Empathy, nonverbal immediacy, and salesperson performancethe mediating role of adaptive selling behavior

Yam Limbu, Montclair State University
C Jayachandran, Montclair State University
Barry J. Babin, Louisiana Tech University
Robin T. Peterson, New Mexico State University


Purpose: Previous studies that examined the role of empathy and nonverbal immediacy on business-to-business (B2B) salesperson performance is limited in scope and yielded inconclusive evidence. Grounded in Plank and Greene’s (1996) framework of salesperson effectiveness, this paper aims to empirically investigate the mediating role of adaptive selling behavior through which empathy and nonverbal immediacy influence sales force performance and the form of empathy (cognitive or affective) that has the most beneficial role in improving relationship (versus outcome) salesperson performance. Design/methodology/approach: Using cross-sectional data that were collected from 422 pharmaceutical sales representatives, this study used structural equation modeling to test the hypothesized relationships. Findings: Adaptive selling behavior mediates the effect of perspective taking empathy and empathic concern on relationship performance. However, the impact of empathy on outcome performance is not significant through adaptive selling behavior, but perspective taking empathy has a direct influence on outcome performance. Contrary to expectations, nonverbal immediacy is not mediated by adaptive selling behavior but has a direct and positive impact on relationship performance. Research limitations/implications: The results of this study have several implications for recruitment, training and assessment of salespeople in a B2B context. Based on the empirical evidence, it is highlighted that firms may use different forms of empathy and nonverbal cues to promote adaptive selling behavior that impact sales force performance (i.e. outcome or relationship). Originality/value: To the authors’ knowledge, this is the first study which simultaneously examines the mediating role of adaptive selling behavior in the relationship between three antecedent variables that relate to sales force empathy and nonverbal communication (i.e. perspective taking empathy, empathic concern and nonverbal immediacy) and two aspects of B2B sales performance (relationship and outcome).