Pressure to achieve or exceed performance goals accompanies many sales positions in business-to-business (B2B) organizations. Sales supervisors experience pressure from executives to hit sales targets, exceed quotas, and increase market share. Such pressures may result in supervisor adoption of a bottom-line mentality (SBLM). When this occurs, supervisors tend to focus solely on achieving bottom-line results. When supervisors manage the sales force with this mentality, it may cause their salespeople to experience mental and emotional stress. Individual salespeople are likely to cope with the stress induced by SBLM by employing dysfunctional decision-making behaviors. Ironically, the dysfunctional decision-making techniques used to alleviate the stress engendered by SBLM may actually increase salesperson emotional exhaustion. In this stressful and results-driven environment, salespeople may direct their efforts toward obtaining certain goals at the expense of other priorities, such as their emotional well-being. When salespeople experience emotional exhaustion, various negative outcomes may result. In the present study, we investigate whether emotional exhaustion affects salesperson cognitive and emotional engagement and intentions to seek alternative employment opportunities. Essentially, this study assesses the potential trickle-down effect of performance pressure from organizational executives down organizational channels to sales supervisors and the sales force. Empirically, we examine how SBLM affects salesperson decision making, emotional exhaustion, job engagement, and turnover intention.
A theoretical model of our hypothesized relationships is presented and tested using a sample of 274 business-to-business (B2B) salespeople. The sample was obtained through Qualtrics Panels, and a project manager was utilized to conduct an initial cleaning of the data to improve objectivity during data collection and analysis. Survey respondents were subjected to multiple screening questions and attention checks to enhance data quality. All constructs used in the survey were adapted from previous research and were measured using 7-point likert scales. A confirmatory factor analysis was conducted to assess the measurement properties of all constructs, and structural equation modeling (i.e. AMOS 26) was utilized to test the hypothesized relationships in our model.
The results highlight multiple negative repercussions of the hypothesized trickle-down effect of organizational performance pressure on sales supervisors and the sales force. Specifically, our findings show that (1) performance pressure from organizational executives incites SBLM, (2) SBLM encourages hypervigilant decision making in salespeople, (3) hypervigilant decision making is a strong predictor of emotional exhaustion, and (4) emotionally exhausted salespeople have lower levels of both cognitive and emotional job engagement and higher intentions to seek alternative employment. Interestingly, while salespeople with lower levels of emotional engagement tend to have greater turnover intentions, salesperson cognitive engagement is not significantly related to turnover intentions.
The findings from this study have important implications for B2B sales organizations. Sales executives and supervisors need to understand how the “sell, sell, sell” mentality may harm the overall emotional well-being of their salespeople. The present research highlights how the organizational environment influences the behaviors and emotional welfare of the sales force and provides empirical evidence showing that the organizational context has the potential to influence salesperson behaviors and organizational outcomes. Persistently emphasizing bottom-line goals may put the long-term vitality of the sales force at risk. Therefore, organizational executives and sales supervisors should be mindful of how they communicate desirable performance outcomes to avoid SBLM and overwhelming individual salespeople. Essentially, organizational executives must be careful not to overemphasize the desire for increased performance goals to sales supervisors, and sales supervisors must avoid continuously highlighting the attainment of bottom-line outcomes when communicating with individual salespeople. Instead, sales managers should consider reducing outcome-based measures (e.g. sales volume) and using behavior-based measures (e.g. effectively communicating with and servicing customers) to assess salesperson performance. Additionally, sales managers should strive to create an authentic, open partnership with individual salespeople and avoid a paternalistic management style. Establishing professional relationships characterized by mutual respect may enable managers to achieve an appropriate balance between attaining bottom-line results and building a mature, confident, and competitive salesforce.
To our knowledge, this is the first article to introduce a form of dysfunctional decision-making (i.e. hypervigilant decision making) to the sales literature. This research is also one of the first to examine SBLM in a sales context. Understanding the impact of SBLM is an emerging research interest in the management literature but considering it through a sales lens is unique. Our findings emphasize the importance of SBLM in B2B organizational environments and provide fruitful avenues for future research in this area. The present study contributes to the sales literature by examining the impact of SBLM on salesperson hypervigilant decision making and the impact of hypervigilant decision making on emotional exhaustion. Furthermore, this study adds to existing research on salesperson engagement and emotional exhaustion by showing how emotional exhaustion negatively affects both the emotional and cognitive engagement of B2B salespeople. Our findings also reinforce previous research by corroborating the inverse relationship between salesperson engagement and turnover intentions.