New study says it's time to stop assuming buyers and salespeople are in 'relationships'

August 10, 2011

Professional buyers don't really buy that they're in "relationships" with salespeople—at least not the kind of relationship that people share with family, friends, or a romantic partner, according to a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research.

"Scholars explore how companies can inspire customers to love their brands and emotionally bond in their business relationships," write authors Christopher Blocker (Baylor University), Mark Houston (Texas Christian University), and Dan Flint (University of Tennessee). "Are buyers' experiences with suppliers best conceived using a metaphor sourced from theory that explains family, friend, and romantic relationships?"

Modern marketing strategies tend to rely on "relationship marketing," which assumes that sellers can develop bonds with . This school of thought often draws upon theories from sociology and social psychology that explain close personal ties, like marriage, friendship, and parent-child relationships.

"But in these theories of human relationships, an authentic relationship is an end unto itself, love is voluntary and given freely, whether or not it is returned," the authors write. "Are there limits to whether an authentic relationship can be used to explain business transactions where the buyer and seller are both employees of their respective firms, with profit-and-loss responsibilities and motives?"

The authors conducted in-depth interviews with 38 business buyers and found that their "relationships" with suppliers differed in important ways from personal relationships. "Buyers speak in-depth about going through the normal 'script' of trying to behave as if seller interactions are 'real' relationships, and sustaining this activity as a 'polite fiction' to help them accomplish personal and corporate goals," the authors explain.

The authors found that buyers prefer to connect (and disconnect) with suppliers as needs arise and hold low expectations for future interactions with salespeople outside of their business dealings. "This study suggests that buyers are not actually seeking authentic relationships, and sellers' efforts to develop them may even create negative tension for buyers."

Explore further: Study: Romantic commitments are good

More information: Christopher Blocker, Mark Houston, and Dan Flint. "Real Relationships between Business Buyers and Salespeople: Reality or Polite Fiction?" Journal of Consumer Research: February 2012 (published online June 28, 2011).

Related Stories

More home buyers go online

January 26, 2006

More Americans who search online for a new home are more likely to purchase a house through a real-estate agent than a non-Internet user, says a recent survey from the National Association of Realtors.

Admiring celebrities can help improve self-esteem

June 5, 2008

A new study appearing in Personal Relationships shows how "connections" to celebrities, i.e. parasocial relationships, can allow people with low-self esteem to view themselves more positively.

Recommended for you

Who you gonna trust? How power affects our faith in others

October 6, 2015

One of the ongoing themes of the current presidential campaign is that Americans are becoming increasingly distrustful of those who walk the corridors of power – Exhibit A being the Republican presidential primary, in which ...

The hand and foot of Homo naledi

October 6, 2015

The second set of papers related to the remarkable discovery of Homo naledi, a new species of human relative, have been published in scientific journal, Nature Communications, on Tuesday, 6 October 2015.

Ancient genome from Africa sequenced for the first time

October 8, 2015

The first ancient human genome from Africa to be sequenced has revealed that a wave of migration back into Africa from Western Eurasia around 3,000 years ago was up to twice as significant as previously thought, and affected ...

From a very old skeleton, new insights on ancient migrations

October 9, 2015

Three years ago, a group of researchers found a cave in Ethiopia with a secret: it held the 4,500-year-old remains of a man, with his head resting on a rock pillow, his hands folded under his face, and stone flake tools surrounding ...

Mexican site yields new details of sacrifice of Spaniards

October 9, 2015

It was one of the worst defeats in one of history's most dramatic conquests: Only a year after Hernan Cortes landed in Mexico, hundreds of people in a Spanish-led convey were captured, sacrificed and apparently eaten.

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

not rated yet Aug 10, 2011
Even as a consumer, I hate it when a saleperson acts like my buddy. They aren't. I'm there to buy something and I want someone who knows the product. They are there to maximize their commissions while learning as little about the product as possible.

This really annoys me when buying major household items, like a windows or a new roof. Likely I'll never see them again. Anyone who tries to 'be my friend' during the sales process is out the door. Odd how their products are always 2-3 times as expensive as the non-buddy companies'.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.