Why Sales Success Depends on Alignment With Non-Customer Contact Employees

A Research Summary for Sales Leaders

Major Issues Facing Sales Executives

Sales executives today are facing a combination of forces that leave little margin for error. There is fierce competition between companies targeting the same pool of customers. Price compression is intense and margins are under enormous pressure. Finally, we have a rapidly changing market where your sales force must be nimble and react quickly to changing customer demands. For example, you may have a selling opportunity that is elongated and suddenly the market changes. Sales people need to be able to react to this and understand what the buyer now needs, which could be quite different from the original conversation. In the midst of these factors—price pressures, intense competition, and market volatility—you are striving for recurring sales from your established customer base.

What This Research Has Revealed

The research presented in “Linking Organizational Characteristics to Employee Attitudes and Behavior—A Look at the Downstream Effects on Market Response & Financial Performance” shows a direct link between customer satisfaction and employee satisfaction. While sales people have the responsibility for selling, positioning and formulating the brand promise, non-customer facing employees deliver on that promise. Their attitudes and behaviors help shape customer attitudes toward the company and whether those customers continue to use an organization’s products or services.

Effective organizational communication is critical to creating a satisfied workforce. The study shows that communication accounts for 45 percent “of the variance in employee satisfaction….”  In addition, the study shows that satisfied employees are engaged employees, and organizational culture can be managed in a way that drives engagement. The study showed that a hybrid sort of culture, one that brought into play attributes of both cooperative and competitive cultures, was a positive predictor of engaged employees. In a culture characterized by highly engaged employees, employees work together and also bring the voice of the customer into the organization.

Ideas for Applying This Research 
to Your Business

Sales begins in the field, but it doesn’t end there. Building and nurturing customer relationships is a shared responsibility. It calls for an organizational commitment to create an engaged workforce, and a culture where communication is valued.

  • Engage non-customer facing employees. Initiate discussions between those who make the promise to the customer (sales) and those who deliver on that promise. Seek out ideas on how non-customer facing employees can best represent the brand and deliver on its promise, and listen to what they tell you about your customers.
  • Communicate to promote alignment between internal and external teams. Sales needs to respond quickly to changing customer needs, but cannot do that without the support of non-customer facing employees. Open and rapid communication facilitates quick response and it can also prevent misalignment between what happens in the field and what happens internally. The market is moving too fast to allow for second chances. Alignment also supports customer loyalty and retention, the basis for recurring sales.
  • Incorporate both competition and cooperation into the mix. Set goals with awards for outstanding performance, but don’t let the competitive spirit take over. Working together toward common objectives helps to ensure alignment between sales and non-customer facing employees.


Research Basis

This executive summary is based on the groundbreaking research study, Linking Organizational Characteristics to Employee Attitudes and Behavior – A Look at the Downstream Effects on Market Response & Financial Performance, conducted by Dr. James Oakley, Purdue University at the direction of Forum Research Chair, Dr. Frank Mulhern, Northwestern University. While the original study was published in 2003, the basis remains relevant today. 

About the Forum 

The Forum: Business Results Through People, (formerly Forum for People Performance Management and Measurement) affiliated with Northwestern University, is an organizational trust for thought leadership advocating that the most effective way business leaders can create and sustain organizational value is through their partnership with people. The Forum promotes a people-centered leadership approach by: providing relevant, provocative, and actionable academic research; creating a platform for leaders to dialog, network and benchmark practices; delivering ideas for practical action and experimentation; and, building and supporting a community of champions for people-centered leadership.


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