment relates positively to personal branding. Among these constructs, sales force training was noted to be that which translates more into personal branding of sales force followed by sales force motivation. Effective sales force recruitment compared to the other two constructs does not necessarily lead to sales force personal branding. The findings therefore suggests that when sales force personnel are given adequate and proper training, they tend to build an inimitable personal brand that differentiates them from other sales personnel in the marketplace. This is consistent with the current trend whereby companies not only use their branding efforts to develop products and corporate brands, but also branding has become ever more important in human resource management (HRM) [4].

The study again showed that sales force motivation and sales force training relate positively to technology enabled consumer buying process and selling process. Interestingly, the study discovered that sales force motivation and sales force training are not necessarily key factors that determine the adoption and use of technology-based buying and selling processes with the overall results indicating that sales force motivation and sales force training explain just 10% variance for technology-enabled con- sumer buying processes and 15% variance for selling processes.

The study assessed the impact of personal branding on sales force performance and discovered a positive relationship. The finding basically projects the fact that personal branding appears to be vital in translating sales force motivation and sales force training into performance gains. In a similar vein [2], supports the notion that individuals who make the effort to build their personal brands are likely to achieve greater output in individual or personal per- formance, workforce productivity and great career successes.

Contrary to the study’s hypothesis that technology-based con- sumer buying process leads positively to sales force performance, the findings show a negative relation. Hence the study suggests that it is as a result of the unwillingness of customers to patronize technologyebased processes in support of traditionally-embedded buying process. In support of the above finding, some studies, including [36] and also [5] posit that there are fundamental basic issues concerning technology-based buying processes hence compelling consumers to patronize traditionally-entrenched buying processes.

In the study’s post-hoc analysis, we looked to determine the degree of influence that the recruitment process, level of motiva- tion and training offered sales force impacts the overall sales force performance. The study discovered that effective sales force recruitment relates considerably positively to sales force perfor- mance as compared to personal branding. This implies that the recruitment process centered on how or which sales force could achieve higher performance with regards to enhancing the com- pany’s competitive edge over its competitors. In agreement with this finding [6], confirms that the profound planning of the selec- tion process will result in higher rates of return.

The study also revealed that pursuant to the positive relation of sales force training to sales force performance, training offered to the sales force impacted more on their ability to build a personal brand than translate directly into performance gains. Also, sales force motivation relates positively to personal branding but negatively to sales force performance. This implies that sales force motivation and training do not directly lead to higher performance but do so through personal branding. It is, therefore necessary that sales force are trained with the requisite skills and motivated to build personal brands which will then lead to higher performance.

5-Conclusions

5.1-Implications for practice and policy

Firstly, the study recommends that companies must strive to devise methods that highly motivate sales force and equip them with adequate training in order to build a unique personal brand relative to others in the domain/marketplace. Secondly, the study revealed that the technology-based customer buying process initiated proved detrimental to sales force performance. This im- plies that salespeople must differentiate between customers who prefer being targeted with traditional promotional means like

personal selling from customers who will be more inclined to technology-based buying process. Furthermore, the study also revealed that effective sales force recruitment translates positively into sales force performance. This means that organizations must adopt the best recruitment methods and policies to employ top notch sales people that are capable of meeting high performance targets. Finally, the study showed that sales force motivation and training leads the sales force to attain performance gains by first developing a personal brand. This implies that organizations must ensure that sales force are adequately motivated and appropriately trained to develop personal brands which in turn translate into performance gains. Marketing and Sales managers have to develop training policies and programs that makes personal branding and development as an integral part of organizations’ human resource strategy.

5.2-Conclusion

Essentially, the study sought to examine the key factors that impact sales force performance in fast-retail companies in Ghana with emphasis on the key dimensions of sales force motivation, sales force training, sales force recruitment and personal branding of sales force personnel, as well as the use of technology-enabled buying and selling processes. Following the findings of this study, there is a discovery that personal branding translates sales force motivation and training into performance gains. In other words, a highly motivated sales force with the appropriate training builds a personal brand unique to others in the domain/marketplace which leads to higher performance. Though a positive relation exists be- tween sales force motivation, training and technology-based buying and selling processes, it is a fact that they are not key factors that determine its adoption and utilization. However, sales force adoption of technology-based selling process will prove useful in improving performance. Finally, it is the claim of this study that, effective sales force recruitment leads to performance gains. This finding supports [6] view that the profound planning of the selection process will result in higher rates of return. However, among all the determinants of sales force performance, personal branding was found to be the most potent. Therefore, it is note- worthy that the recruitment process should be geared towards inspiring personal brands in sales force which eventually lead to higher performance.

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