Effectively selling solutions to business-to-business (B2B) customers is challenging and requires specific sales activities. Solutions comprise four relational processes, i.e. “(1) customer requirements definition, (2) customization and integration of goods and/or services and (3) their deployment, and (4) postdeployment customer support” (Tuli, Kohli, & Bharadwaj, 2007, p. 5). Recently, research has shown that the salesperson’s solution involvement (SSI), which encompasses the enactment of these four processes, significantly increases sales performance (Panagopoulos, Rapp, & Ogilvie, 2017). In this study, we clarify which mechanisms drive SSI-related sales performance increases. This notion is of particular importance for solution providers: Despite the performance-related benefits of SSI (Panagopoulos et al., 2017), involvement in solution selling could also imply costs that possibly impede sales performance. For instance, extant research has suggested that commitment could represent a reason for exaggerated – and thereby detrimental – levels of customer orientation (Homburg, Müller, & Klarmann, 2011). By boosting positive and mitigating negative mechanisms mediating the positive effect of SSI on sales performance, solution providers can increase the efficiency of their sales activities and, thus, the overall market success of their solution offerings.
This research explores both positive (i.e., customer loyalty, cross buying) and negative (i.e., sales resource costs, discounting behavior) mechanisms mediating the SSI-sales performance relationship as well as a comprehensive set of managerially relevant moderators. Thereby, our study contributes to the literature on solutions (e.g., Macdonald, Kleinaltenkamp, & Wilson, 2016; Panagopoulos et al., 2017; Tuli et al., 2007; Worm, Bharadwaj, Ulaga, & Reinartz, 2017) and enriches customer relationship management (CRM) research (e.g., Homburg, Droll, & Totzek, 2008; Verhoef, 2003). In addition, we derive important practical implications for managers in sales and CRM departments.
As part of an ongoing research project, we conducted an experimental pre-test with MBA students. In this scenario experiment, we assigned the participants with the role of a B2B purchasing agent, who was in charge of purchasing a solution from a specific salesperson. We manipulated SSI by describing the salesperson as more versus less involved in selling the solution. However, to increase the generalizability and robustness of our results, we will validate them with a large-scale study with salespeople from a cross-industry sample of solution providers in early 2019.