Research and Case Studies

DSEF recently launched a new round of research projects to address the emerging educational needs of our membership. Based on input from direct selling CEOs and senior industry executives, the DSEF Research Program Task Force identified four research priorities:

  1. Consumer behavior topics relevant to the direct selling industry
  2. Corporate social responsibility and sustainability, as part of ethics
  3. Selling and the management of the selling function
  4. Women’s entrepreneurship/leadership

In addition, DSA members can access our archive of research papers (link to archive) and case studies (link to archive).

Active Research

DSEF’s Research Program funds academic research to provide knowledge that is applicable to daily direct selling operations while supporting the research interests of academics who are shaping our future industry leaders.

To continue providing relevant knowledge to DSA member firms, DSEF’s Research Program Task Force—with input from direct selling CEOs and senior industry executives—identified four research priorities.

  1. Consumer behavior topics relevant to the direct selling industry
  2. Corporate social responsibility and sustainability, as part of ethics
  3. Selling and the management of the selling function
  4. Women’s entrepreneurship/leadership

DSEF invited scholars from across the nation to participate in our newly focused research program. Following is a summary of the research projects funded in support of the four research priorities.

Research Priority 1: Consumer Behavior Topics Relevant to the Direct Selling Industry

Project Title: Developing an Immersive 3D Environment (Virtual World) for the Training & Support of Representatives in Direct Selling

Investigators:

Michael Solomon, Ph.D., Professor of Marketing, Director, Center for Consumer Research, Erivan K. Haub School of Business, Saint Joseph’s University; Professor of Consumer Behaviour at the Manchester School of Business; Natalie T. Wood, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Erivan K. Haub School of Business, Saint Joseph’s University

Project Description:

This research project explores the capabilities of an immersive 3D environment (a.k.a. “virtual world”) for training and supporting independent representatives in a direct selling environment. The goal is to provide a highly cost-efficient and engaging way to enable participants to role-play sales presentations in a risk-free environment prior to conducting actual sales calls. This virtual program uses the best of technology and current sales training to yield real-world benefits.

Research Priority 2: Corporate Social Responsibility and Sustainability as Part of Ethics

Project Title: Advancing Environmental Sustainability in Direct Selling

Investigators:

Mark Starik, Ph.D., Department Chair and Professor of Strategic Management & Public Policy, George Washington University School of Business; Interim Director, GW Institute for Sustainability, Research, Education, & Policy; Director, GW Institute for Corporate Responsibility, Environmental Sustainability Program

Project Description:

This research project assesses the “ecological footprint” of the industry by focusing on the environmental sustainability goals, strategies and operations of the organizations and individuals involved in the direct selling of goods and services in the United States. Mounting evidence suggests that firms that practice sustainability experience stronger customer relationships and loyalty, especially among members of Generation Y and younger. The purpose of this project is to recommend initial strategies that would advance effective organizational environmental sustainability and provide high value for direct selling firms.

Research Priority 3: Selling and the Management of the Selling Function

Project Title: Organizational Identification and the Social Network Phenomena in the Field of Direct Selling

Investigators:

Michael Ahearne, Ph.D., Professor of Marketing, Executive Director, Sales Excellence Institute, Marketing Department Ph.D. Coordinator, Department of Marketing and Entrepreneurship, C.T. Bauer College of Business, University of Houston

Project Description:

This comprehensive study evaluates the levels of organizational and job identifications among large samples of independent representatives connected to an established direct selling firm. The goal is to design managerial techniques and guidelines that improve independent representatives’ job satisfaction, in-role performance and organizational commitment.

Considering that informal networks play critical roles in the direct selling context, the study focuses on determining how these networks form among direct salespeople, and what factors determine the growth and strength of such networks in the long term. The findings will provide insights for managers in designing strategies to enable independent representatives to build and maintain more productive and efficient social networks. Ultimately, direct selling firms will gain through a better understanding of how to promote social networks to strengthen relationships, enhance retention, and possibly impact performance/productivity.

Research Priority 4: Women’s Entrepreneurship/Leadership

Project Title: The Influence of Family Orientation on Direct Selling Entrepreneurs

Investigators:

Teresa Nelson, Ph.D., Elizabeth J. McCandless Chair in Entrepreneurship, Director of the Entrepreneurship Program, Simmons College School of Management

Project Description:

Background: The direct selling organizational structure is noted for the relational aspect of its sales process. In addition to the direct person-to-person sales interaction that is the hallmark of the industry, about two-thirds of all direct sales representatives in the United States also generate income from the network of distributed sales representatives that they have built and also take some role in managing on an ongoing basis. These networks, in concert with but largely independent of the parent source firms, manage a sales flow-through of products and services that generated $30 billion in revenue in the United States in 2008.

Current Project: How social capital ties, as expressed in the theoretical concept of “familiness,” impact the structuring of the above-mentioned relational, distributed networks among sales representatives is the topic of this research. This exploration has important implications for direct selling firms. In focus is the role of relationships in growing and maintaining a sales force of entrepreneurial independent representatives and, by extension, sales and profits for both the entrepreneur and the direct selling organization.