INSIDE IOWA STATE
January 26, 2001
The road to success
Research helps sales force become more effective
by Kevin Brown
It's time to buy a car. You
walk into the showroom
and are greeted by a salesperson who makes a living from
commissions. How does knowing that affect your decision and your
relationship with the salesperson? That's what Tom DeCarlo wants to
DeCarlo, associate professor of marketing, researches how and when such
revelations may affect consumer habits. His research indicates that
suspicions of a salesperson's motives reduce consumers' acceptance of the
sales message, and increase the buyers' negative feelings toward a company,
However, it's not all bad news for the salesperson. DeCarlo's research also
finds that the strength of the sales message influences suspicion levels and
that more experienced buyers are less affected by the commission information
He uses such information to help salespeople become more effective. All his
research focuses on managing a sales force, including ways to help managers
identify those people who will become top salespeople.
One way is through "scripting,"
a series of open-ended questions or scenarios that assess a salesperson's
knowledge and helps managers identify performance differences between
higher- and lower- performing salespeople.
DeCarlo currently is studying the scripts of 150 sales professionals at
Allstate Insurance agencies from Texas, New York, Florida and Indiana. He
has identified significant differences between higher- and lower- performing
salespeople. DeCarlo hopes the findings will be a useful teaching aid for
lower-performing salespeople, as well as helpful for managers recruiting
"Employers today are demanding core competencies from their sales
employees," DeCarlo noted. "Those competencies include self-manage-ment
[characteristics such as integrity and ethical conduct, personal drive,
self-awareness and management skills], strategic planning, team building,
coaching, a global perspective and use of technology. They want employees to
show a proficiency in these areas before they are hired."
With his co-authors, DeCarlo just completed a major overhaul on their
textbook, Sales Management, to include these "competencies."
Understanding the market
DeCarlo also uses his position as faculty scholar in the ISU Business
Analysis Lab to continue his work on sales management. He handpicks graduate
and undergraduate students to work on special projects. Many
of the projects involve the 3M Corp., which founded the lab several
The colleges of Engineering and Education are collaborators on the lab, and
DeCarlo frequently works with Doug Gemmill, industrial and manufacturing
systems engineering, and Dennis Field, industrial education and technology.
"Much of the work we do focuses on gaining an understanding of the market
for new technologies," he said. "I am involved in at least two projects a
semester, with the students doing
all of the work and making the presentations to the client firms."
"This is one of the most unique educational programs in the country,"
DeCarlo said. "Students in Business, LAS and Engineering are put into teams
to work together on a project that has real consequences for a company's
One project was an indoor air quality study for 3M to determine what's
important to consumers.
Through two focus groups, students obtained good professional and
quantitative information, DeCarlo said. It helped 3M, partnering with
another company on this project, to learn how people, especially those with
allergies, deal with poor indoor air quality.
Another 3M study measured the performance of marketing depart-ments
within the company. DeCarlo said his students used a three-pronged approach:
reviewing academic research, developing a questionnaire for telephone
interviews with executives, and interviewing high-level 3M, IBM, Hallmark
and Motorola executives.
"This project was unique in that
it provided the students with great exposure to top marketing personnel and
how they think," he said.
According to DeCarlo, the students' research findings have had some impact
on 3M's planning and development process.
Most of the projects require the students to travel to 3M headquarters in
St. Paul at the end of the semester to present their findings to company
DeCarlo plans to tap into the business lab for another research project
that has caught his interest.
He would like to know how negative word-of-mouth communication affects
consumer thoughts about
Past research suggests such communication would have a negative impact on
the brand. But DeCarlo and fellow researchers recently published a paper
suggesting it depends on
what consumers thought about the product before hearing the negative
comments. If consumers had a high regard for the product, they often
will think negatively about the commenters rather than about
DeCarlo also is studying how companies measure customer perceptions of
And does all this research affect DeCarlo when he buys a car?
He won't say.
Tom DeCarlo studies ways salespeople can become more effective.
Photo by bob Elbert.