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The impact of relationship selling on the sales force control function.

Lemmens, Regis


Regis Lemmens


Bill Donaldson

Dennis Tourish


Sales management control and sales force performance has received substantial attention by researchers in the past decades. Researchers have been investigating the construct of sales control, its antecedents and its consequences on both the individual sales person and on sales force performance. This research project analyses how and why the sales control systems are implemented the way they are. The basis for this approach is drawn from the organisational or management control literature which treats behaviour and outcome approaches as dimensions rather than categories. Organisational control also treats the control system as a process which consists of a set of stages or sub processes being objective setting, planning, monitoring, feedback and correcting. With the growing importance of relationship selling and key account management it can no longer be assumed that all the sales people will operate at the same hierarchical level within an organisation nor that they will be subject to one and the same control system. Therefore an in depth analysis of how sales force control processes are implemented for different types of sales functions, ranging from customer acquisition, small to medium account management to strategic and global account management, is needed. The research project included 17 preliminary interviews across different organisations, from which one organisation was selected on the basis that it contains a large international sales force of about 2.500 people consisting of a very wide range of sales functions. The analysis of this organisation included 100 plus interviews of 66 sales managers and sales people across all types of sales functions over a two year period. The findings show that the inability to measure certain inputs and outputs does not deter a sales organisation to adopt their sales control strategy within a functional sales team. When some measures are not available or are unreliable, sales managers find other ways to measure them being it through some locally developed tools or through more qualitative approaches. The method used to obtain certain measures does impact the level of the sophistication of the actual control process or strategy. When there is a need to control sales people who operate as a team of employees from different departments the sales managers can no longer individually develop some local tools to measure inputs and outputs. The findings show that team based selling requires accurate data but also globally agreed rules and procedures in order to operate successfully. This enables us to conclude that the inability to measure certain inputs and outputs is a determining variable for the implementation of client sales teams. With regard to sales force control strategies the research uncovered that within the category of the hybrid sales control approach there are four types of sales control sub approaches. The choice of which control to use is dependent on the size of the customers or opportunities the sales people work with and the selling approach which is either hunting or farming. This shows that while farming can be relabelled as key account management, hunting remains a major sales activity requiring not only different selling approaches it also requires different types of sales control processes than for farming. All of these findings indicate that several types of sales control systems can operate across one single organisation and that the main determining variables are the sales approach and the type of accounts the sales person is managing. This challenges current beliefs or assumptions that all sales people operate at the same hierarchical level within an organisation and that they all operate under one single sales control approach. Future research on sales force control will need to take these findings into account when designing their approach to study control systems within organisations.


LEMMENS, R. 2008. The impact of relationship selling on the sales force control function. Robert Gordon University, PhD thesis.

Thesis Type Thesis
Deposit Date Nov 5, 2008
Publicly Available Date Nov 5, 2008
Keywords Sales management control; Sales force performance; Organisational control; Management control; Relationship selling; Key account management
Public URL
Award Date Apr 30, 2008


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