In a nutshell: Salesperson communication effectiveness in a digital sales interaction

Scientific articles contain valuable management implications, but are usually not very easy to digest. We summarize the core results so that you can use the latest research findings for your company.

download article


Technological advancements are ushering in the fourth industrial revolution. Whereas the steam engine, mass production, and the Internet were responsible for providing the foundation for innovation in past eras, the case is being made that economies and industries will be disrupted by technologies which permit the blending together of the digital, physical, and biological worlds […].
A notable shift that is transpiring is that business exchanges (among suppliers, intermediaries, customers, and other constituencies) are increasingly being carried out in digital environments […]. [In fact,] B2B buyers are exhibiting an increased preference to transact digitally with vendors. A topic which has yet to receive sufficient academic attention in this modern selling environment is salesperson communication effectiveness.
Accordingly, this article: 1) defines digital sales interactions (DSIs) as technology-enabled, face-to-face buyer-seller exchanges; 2) proposes a typology of DSIs to set the stage to examine salesperson communication effectiveness; 3) introduces a framework that reifies the sender’s auditory and visual cues that can influence receivers’ thoughts (i.e. cognition, affect, intention) and activity (i.e. purchase behavior, advocacy); 4) suggests theoretical lenses that can illuminate various aspects of the salesperson’s communication barrage; 5) advances how machine learning can be applied to understand what constitutes effective communication in a digital interaction by asking: To what extent does what a salesperson says (auditory cues) and how s/he says it (visual cues) impact her/his effectiveness in a DSI?; and 6) concludes by noting promising future research directions for B2B marketing researchers.

Key statements

The conduct of customers in the B2B sector is changing radically. For example, about 68% of B2B customers prefer negotiating with suppliers digitally rather than face to face and on location. To a growing extent, suppliers are now called upon to interact with their customers digitally, also during the sales process. The key to (sales) success depends upon how well the seller communicates in interactions of this kind.
In this study, the authors provide an overview of a line of research that is still in its infancy. They highlight how what a sales employee says and how they say it have an impact upon the effectiveness of a digital sales interaction. Essentially, any sales interaction – whether in person or digital – involves the exchange of a great variety of auditive and visual signals (e.g. gesture, facial expression, choice of words and volume of delivery) between the seller and the customer.
Having said that, certain signals (e.g. tonality or emotionality) are fairly difficult to get across in technology-assisted face-to-face interactions and may have an adverse impact on the effectiveness of those interactions. The use of artificial intelligence and machine learning offers companies new scope for analyzing digital sales interactions in great depth, and for evaluating the effectiveness of communication involving sales staff.
The following suggestions can help you to map out digital sales interactions successfully:

  • The “how” is important: Studies have shown that it is not only the content of a sales message that is important but also the manner and way in which it gets communicated. In digital settings, you should pay greater attention to maintaining a positive attitude and avoid speaking in a monotone way.
  • Customizing digital messages: Digital sales and marketing content is easy to scale and disseminate. However, you should not adopt a mass processing approach when addressing your customers. Instead, ensure that you tailor sales messages to the individual needs of your counterpart, employing your knowledge of relevant details about your customers.
  • Deploying the right tools: There is a huge range of choice when it comes to communications software and tools. You should select the tools that are most appropriate for your corporate context, and that best help you to communicate your sales message professionally.

Bharadwaj, N. & Shipley, G. M. (2020). Salesperson communication effectiveness in a digital sales interaction. Industrial Marketing Management, 90, 106-112.