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Using disc® to facilitate instruction of adaptive selling

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Using disc® to facilitate instruction of adaptive selling

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Purpose of the Study: For adaptive selling to be successful, salespeople need to categorize their customers to tailor their sales approach. But how do students who are learning to sell know how to categorize customers when they often have little or no experience with customers? Students intuitively understand that customers are unique and thus adaptive selling techniques are needed. However, they lack the experience to create customer typologies and to know what kind of adaptions they should make and how to implement those adaptations throughout the steps in the sales process based on specific customer types. This article describes a pedagogical methodology that is empirically tested to help educators teach adaptive selling knowledge by using DISC® (Dominance, Influence, Steadiness, and Conscientious). In so doing, a cumulative hierarchical structure is created that assists teaching adaptive selling throughout the entire sales process. Method/Design and Sample: Assessment from quantitative and qualitative methods with 82 students from traditional and online modalities was utilized. Results: Findings provide support for the instructional methodology. Additionally, qualitative research uncovered students’ perceptions of DISC® in four key areas: (1) DISC® knowledge, (2) self-awareness, (3) changes to views of others, and (4) interpersonal communication. Value to Marketing Educators: Step-by-step project implementation is provided for ease of use and adaptation to selling, as well as other marketing classes. Moreover, the article includes a table that applies DISC® to all steps of the selling process, detailing how to use established selling techniques for different behavioral styles.
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Journal for Advancement of Marketing Education, Volume 25, Issue 2, Fall 2017
14
Using DISC® to Facilitate Instruction of
Adaptive Selling
Abstract
Cindy B. Rippé, Brian Martinson and Alan J. Dubinsky
Purpose of the Study: For adaptive selling to be successful, salespeople need to categorize their customers to
tailor their sales approach. But how do students who are learning to sell know how to categorize customers when
they often have little or no experience with customers? Students intuitively understand that customers are unique
and thus adaptive selling techniques are needed. However, they lack the experience to create customer typologies
and to know what kind of adaptions they should make and how to implement those adaptations throughout the
steps in the sales process based on specific customer types. This article describes a pedagogical methodology that
is empirically tested to help educators teach adaptive selling knowledge by using DISC® (Dominance, Influence,
Steadiness, and Conscientious). In so doing, a cumulative hierarchical structure is created that assists teaching
adaptive selling throughout the entire sales process.
Method/Design and Sample: Assessment from quantitative and qualitative methods with 82 students from
traditional and online modalities was utilized.
Results: Findings provide support for the instructional methodology. Additionally, qualitative research uncovered
students’ perceptions of DISC® in four key areas: (1) DISC® knowledge, (2) self-awareness, (3) changes to views
of others, and (4) interpersonal communication.
Value to Marketing Educators: Step-by-step project implementation is provided for ease of use and adaptation to
selling, as well as other marketing classes. Moreover, the article includes a table that applies DISC® to all steps of
the selling process, detailing how to use established selling techniques for different behavioral styles.
Keywords: personal selling, sales process, adaptive selling, DISC®
Cindy B. Rippé, Assistant Professor of Marketing, Flagler College, Department of Business Administration, 74
King Street, St. Augustine, FL, 32084, Email: crippe@flagler.edu. Brian Martinson, Assistant Professor of
Management, College of Business and Administration, Department of Management, Tarleton State University, Box
T-0200, Stephenville, TX, 76402, Email: martinson@tarleton.edu. Alan J. Dubinsky, Distinguished Visiting
Professor of Marketing, Ziegler College of Business, Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania, 400 East Second
Street, Bloomsburg, PA, 17815; and Professor Emeritus, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN, 40506. Email:
dubinsky@purdue.edu.
daptive selling is the cornerstone of personal
selling, as it enables salespeople to capitalize on
the unique benefits of tailoring a marketing
message based on interactive customer input (Sujan,
Weitz, & Sujan, 1988). Adaptive selling entails “altering
of sales behaviors during a customer interaction or
across customer interactions based on perceived
information about the nature of the selling situation”
(Weitz, Sujan, & Sujan, 1986, p. 175). For adaptive
selling to be successful, salespeople “need to
stereotype or categorize their customers” (Sujan et al.,
1988, p. 11).
A key question facing sales educators, however, is
how do students who are learning to sell know how to
categorize customers when they often have no
experience selling or working with customers. Teaching
adaptive selling to inexperienced students is relevant,
because experience level affects adaptive
selling ability, which positively influences performance
of experienced, but not of new or
inexperienced, salespeople (Franke & Park, 2006; Levy
& Sharma, 1994). For example, research suggests
that inexperienced salespeople vis-à-vis their
experienced counterparts underperform in executing
certain selling behaviors (Dixon, Spiro, & Forbes,
2003).
Absence of experience of those who have never sold
thus poses challenges to sales educators. For example,
as related to adaptive selling, students learning to sell
products and services intuitively understand that
customers are different and that salespeople may,
therefore, need to change their approach for different
customers. But, how do students who are just learning
how to sell know what kind of adaptions they should
make? Additionally, how can sales students who are
just learning the sales process recognize which types of
A
Journal for Advancement of Marketing Education, Volume 25, Issue 2, Fall 2017
15
adaptions are appropriate for different stages of the
sales process?
The foregoing conundrum led to the development of
a methodology for teaching adaptive selling in sales
courses. It incorporates a widely-accepted sales tool
DISC® (e.g., Inscape Publishing, 1996). DISC® is an
acronym that represents four behavioral traits: D
(Dominance), I (Influence), S (Steadiness), and C
(Conscientious). It is a statistically validated, behavioral
style classification tool (subsequently discussed).
Adaptive selling is germane in both beginning and
advanced sales courses, as adjusting to customer
needs and personality types is part of the entire sales
process typically taught in sales courses (Inks,
Schetzsle, & Avila, 2011). For example, if one is using
adaptive selling, the salesperson will change sales
strategies and approaches, depending on whether
he/she is seeking a prospect, building rapport, handling
objections, negotiating a price, presenting, or closing
the sale. As such, it is a skill required in all steps of the
sales process.
With the foregoing in mind, this article describes a
pedagogical methodology that was empirically tested.
The approach is designed to help educators teach
adaptive selling knowledge by employing DISC®, thus
creating a process that assists in teaching adaptive
selling throughout the entire sales process. The
remainder of this article will describe behavioral styles,
introduce the teaching methodology, discuss its
effectiveness, propose its utilization in non-sales
courses, and proffer concluding thoughts.
BEHAVIORAL STYLES
Cognitive psychology supports the categorization of
customers when selling in order to minimize
complications, reduce salesperson’s cognitive burden,
and allow for unencumbered creative thought (Sujan et
al., 1988). Such cognitive efforts can assist individuals
in identifying their own and others’ behavioral styles.
Behavioral style “reflects a pervasive and enduring set
of interpersonal behaviors….Does a person ask
questions or issue commands? Decide issues quickly
or analyze the facts in detail before making decisions?
Confront conflict situations directly or avoid them? Allow
policies to govern or adapt policies to fit changing
conditions?” (Darling & Walker, 2001, p. 232).
Knowledge of behavioral styles facilitates
recognition of patterns of how groups of people
cognitively process, communicate, and perform
(McKenna, Shelton, & Darling, 2002). As related to
selling, various categorization schema have been
suggested based on sales behaviors (Buzzotta, Lefton,
& Sherberg, 1982; Jolson, 1984), buyer behaviors
(Dubinsky & Ingram, 1981-1982; Larson & Bone, 2012),
communication styles (Manning, Ahearne, & Reece,
2015), gender (Comer & Jolson, 1991), sales
orientation (Blake & Mouton, 1980), and general
behavioral stylessuch as Social Style (Merrill & Reid,
1981), DISC®, Myers-Briggs (Lloyd, 2012; Mosby,
2010), and Psycho-Geometric Types (Comer,
Dubinsky, Shao, Chia-Chi, & Schetzsle, 2014). For the
purpose of this research, general behavioral styles
were chosen as the focus for two reasons. First, they
are often used for training on interpersonal skills
(Kraiger & Kirkpatrick, 2010; Reynierse, Ackerman,
Fink, & Harker, 2000), which conceivably would further
benefit students’ self-development, in addition to
teaching them adaptive selling. Second, like its above
alternatives, use of general behavioral styles has been
empirically supported (Kraiger & Kirkpatrick, 2010;
Reynierse et al., 2000).
General Behavioral Styles: Psycho-Geometric
Types, DISC®, Myers-Briggs, & Social Styles
Psycho-geometric types, a way of classifying
customers based on geometric shapes, was not used in
the pedagogical methodology because it is a newly
developed scale that needs further validation (Comer et
al., 2014). DISC® and Myers-Briggs (MB) are similar
because they both are based on theoretical work of Carl
G. Jung, featuring psychological typing. Social Styles is
predicated on behavioral psychology (McKenna et al.,
2002) from the work of Merrill and Reid (1981). MB was
not chosen for inclusion in the teaching methodology
because it has more variations (16 styles) than the four
in DISC®, thus making it complex for students to grasp
(Tracom Group, 2013). Social Styles has four main
profiles that are easy to learn and similar to DISC®’s--
analyticals, drivers, expressives, and amiables (Sujan
et al., 1988). Social Styles, however, requires multiple
assessments from others and would complicate the
implementation of the assessment.
Alternatively, DISC® utilizes a single self-
assessment, thus making implementation more feasible
vis-à-vis Social Styles. Furthermore, DISC® has strong
validity (Extended DISC, 2013; Inscape Publishing,
1996; Renaud, Rutledge, & Shepherd, 2012). Given the
abovementioned reasons, DISC® was chosen for
inclusion in the teaching methodology. DISC® is used
by many companies to teach how to analyze and
observe behavior by identifying and categorizing four
behavioral styles (Geissler, 2014): “D” styles are direct,
firm, forceful, and results oriented; I styles are
influential, outgoing, enthusiastic, optimistic, and lively;
S” styles are steady, even-tempered, accommodating,
and tactful; and “C” styles are conscientious, analytical,
reserved, precise, and private.
DISC® AND Adaptive Selling
DISC® classification enables students with little or no
sales experience to implement tangible techniques into
their adaptive selling strategy, which requires an
effective choice of communication behaviors through
acquisition of information (i.e., via listening and
watching others) and provision of feedback (i.e.,
responding) that is consistent with the flow of
communication (Boorom, Goolsby, & Ramsey, 1998;
Miles, Arnold, & Nash, 1990). As such, a “repertoire of
behaviors or developing a unique response strategy
perceived to have a high likelihood of achieving the
desired results” (Boorom et al., 1998, p. 19) can ensue.
DISC® fits in with these “recommended behaviors” by
providing an inventory of potential behavioral styles and
Journal for Advancement of Marketing Education, Volume 25, Issue 2, Fall 2017
16
responses to those behaviors categorized by the
DISC® styles. Accordingly, DISC® offers
inexperienced salespersons a framework for identifying
and responding to customer types. Additionally, DISC®
can facilitate role plays (Slowikowski, 2005) and
improve workplace communication and diversity
appreciation (Geissler, 2014; Sugerman, 2009).
Admittedly, it has been used extensively in sales and
industry (Reynierse et al., 2000; Sugerman, 2009).
DISC® has not, though, been empirically tested as a
tool in sales educationa key contribution of this
article.
In this article’s pedagogical methodology, adaptive
selling is taught to students by connecting DISC®
profiles to steps in the sales process. Essentially,
students use DISC® knowledge as a framework to
adjust to different styles as they progress through the
selling process. That is, different selling techniques are
tailored to particular behavioral styles and can be used
to direct adaptation choices at varying points in the
sales process. The end result from this methodology is
a cumulative hierarchical structure that is particularly
helpful to novicesas it is linked to the personal selling
process which requires adaptations not just once, but
throughout the changing dyadic connection with the
prospect.
The complexity of learning adaptive selling, while
simultaneously learning the steps of the sales process,
might create a cognitive burden for inexperienced
salespeople. Educators have a similar burden as they
try to address a wide scope of material in a limited time
and are challenged to provide meaningful activities that
enable students to learn and practice adaptive selling
skills while concurrently learning and practicing the
sales process. The methodology described here
creates a framework that embeds adaptions within the
course structure by using DISC®.
To test the efficacy of DISC® in a sales class, the
focus was twofold. First, an intervention was
undertaken in the classroom to teach students about
the four DISC® styles and how to identify and apply
them. Then, after they had learned and practiced using
DISC® styles during the first two weeks of the
semester, another intervention was undertaken in the
classroom to teach students how to employ DISC®
styles in learning adaptive selling vis-à-vis the selling
process. This was done over the balance of the
semester.
Prior to launching the two interventions, students
were given a pre-DISC® training test and a pre-
adaptive selling training test to assess their knowledge
of DISC® styles and adaptive selling, respectively. At
the conclusion of the DISC® and adaptive selling
“training,” students were administered the identical
instruments given to them in the pre-training tests. The
difference between the pre- and post-test scores was
employed to discern the effectiveness of DISC® styles
and adaptive selling teaching (i.e., student ability to use
those particular course materials effectively).
Given the preceding discussion, the following
hypotheses are posited:
H1: Instruction on DISC® will produce higher
student post-DISC® training test scores than pre-
DISC® training test scores.
H2: Instruction on DISC® will produce higher
student post-adaptive selling training test scores
than pre-adaptive selling training test scores.
IMPLEMENTATION OF THE PEDAGOGICAL
METHODOLOGY
This section of the article presents the procedure that
was used to execute the previously discussed didactic
approach. It entailed experiential learning. Experiential
learning is “the process whereby knowledge is created
through the transformation of experience. Knowledge
results from the combination of grasping and
transforming experience” (Kolb, 1984, p. 41).
Experiential learning activities are often utilized in
sales-related teaching tools because they typically
require hands-on application (e.g., Chapman,
Schetzsle, & Wahlers, 2016; Levin & Peterson, 2016;
Rippé, 2015). The steps used to engage students in this
article’s pedagogical methodology are outlined in
Figure 1.
Figure 1. Steps to Implementation
Journal for Advancement of Marketing Education, Volume 25, Issue 2, Fall 2017
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Distribution of DISC® Profile. In the first step, the
instructor e-mails a link on which students complete
their own online DISC® profile. There are
complimentary (see http://discpersonalitytesting.com/
discassess/work-free/free-start.php) and paid-for (see
http://www.extendeddisc.org/disc-products/) profiles.
Students learn about their own style after answering 24
questions (the Extended DISC® paid-for version was
used for this study, owing to its enhanced detail vis-à-
vis the free option). Student responses culminate in a
customized report identifying attributes, motivators,
communication styles, reactions to pressure, and sales
competencies of the individual student.
Explanation and Instruction of DISC® Styles. In
the second step, the instructor teaches DISC® by (1)
helping students understand their own unique style and
how others perceive them, (2) describing how to identify
other styles, and (3) discussing how to read others and
adapt to various styles. Students learn their own style
and how others perceive them by taking the DISC
profile and studying their customized report mentioned
above. In terms of teaching students how to identify
other styles, the instructor teaches the student to first
recognize if someone is an extrovert or slightly
reserved. Per DISC®, if one is an extrovert, he/she is
labeled a “D” or an “I.” If one is slightly reserved, he/she
is identified as an “S” or a “C.” If an individual is
agreeable and cooperative, he/she is typed as an “S”; if
analytical and detail-oriented, a “C”; if direct, a “D”; if
friendly, an “I.” The instructor provides specific direction
about acutely listening to words and observing
gestures, tone, energy levels, and body language to
determine a behavioral style. Subsequently, explicit
adaptions are provided based on students’ recognition
of profiles.
For example, when selling to a D,” one should be
concise and direct and allow the prospect to take
control. Working with an “I” implies that the seller should
be positive, match the buyer’s enthusiasm level, and
ask questionsas such prospects like to talk. With an
“S,” salespeople should be friendly and patient in
sharing new ideas, as this kind of individual does not
like change. Also, they should ask questions to draw out
the customer’s opinions, as “S” styles often listen by
nodding (although doing so does not necessarily mean
agreement). When dealing with a “C,” one should be
detail oriented, set the pace, and stay on task without
socializing (the foregoing is per DISC®).
Incorporation of DISC® into Instruction of the
Sales Process. In step three, the instructor begins to
teach the steps of the sales process and incorporates
DISC® into this teaching. Dubinsky (1981) described
seven stages in the selling process, as well as specific
tactical approaches for each step of the sales process.
Using the work of Dubinsky (1981), shown in Table 1
are specific examples of how DISC® can be applied to
the seven stages of the sales process.
Table 1. Applying DISC to the Sales Process Using Techniques from Dubinsky (1981).
Step of the Sales
Process
Techniques to Use on Particular Style.
Step 1: Identify style. Step 2: Use Technique on Style Identified.
I Styles
S Style
C Style
1. Prospecting
Find potential
buyers
Referral Approach:
Use with sociable
and talkative I styles
who have a people
orientation. Mention
the name of a person
who suggested you
meet with them. I
hope you can help
me. Bill Johnson at
XYZ company
suggested I call you.”
Introduction
Approach:
Ask other prospects
to introduce you to
new ones. This is
appropriate because
S styles are more
comfortable around
people and things
they know.
Hold/Attend Trade
Shows:
Use with C styles who like
detail and information.
They take their time
making decisions, so this
would be a great way to
connect with them and let
them study specifications
and information.
2. Pre-approach
Collect information
to qualify prospect
Other
Intermediaries:
With I styles use
networking through
mutual contacts to
arrange the
appointment because
it is important to them
to be liked by others
and popular.
Phone for the
Appointment:
S styles are good
listeners, easy going,
and thoughtful. Ask
questions to draw
them out.
Personal Letter/Email:
C styles prefer to have a
lot of information and are
better with written
communication. Written
contact allows lots of
specifics to be included in
the initial contact.
3. Approach
Gain and hold
prospect’s
attention
Showmanship:
I styles like to have
fun and to interact
with others so grab
their attention with
unusual dramatic
effects.
Find Needs by
Asking Questions:
Ask S styles open-
and closed-ended
questions to uncover
needs. They listen
carefully and are
Curiosity:
C styles like to consciously
think about things so use
an opening approach that
raises their curiosity.
Journal for Advancement of Marketing Education, Volume 25, Issue 2, Fall 2017
18
easy-going so
converse with them.
4. Presentation
Explain offering
and persuade
desire
Ask Questions
During
Presentation: I
styles are expressive
and positive and
open when in
agreement. Use their
natural talkativeness
to ask questions and
engage them.
Tailor the
Presentation:
Because S styles are
good listeners and
want some details,
tailor the presentation
by providing
supporting material
that helps them
process the offering.
Plus, giving them
more then they
expect will build trust.
Talk the Prospect’s
Language:
C styles are methodical
and want detailed
information. Provide this in
their terms using industry
appropriate jargon.
5. Handling
Objections
Get past
unwillingness to
buy
Case History
Method:
I styles are people-
oriented. Provide a
third-party story of
another customer
who used the product
and benefitted from
it.
Answer Objection
with a Question:
S styles like to be part
of the team and
because they are laid
back, it helps to draw
out their opinion and
walk through the
concerns step by
step.
Comparison or Contrast
Method:
C styles like specific
details, diminish their
objection by comparing it
to something that cost
justifies through another
benefit. For example, “Yes,
there will be a substantial
upfront cost, but
implementing this system
will reduce bottlenecks in
the long term and increase
the overall productivity of
the department by 10%,
just in the first year alone.”
6. Closing
Reinforce and sell
based on the
needs initially
discussed during
step three
Emotional Close:
Appeal to I styles
desire for popularity,
fun, status, or
recognition. “People
who purchase this
often get recognized
for the good they
bring to the
company.”
Minor Decision
Close:
S styles do not want
to be pressured and
they prefer a steady
and orderly way. Help
them go at a
comfortable pace by
asking seemingly
minor closing
questions on things
they would have to
consider if they were
to actually purchase
the product. For
example, “If you did
choose this model,
which color would
best work with your
décor? Then move
on to the final close
from there.
Summarize:
C styles like facts and
details and plenty of
information to make a
decision. Summarize all
the benefits previously
discussed, step by step,
and in a logical order
recapping and detailing all
the possible sub-items and
features.
7. Follow up:
Reduce concerns,
increase
satisfaction, and
create environment
for repeat
purchases
Thank You Notes:
I styles like to feel as
they belong and are
acknowledged and
appreciated. A hand-
written thank you
note will reinforce the
relationship.
Follow-Up:
S styles want things
to be steady and
stable for the team.
Check in soon after
the sale to ensure the
initial use is smooth.
Consult:
Consult with C styles on
how to get the most out of
the product. Share specific
details to help them master
product usage.
Journal for Advancement of Marketing Education, Volume 25, Issue 2, Fall 2017
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Material depicted in Table 1 differentiates
techniques related to each step of the sales process for
each behavioral style. For example, when addressing
how to handle objections, the preceptor would teach
that managing a prospect’s objections varies depending
on a buyer’s specific behavioral style. For instance, with
a “D” style, use of the Yes, But Method can be
appropriate. For an “I,” employment of the Case History
Method may well be beneficial. For an “S,utilization of
the Answer Objection with a Question conceivably
seems apposite. Dealing with a “C,” the Comparison or
Contrast Method might be valuable. As such, the
technique that a salesperson assays is predicated on
the prospect’s, not the salesperson’s, style.
Inclusion of Adaptations of DISC® Styles in Role
Plays. In step four, students practice adapting the sales
process to the different DISC® styles through role
plays. This happens throughout the sessions, as the
instructor teaches the various steps of the selling
process. This learning culminates in a major final role
play for each student. The instructor, who has
knowledge of all students’ DISC® profiles, matches
students for role plays so that they can practice selling
to different behavioral styles, thus requiring their
adjusting throughout the role play. Typically, pairing
those with contrasting stylesfor example, putting
together a demonstrative, affectionate “I” with a direct,
non-feeling “D”allows students to stretch their sales
skills, enabling better mastery of DISC® adaptation.
METHODS
Research Design
To measure the effectiveness of the article’s
pedagogical methodology, a quasi-experimental design
was used. It featured a pre-test/post-test without control
group design (Shadish, Cook, & Campbell, 2002).
Subjects were asked to complete an online survey on
the first day of class and then, after receiving instruction
on DISC® styles and subsequently on adaptive selling,
the same survey was distributed to participants at the
end of the semester.
Subjects
The sample consisted of four sections of a personal
selling class at a medium- size public university located
in the southwest of the United States. A total of 88
students were enrolled. The response rate was 93%,
meaning that 82 students completed both pre-test and
post-test instruments, with 80 students providing
complete information. Sixty-two percent of the sample
were enrolled in an online version of the course, and the
remaining 39% in a traditional face-to-face classroom
setting. Sixty-two percent of the students were female.
Forty-nine percent were between 21 and 23-years old;
28%, between 24 and 34 years old; and 14%,
between18 and 20 years-old. Seventy-nine percent of
subjects were Caucasian; 11%, Hispanic; and 5%,
African American.
Measures
The independent and dependent variables were
calculated as gain scores, based on Knapp and Schafer
(2009). Pre-test measures were subtracted from post-
test measures with positive/negative numbers
indicating an increase/decrease in subjects’ response
values. The scale item values for both the dependent
and independent variables were summed and then
standardized to normalize the unit of measurement
(Field, 2009).
Dependent Variable
The dependent variable included four items from the
Shortened Adaptive Selling Scale (Robinson, Marshall,
Moncrief, & Lassk, 2002). The items are shown in Table
2. Scale reliability (coefficient alpha) for the pre-test was
0.83 and 0.73 for the post-test. Both values are within
the 0.70 cutoff for acceptable reliability (Kline, 2000).
Independent Variable
The independent variable (change in knowledge of
DISC® profiles) was calculated as the number of
correct responses on a six-item, multiple-choice test.
The test asked students to identify the DISC® profile of
a described customer. An example of the test questions
used in the test included the following: “Matthew is
strong and results focused and, when he so desires, a
friendly entrepreneur. He tries his best to get everyone
to focus their efforts to achieve his goals. He is not good
in taking care of the administrative routines, although he
is able to organize other activities. Matthew took a big
risk in leaving his job to start up his own company in a
very competitive field. What behavioral style is
Matthew? Answer choices included “D,” “I,” “S,” or “C,”
with the correct answer being “D.” The variable was
calculated as the difference between the student’s pre-
test and post-test scores on the test by subtracting the
pre-test value from the post-test value.
Analysis and Results
The analysis was conducted in two parts. First, outcome
variables were tested for normal distribution visually
using histograms, as well as with SPSS skewness and
kurtosis statistics. The histograms suggested that the
data followed a normal distribution. Skewness and
kurtosis revealed that all items were within the +/-1.96
limit proposed by Rose, Spinks, and Canhoto (2014)
save for one item, “When my approach does not work,
I can easily change to another approach”—which just
met the skewness threshold of 2.03. Because the
kurtosis statistic was within acceptable limits and the
item was within the parameters (+/-2.58) for larger
sample sizes, the item was retained.
Next, one-way ANOVA was undertaken to
determine the impact of selected demographic
variables on the outcome variables. DISC® Profiles
Knowledge and adaptive selling standardized gain
scores were tested vis-à-vis subjects’ age, sex, and
race. None of the demographic variables had a
significant impact on the DISC® Profiles Knowledge
gain scores. The Adaptive Selling gain score, though,
showed a statistically significant (p < .05) between-
group difference with sex. Further analysis of this
relationship indicated that males’ perception of their
adaptive selling ability decreased slightly (from a mean
Journal for Advancement of Marketing Education, Volume 25, Issue 2, Fall 2017
20
= 5.83, s.d. = 0.60 to a mean = 5.56, s.d. = 0.65)
between the beginning and conclusion of the course.
Females’ perception of this ability, however, increased
(from a mean = 5.19, s.d. = 1.19 to a mean = 5.52, s.d.
= 0.87). This finding suggests that males and females
have varying levels of confidence in their abilities to use
different selling approaches. Further, as they learn
about selling approaches, males seemingly adjust for
their over confidence, and females experience an
increase in their confidence. This confidence
differential is consistent with research that shows
females are initially not as confident as males (Pugh &
Wahrman, 1983; Sarsons & Xu, 2015; Thomas-Hunt &
Phillips, 2004). The effect of age and race on the
Adaptive Selling gain score was found to be not
significant at a 95% confidence level.
Then, one-way ANOVA was performed to determine
whether the instructional delivery modeonline or face
to facehad an effect on the outcome variables.
DISC® Profiles Knowledge gain scores and Adaptive
Selling gain scores were tested with subjects’ course
modality. Findings showed that instructional delivery
mode had a statistically significant relationship with
DISC® Profiles Knowledge gain scores but no
statistically significant impact on Adaptive Selling gain
scores. The face-to-face instructional delivery mode on
DISC® Profiles Knowledge gain scores mean was 2.32
(s.d., 2.12), while the online mode mean was 0.39 (s.d.,
1.61); these findings suggest that the face-to-face
delivery mode yielded higher DISC® Profiles
Knowledge gain scores than the online mode. However,
instructional delivery mode did not influence the
relationship between DISC® Profiles Knowledge gain
scores and Adaptive Selling gains scores (discussed
below).
To test whether DISC® knowledge can be
developed through instruction (H1), a paired-sample t-
test was performed. The test compared DISC® Profile
Knowledge test scores before and after DISC® Profile
Knowledge instruction was provided. Results of the test
revealed a significant difference (p < .05) between the
pre-test DISC® Profile Knowledge scores and post-test
scores (a 41% increase in mean test scores from 3.25
to 4.58). Thus, H1 was supported.
The final analysis included testing an OLS
regression model with the Adaptive Selling gain score
as the dependent variable, and the DISC® Profile
Knowledge gain score as the independent variable,
while controlling for age, sex, race, and instructional
delivery mode. The model was statistically significant
with a p-value of 0.03. The results of the regression
analysis suggest that a one-unit increase in the DISC
knowledge gain score leads to an increase in the
Adaptive Selling gain score of between 0.06 and 0.93
at a 95% confidence level, thus indicating support for
H2. (See Table 2 for the statistical findings for the
second phase of the analysis mentioned above.)
Table 2. Results.
Descriptive Statistics (n = 79)
Mean
SD
DISC Profile Knowledge Pre-test
3.25
1.70
DISC Profile Knowledge Post-test
4.58
1.83
Adaptive Selling Pre-test
5.43
1.05
Adaptive Selling Post-test
5.53
0.79
Paired-samples T-test (Hypothesis 1)
Mean
SD
p-
value
DISC Profile Knowledge Pre-test to Post-test
1.32
1.99
0.00
One-way ANOVA test - DISC Profile Knowledge GS
F
p-
value
Age
2.63
0.04*
Sex
1.41
0.42
Race
1.26
0.29
Instructional delivery mode: Online vs Face-to-face
15.08
0.00
One-way ANOVA test - Adaptive Selling GS
F
p-
value
Age
0.26
0.90
Sex
8.61
0.00
Journal for Advancement of Marketing Education, Volume 25, Issue 2, Fall 2017
21
Race
0.57
0.68
Instructional delivery mode: Online vs Face-to-face
0.01
0.92
Regression Model - (Hypothesis 2)
Beta
SE
p-
value
Dependent variable = Adaptive Selling Gain Score
Model 1
Constant
-0.34
1.43
0.81
Age
0.21
0.50
0.67
Sex
-2.67
0.86
0.00
Race
1.37
1.00
0.17
Instructional delivery mode: Online vs Face-to-face
-0.80
0.90
0.38
Model 2
Constant
-1.34
1.53
0.81
Age
0.54
0.50
0.67
Sex
-2.70
0.83
0.00
Race
0.95
1.00
0.17
Instructional delivery mode: Online vs Face-to-face
0.02
0.90
0.38
DISC Profile Knowledge GS
0.58
0.226
0.01
* Post hoc analysis yielded no significant differences between factor
levels.
Note: “GS” denotes “Gain Score.”
The post-test survey also included three open-
ended questions asking students how learning DISC®
will help them now and in the future. Although not
directly related to study hypotheses, the qualitative
measures illuminate how students across formats
(hybrid, online, and face-to-face) viewed DISC®
learning. Such questions have been used in prior
research for qualitative evaluation (Rippé, Weisfeld-
Spolter, Cummins, & Dastoor, 2016).
Responses were coded by three qualitative
researchers who independently reviewed responses,
discussed discrepancies, and made corresponding
modifications after discussion. No responses were
deleted for lack of agreement, thus leading to almost
perfect inter-rater reliability assessed using percentage
agreement (100%), as well as a kappa score of 1
(Hruschka et al., 2004; Liebetrau, 1983). Four main
themes emerged (student statements along these
themes are shown in Table 3). One was knowledge of
DISC styles and its use in approaching customers (e.g.,
“it helped me understand how to approach
consumers”). A second theme was increased self-
awareness (e.g., “helped me better understand
myself”). Another theme pertains to changes in student
perceptions of people (e.g., “I find myself figuring out
what personality type people are that I encounter every
day”). The last theme revolves around improved
interpersonal communication (e.g., “I can have
conversations and show empathy in a really good
way”). These responses seemingly provide further
support for use of the article’s pedagogical
methodology and infer promise as a teaching
alternative.
Knowledge of DISC styles and using it to approach customers Increased self-awareness
DISC has helped me to analyze people around me and figure out their needs. Helped me better understand myself.
It helped me understand how to approach consumers.
It helped me realize my strengths and weaknesses in my selling technique and I was
able to fix them.
I was able to converse with different people for my role-plays and was able to use
adaptive selling to get a commitment.
It has helped me better understand what type of personality I have so that I can
improve my communication skills.
It has taught me some of the various ways in which a sales presentation can be
developed around the four core categories of a prospect's personality.
It has helped me grasp a better understanding of how to incorporate my personality
traits in my approach during work and sales situations and to understand others
Changed how I view people Improved interpersonal communication
I find myself figuring out what personality type people are that I encounter everyday.
I can have conversations and show empathy in a really good way. That has been really
nice.
DISC has helped me to realize that everyone is different and we all do things in
different ways.
I think it will help me to approach situations really well and allow me to understand
how people feel based on verbal and nonverbal communication.
Using DISC has made me more tolerant of others that are different than me.
Perhaps on dealing with my coworkers. If I can understand their tendencies I can work
with them better.
Table 3
Themes from Responses to Qualitative Survey Questions
Journal for Advancement of Marketing Education, Volume 25, Issue 2, Fall 2017
22
DISCUSSION
The purpose of this article was to introduce and
empirically examine a pedagogical methodology that
could assist educators teach adaptive selling
knowledge by employing DISC® (Dominance,
Influence, Steadiness, and Conscientious). Research
findings revealed that the approach can be efficacious
in leading to enhanced student knowledge of customer
profiles, which further ameliorates their use of adaptive
selling behavior. Moreover, these findings are invariant
across teaching modalities (online or face-to-face
instruction) vis-à-vis the DISC® gain score Adaptive
Selling gains score relationship, as well as the Adaptive
Selling gain scores. However, a face-to-face
pedagogical approach did lead to an increase in DISC®
knowledge gain scores. Accordingly, educators should
give serious consideration to employing DISC® in their
classrooms.
Salespeople rely on their experience of customer
classification to employ adaptive selling behavior;
however, sales students often lack the experience with
customers to implement a typology that would allow
them to respond to customers adaptively. This lack of
knowledge, coupled with students’ unfamiliarity with the
selling process, creates challenges for sales educators
in teaching adaptive selling. The pedagogical
methodology described here has potential to help
marketing educators bear less of a burden when
teaching adaptive selling to their sales students.
Value of DISC® in Non-Sales Courses
The procedure outlined in this article can be adapted to
any type or level of sales course (or marketing class that
addresses sales) and has been used across modalities
(online, hybrid, and face-to-face) as a tool for teaching
adaptive selling. The first author is a certified DISC®
trainer and has employed DISC® in other kinds of
marketing classes. Specifically, it has been utilized
seven times in marketing principles (when teaching the
chapter on personal selling) and six times in marketing
management. For those courses, the same steps
shown in Figure 1 are followed, with the only changes
being as follows: (1) perforce, the sales process is
taught in a shorter timeframe and with much less detail;
and (2) role plays focus only on one step of the selling
process (such as the presentation) and do not
culminate in a final project.
The first author has also utilized the methodology
twice in a consumer behavior class to show differences
in people as applied to buyer behavior. Its
implementation in this capacity entailed only Steps 1
and 2 of Figure 1. Even in the non-sales classes,
students appear to benefit from learning about DISC®
and adapting to different people. Preliminary evidence
of this phenomenon exists, as a majority of students in
those classes mentioned DISC® in their final course
assessments; nonetheless, additional empirical testing
is needed.
Limitations and Future Research
This study is limited by a quasi-experimental design. It
is also constrained owing to its being used by only one
instructor. Future research should examine the
methodology denoted in this article using multiple
instructors and a control group. Hybrid classes, other
non-sales marketing courses, as well as different
student levels could also be examined in future
empirical efforts. Additional work could employ the
approach comparing experienced sales students with
inexperienced sales students. Moreover, researchers
could examine how DISC® affects other sales-related
variables, such as emotional intelligence, rapport
building, and detection of non-verbal cues.
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