In the formal organizational plan, each salesperson reports to someone higher up in the structure, a sales supervisor, a district sales manager, or, as in most small companies, to the chief sales executive. According to traditional theory, the superior has the authority to require that the salesperson take action, and the salesperson is obligated to carry out the superior’s orders. This theory assumes that authority (“the formal right to require action of others”) can be equated with power (“the ability to get things done”). Practical sales managers know that issuing an order to a salesperson or suggesting how he or she should act (that is, change a pattern of behavior) does not necessarily mean that henceforth the salesperson will change. On many occasions, of course, there is little problem in having orders and directions put into effect—as long as they are clearly stated and apply to simple tasks that are done quickly. However, if orders and directions require significant modification in the salesperson’s behavior over an extended period, perhaps permanently, the salesperson’s acceptance of the desired change is a great deal more unpredictable.
Whether or not orders and directions are accepted depends upon the relationship between the salesperson and the superior. At one extreme, a salesperson is wholly dependent upon the superior, in which case he or she considers that superior’s exercise of authority as fully appropriate; this situation, amounting to blind obedience, is rarely found in business. At the opposite extreme, the salesperson and the superior are fully interdependent; that is, there is equal dependence both ways, a relationship comparable to that between close friends, and authority is useless as a means of control. This situation is also rare, but it seems desirable—in effect, the salesperson depends on the superior for reaching his or her individual goals. Thus, full integration of individual and organizational goals is possible.
The usual situation in sales force-superior relationships is one of partial dependence. The salesperson is partially dependent upon the superior and regards the latter’s exercise of authority as appropriate in some circumstances and not in others; the superior is partially dependent upon the salesperson for help in reaching the organizational goals for which he or she is held responsible by higher management. Each salesperson, then, has a “zone of acceptance,” a range over which he or she accepts directions from the superior, and each superior has a similar zone over which he or she honors requests from the salesperson. Within their respective zones of acceptance, too, both the salesperson and the superior exhibit a “degree of acceptance” that varies according to the exact circumstances from grudging acquiescence to enthusiastic cooperation.
The sales manager should try to widen the zone and increase the degree of acceptance of each salesperson, but accomplishing this also means widening his or her own zone and increasing his or her own degree of acceptance. Actually this is only a fancy way of saying that effective supervision is prerequisite to improved performance. Through effective supervision, the sales manager satisfies many of the salespersons’ needs and, at the same time, obtains fuller cooperation from them in striving for organizational goals by giving due credit for good work, by convincing each salesperson of his or her job’s importance, by earning the sales personnel’s confidence in his or her leadership, and by following other enlightened supervisory practices. Sales personnel under this sort of supervision work hard to earn praise and recognition and the resulting social approval, esteem, and self-respect. Effective supervision means, above all else, that salespeople are treated as human beings, as individuals in their own right, not as mere cogs in an impersonal industrial machine.
Source: Richard R. Still, Edward W. Cundliff, Normal A. P Govoni, Sandeep Puri (2017), Sales and Distribution Management: Decisions, Strategies, and Cases, Pearson; Sixth edition.