Unethical sales behavior neutralization: the impact of salesperson role variables and moderating effects of role relationship orientation Article (Web of Science)


  • Purpose The purpose of this paper is to explore the relationship between salesperson role perceptions and use of neutralization techniques, given the relationship orientation of the salesperson. Direct relationships between salesperson role conflict, role ambiguity, role task self-efficacy and a salesperson’s propensity to use neutralizations to attribute their unethical selling behavior are tested. The moderating effects of role-relationship orientation on the aforementioned relationships are also explored Design/methodology/approach Survey data were collected from 163 (cross-industry, B2B/B2C non-retail) salespeople. Results were analyzed and seven hypotheses were tested using SmartPLS to estimate and evaluate a (partial least squares) structural model. Findings The study findings conclude that role ambiguity, role task self-efficacy and role relationship orientation directly impact a salesperson’s tendency to use neutralization techniques to justify unethical sales behavior. Role relationship orientation serves to moderate the relationship between role conflict and neutralization use. Research limitations/implications This research integrates attribution and role theories to isolate the conditions where salespeople are prone to use neutralization techniques to justify their unethical behavior. Salesperson role relationship orientation is explored to understand the moderating effects on the salesperson role–neutralization relationships. Practical implications Sales managers are provided guidance (e.g. training and coaching) to help salespeople navigate feelings of negative role perceptions (role conflict, role ambiguity, role self-efficacy) to minimize the impact on justification of unethical sales behaviors. Originality/value This research builds on the sales and ethics literatures by incorporating role and attribution theory to better understand how salespeople approach dealing with their own unethical behavior and the implications on maintaining relationships with their customers.


publication date

  • 2019

number of pages

  • 17

start page

  • 62

end page

  • 79


  • 34


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