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Selling is undergoing a metamorphosis
The selling function and the people performing it are often maligned by the media and the general public. Much of the negative perception of the sales function and those performing it can probably be attributed to the belief that sales personnel are constantly trying to get people to buy, regardless of their needs and to make money at the other person's expense. However, selling seems to be undergoing a sort of metamorphosis. More and more authors are discussing "partnership selling" (Weitz et al., 1992) or "non-manipulative selling" (Alessandra et al., 1987). The prevailing attitude of both academicians and practitioners seems to be one of promoting customer satisfaction and goodwill. Correspondingly, there is a tendency to change the sales nomenclature from salesman to such terms as sales counselor, professional representative, or sales consultant (Manning and Reece, 1992). The fact that this is not "just" a fad may be indicated by a 1978 article in Sales and Marketing Management entitled "Every salesperson a psychologist" (Scanlon, 1978). Perhaps the change in name is designed to be consistent with the change in the sales representative's job, from selling to advising, from talking to listening, from pushing to helping, etc. Therefore, it may be theorized that the outstanding sales personnel of the future will work in a manner more similar to counselors in the area of psychotherapy than as "hustlers" or "con artists". It can be suggested that the salesperson of tomorrow may be one who is more skilled in counseling than in traditional selling.
If the proposition that the sales function has evolved from one that emphasizes selling to one that emphasizes counseling is accepted, it would follow that the "best" salespeople are those who are most skilled in counseling (all other factors being equal). The research discussed in this article is designed to explore the proposition that counseling skills relate significantly and positively to sales performance. If the results of this research indicate that the counseling skills possessed by a sales representative are positively related to that individual's performance, then practitioners and academicians could be well-advised to emphasize the concept of sales counseling and advising in their hiring and training activities.
"Facilitative conditions" are necessary for positive results
In the counseling literature, certain conditions have been identified as being necessary and sufficient for positive therapeutic change (Rogers, 1957). This statement means certain counselor behaviors are necessary to facilitate the positive results that may be expected from the counseling process. These conditions have been identified as "facilitative conditions" and continue to be discussed and recommended in counseling textbooks (see Hansen et al., 1986; or Gladding, 1988). According to Rogers (1957) the counselor-based therapeutic ingredients include congruence; warm, positive regard; and empathic understanding. Congruence is defined as the counselor's capacity to be genuine and integrated in the confines of the counseling relationship (Rogers, 1957). In a selling sense, the description of the congruent salesperson may be one that indicates that the salesperson is not "defensive" or "phony" during the sales interaction (i.e. one who is honest and open). The second dimension, unconditional positive regard for the client, indicates that the counselor is accepting of the other individual in the relationship (Rogers, 1957). In a sales context, this would be indicative of the salesperson who is capable of communicating to his/her customer the fact that he/she possesses a nonevaluative caring and positive regard for the buyer, regardless of their (the buyer's and seller's) agreement or disagreement on the various topics discussed. Rogers (1957) contends that empathy entails the counselor's capacity to "sense the clients private world". In a sales situation it could be indicative of the salesperson's being sensitive to the buyer's feelings and thoughts and being able to communicate this understanding in a manner consistent with the buyer's ability to comprehend. While numerous authors have developed lists of the "therapeutic ingredients", it seems that Rogers's list continues to be the most popular and well known and most alternatives are nearly mirror images of the ingredients Rogers advanced. Moreover, a method of assessing the counselor's possession of these ingredients has been facilitated by the use of many scales and measurement systems.
The Barrett-Lennard Relationship Inventory
One scale which has been used to assess the counselor's levels of the therapeutic ingredients is the Barrett-Lennard Relationship Inventory (BLRI), developed by Barrett-Lennard (1962). The BLRI can be used to assess the facilitative conditions specified as it explicitly examines empathy, congruence, and regard (regard is evaluated by two separate scales - one measuring regard and the second the unconditionality of regard). Barrett-Lennard (1962, p. 6) states …