Customer oriented and proactive selling in small Finnish companies
1University of Oulu, Oulu Business School, Department of Management and International Business, Management
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Oulu : H. Papadopoulos,
Solving the customer’s “pain” is a well-known mantra in business, as is taking the initiative. Customer orientation describes the former in terms of understanding the customer’s needs and striving to satisfy them. The latter is many times associated with being proactive when acting. Both these traits have been associated with higher performance and other positive effects in sales. Small businesses often face difficulties competing against larger firms due to lack of resources and knowledge when navigating their environments. Customer orientation and proactiveness in their approach to sales could help them partly overcome these difficulties by providing a way to increase sales performance. This study seeks to uncover whether customer orientation and proactiveness are more prevalent in certain types of small businesses and to add to the understanding of small business sales.
The study examines customer orientation and proactiveness literature along with literature about the divisions in the marketing and sales of B2B versus B2C and products versus services. The construct of customer orientation includes customer service orientation, solution orientation and an emphasis on analysing customer behaviour. The proactiveness categories are whether the firm acquires new sales via its action, the customers action, or the action of both. The aim is to understand whether higher levels of the two traits are associated with a certain type of customers or offerings and to shed light on their coexistence and their effect on sales performance. The study utilizes a questionnaire distributed to various small companies in the Oulu region of Finland, to assess their sales capabilities. Answers to questions pertaining to the above traits were selected and statistically analysed to identify inferences in the data about the previous associations. Altogether, the analysis looked at 242 respondents from 32 companies, from various industries. The study is part of the “Sales is a King” project, which is being conducted by the University of Oulu and the MicroENTRE research body.
The data analysis showed interesting results. It suggests that the existence of higher customer orientation levels is not related to a more proactive sales approach and vice versa. Also, the two behaviours do not vary between customer and offering types and only proactiveness is associated with higher sales performance. Although, using the customer orientation construct yielded the above results, further analysis on the customer service orientation and solution orientation items showed otherwise. The former was higher in B2B firms than those that sell to both customer types and in product selling firms as opposed to those that sell both offering types. For the latter, companies that sold products exhibited higher solution orientation levels than those that sold both offerings. The study contributes to researchers and practitioners alike, by enhancing the understanding of customer oriented and proactive selling in small businesses.
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