Association of Marketing Theory and Practice, Association of Marketing Theory and Practice 2014

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Personal Selling: A Humanist Perspective
William R. Gruver, Timothy Sweeney

Building: Omni Conference Center
Room: Palmetto Ballroom A
Date: 03-29-2014 - 09:00 AM – 10:15 AM
Last modified: 02-27-2014


Personal selling just might be the least studied aspect of marketing strategy by academicians, yet it is arguably one of the most critical success factors to most companies - product or service based, consumer or industrial. It is safe to say that the traditional image of a salesperson is not flattering. It portrays the salesperson as ambitious, extroverted, conspicuously greedy, and self-serving, a company representative who is driven by volume commissions, but one who pays little (if any) attention to buyers’ needs. In his classic 1960 HBR piece, Marketing Myopia, Ted Levitt discusses differences between selling and marketing, noting that selling caters to the needs of the seller, marketing to the needs of the buyer.
This paper reviews the traditional role of personal selling in the organization and examines the evolution of personal selling in the context of changes in technology and social media. In doing so, particular focus is on the human side of personal selling, essentially looking at the selling function from a humanist perspective. Questions that are addressed and discussed in this paper include:
• What are the humanistic dimensions of personal selling and how, if at all, have these human qualities changed with modern technology? Is personal selling finally dead?
• Is the cornerstone of the sales cathedral, i.e., the “ABC’s” mantra of personal selling (“Always Be Closing”), still as relevant today as it has been for decades? Does it need to be revisited from a humanist perspective in light of today’s business environment?
• Do William Powers’ arguments in his 2010 book, Hamlet’s BlackBerry, regarding human connectedness through technology apply to the buyer-seller relationship?

• What training and professional development challenges lie ahead if marketing professionals transition to the art of personal selling?

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