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The Influence Of Product Customization And Supplier Selection On Future Intentions: The Mediating Effects Of Salesperson And Organizational Trust.

As evidenced by the literature, understanding long-term, buyer-seller relationships has emerged as a central topic in the area of interorganizational research. Much of the work in this area suggests that dependence and trust influence the complexion of relationships and future purchase intentions (Andaleep, 1996; Gulati, 1995; Morgan and Hunt, 1994; Swan et al., 1999; Weitz and Bradford, 1999). Dependence establishes a need for building relationships. Trust in these relationships increases the merits of continuing them (Bradach and Eccles, 1989). Acknowledging that trust serves as a cost-efficient solution for exposing dependence (Morgan and Hunt, 1994), we explore the roles of both salesperson and organizational trust in regulating dependence.

Although Bradach and Eccles (1989) and Williamson (1993) suggest that trust mediates dependence and effects the future, with the exception of Morgan and Hunt (1994), little empirical research exists to support this proposition. In addition, trust gains momentum from the party being trusted-the trustee (cf., Moorman et al., 1992; Ring and Van de Ven, 1994). With the exception of Doney and Cannon (1997) and Plank et al. (1999), little attention has been given to the concurrent use of both salesperson and organizational trust. Based on resource dependency theory, we suggest that salesperson and organizational trust serve as governing mechanisms for assessing dependence and as mediators of the effects that dependence has on anticipated future purchases.

Although failing to vary levels of analysis on the part of trustees has been recognized as a potential problem in social science research, the notion has received limited attention in the interorganizational literature. A few notable exceptions, however, include studies by Plank et al. (1999) and Doney and Cannon (1997). Plank et al. (1999) investigated the multi-dimensionality of trust and found that, although product, salesperson, and company aspects of trust were distinct dimensions, salesperson and company trust shared a great deal of common variance. The study by Doney and Canon (1997) looked specifically at differences between trust for a salesperson and trust for an organization. Doney and Cannon not only revealed distinct differences between the two types of trustees, but they also found that trust operates as an "order qualifier" versus an "order winner." Accordingly, trust appears to mediate rather than guarantee the future. Building on these earlier studies, we further compare buyers' perceptions o f sellers as both salespeople and organizations. Arguing that both trust and dependence influence relationships, we propose that salesperson versus organizational trust play unique roles in mediating relations between dependence and future purchase intentions.

In the following sections, we review the literature for modeling future intentions as a product of dependence and trust. We then present research hypotheses, methodology, and findings. We conclude with theoretical and managerial implications and direction for future research.

Literature Review

Dependence and Trust

The relationship literature suggests that dependence and trust play important roles in anticipating the future of interorganizational relationships (cf., Thibaut and Kelley, 1959). Dependency theory emphasizes the need for relationships and proposes that, when restricted to a few suppliers, buyers will be dependent on the suppliers and that the suppliers will enjoy a certain degree of power over the buyers (Pfeffer and Salancik, 1978; Thibaut and Kelly, 1959) that can lead to buyer vulnerability (Williamson, 1985). The trust literature emphasizes the value of trust and mollifies perceptions of opportunism on the part of powerful others (cf., Bradach and Eccles, 1989; Williamson, 1993). Thus, trust reduces the skepticism toward power advantages by stabilizing the relationship and the future. When dependent partners have little reason to trust those in power, as we see in Andaleep's (1996) experiment, the future of relationships appears tentative. In order for relationships founded on dependence and power to su rvive, trust should be present.

Dependency theory complements the trust literature and suggests that reliance on others drives relationships, and trust in powerful others governs perceptions of vulnerability and builds confidence that the relationship will exist in the future (Dwyer et al., 1987; Morgan and Hunt, 1994). Thus, trust mediates the effects of dependence on the future of exchange relations. This rationale provides the theoretical foundation for the present research and, to the best of our knowledge, the mediating effects of salesperson and organizational trust have not been tested empirically.

Resource Dependence. Pfeffer. and Salancik (1978) recognized the problems of being dependent on powerful others when attempting to design and solidify efficient, long-term exchange relationships. The literature specifically discusses the importance of resource availability within exchange relationships and the value of and access to alternatives outside the relationship. Resource availability can signal a need for trust (Luhmann, 1979), as well as future intentions of dependent partners (Pfeffer and Salancik, 1978). Resources customized for a relationship can create exit barriers and hold, the dependent party hostage to the relationship (Heide and John, 1988). Although the use of alternatives is an option for reducing dependence, Anderson and Weitz (1992) found that the use of multiple suppliers can be inefficient when building commitment and solidifying relationships. In addition, a one-sided push for efficiency on behalf of either partner can strain the relationship and jeopardize the future. Bradach and Ec cles (1989) suggest that buyers and suppliers develop trust as a compromising, cost-efficient solution.

Based on previous research, we suggest that exchange parties strategically assess their need for critical resources, as well as their preferred suppliers, as they evaluate sources of channel power and plan for the future. Although both buyers and sellers will likely exhibit some degree of dependence, hold some level of power, and strive for long-term survival, we chose to frame the present study from the buyer's perspective. Although the buyer does not necessarily hold a power advantage in an exchange relationship, a buyer ultimately selects a supplier and holds some level of trust for both the salesperson and the supplying organization (cf., Riordan et al., 1977).

Types of Trust

Previous research suggests that trust strengthens interorganizational relationships by reinforcing the positive aspects of dependence and, accordingly, provides support for the future (Andaleep, 1996; Dwyer et al., 1987). A common theme across definitions of trust includes a calculative confidence that reduces the risk of selecting opportunistic exchange partners. Most definitions, however, present a general view of trust with little or no distinction made between different types of trust, such as interpersonal versus organizational trust. Doney and Cannon (1997) and Plank et al. (1999) warn that confidence in specific organizations versus specific individuals represents different and unique attitudes toward a relationship. Salesperson trust focuses primarily on the specific transactional context and repeated interactions concerning a salesperson's tenure with a company (Doney and Cannon, 1997; Ring and Van De Ven, 1994). Organizational trust constitutes a broader perspective as parties rely on a firm to esta blish policies and strategies, thereby extending a relationship into the future (Bradach and Eccles, 1989).

To suggest that organizational and salesperson trust represent the same phenomenon is to imply that buyers generalize interpersonal trust to organizations comprised of "individuals with whom they have low familiarity, low interdependence, and low continuity of interaction" (Lewicki and Bunker, 1995: 137). In an effort to better understand and assess trust as an efficient and effective mechanism for both regulating perceptions of dependence and strengthening the future of the relation, we measure trust on both a salesperson and organizational level and suggest that, although related, the two dimensions of trust are distinct phenomena (see Plank et al., 1999.)

Research Hypotheses

Grounded in the theoretical foundation of dependency theory, our hypotheses suggest that organizations that depend on others for critical resources will seek to sustain qualified supply partners and reduce vulnerability at a minimal cost to themselves. One means of reducing the cost of resource acquisition and reinforcing a relationship is through trust (Ganesan, 1994). By reducing expectations that partners will behave opportunistically, trust mitigates the need to engage in a costly search for alternatives. When supply alternatives do exist, a buyer's trust in a specific supplier communicates confidence in the relationship and commitment to the future (Moorman et al., 1992). Figure I illustrates the impact of dependence on the future of buyer-seller relationships as well as the mediating role of trust and serves as a guide for the research hypotheses.

Indicators of Resource Dependence

Dependence often reflects a party's vulnerability toward and reluctant reliance on others for survival. Although researchers have approached dependence from several points of view (see Frazier et al. 1989), the current study takes a resource-dependence perspective. Critical resources are viewed as an indicator of dependence and a possible source for securing resources in the future (Pfeffer and Salanckik, 1978). To assess the effects of resource dependence on future purchase intentions, the current study uses customized versus non-customized products and the number of alternative suppliers used. These measures serve as indicators of dependence in an effort to assess both its effect on future intentions and its ability to signal trust.

Customized Products. Customized products represent resources produced according to specific buyer stipulations. When customized products are deemed critical to a buyer's operations and switching costs reduce the buyer's flexibility and autonomy (Gassenheimer et al., 1998), customization serves as an indicator of not only dependence but also vulnerability. The reciprocal power of the supplier and potential for opportunistic abuse encourage buyers to base relational decisions on their ability to efficiently protect their long-term future (Heide and Miner, 1992). As a result, firms relying on a supplier for customized products often sustain their existing source of supply and, at the same time, protect the future by seeking alternative suppliers that reduce dependence (Ganesan, 1994). Heide and Miner (1992) found that constraints that limit access to alternative suppliers increase vulnerability and affect negatively intentions to extend relationships into the future. Heide and John (1988) reported that relations hips last longer when parties have supplier options. We propose a negative relationship between customized products and intentions to extend relationships into the future.

H1: Customized products reduce intentions to purchase in the future.

Use of Alternative Suppliers. Resource dependence theory argues that limiting suppliers increases dependence (Pfeffer and Salancik, 1978). In most situations, however, a single supplier rarely holds complete discretion over critical resources (Pfeffer and Salancik 1978). To remain loyal to suppliers and reduce purchase costs, buyers select a few suppliers to concentrate purchases (Heide and John, 1992). Anand and Stern (1985) found that parties who make purchase decisions, relatively free of supplier constraints, view relationships favorably. Gassenheimer et al. (1998) found that buyers who select their own supply sources, compared with buyers who are given a forced choice, are more satisfied and likely to allocate future business to these relationships. Following dependency theory, relationships will be maintained and extended into the future as parties select only a few suppliers to use in the midst of alternatives. We hypothesize that:

H2: The fewer suppliers used in the midst of alternatives, the greater the intentions to extend existing exchange relationships into the future.


Calculative trust suggests that not all parties can or should be trusted to the same extent (Williamson, 1993). Morgan and Hunt (1994) posit that when parties feel threatened by their own vulnerability, the cost of potential betrayal increases, thereby reducing the propensity to trust. The trust that remains serves as a foundation for "testing" a relationship and contributes to the anticipation of extending the relationship into the future (Axelrod, 1984; Ramsey and Sohi, 1997). Dwyer and Oh (1987) also note that trusting represents a willingness to endure dependence in order to achieve long-term goals. We argue that the use of trust as an informal, mediating governance mechanism increases efficiency and reinforces relationships leading to long-term goals.

Salesperson versus Organizational Trust. As researchers have continued to investigate trust as a central component of long-term, interorganizational relationships, they have come to realize that trust exists on various levels. From a conceptual standpoint, Mayer et al. (1995) and Zand (1972) suggest that interpersonal trust reflects the immediacy in relationships and is manifested through specific contextual and behavioral outcomes. Constraining trust to the tenure of a salesperson, however, ignores the historical impact that prior interactions with other personnel have on the development and maintenance of trust in organizations (Gulati, 1995). Because trust is a central concept in understanding interorganizational relationships and forecasting the future, we explore the effects of both salesperson and organizational trust. We hypothesize that:

H3a: Salesperson trust positively mediates the negative relationship between dependence on customized products and future purchase intentions.

H3b: Organizational trust positively mediates the negative relationship between dependence on customized products and future purchase intentions.

Research suggests that parties with alternative suppliers use performance as a basis for allocating business among suppliers (Frazier, 1983). As relationships endure, intentions to extend associations into the future reflect a party's confidence in a relationship (Doney and Cannon, 1997; Dwyer et al., 1987). Concentrating purchases, in conjunction with trust, enables buyers to base decisions on previously successful experiences and reduces concerns of vulnerability against potential opportunistic abuse. We hypothesize that:

H4a: Salesperson trust positively mediates the negative relationship between the number of suppliers used and future purchase intentions.

H4b: Organizational trust positively mediates the negative relationship between the number of suppliers used and future purchase intentions.

In the context of interorganizational relationships, future intentions anticipate forthcoming events within organizations and often extend beyond the tenure of individual sales representatives. Trusting a specific individual and trusting the organization, however, are not always viewed similarly. Weitz and Bradford (1999) found that buyers often have greater loyalty to salespeople than to their firm. In relationships between researchers and clients, Moorman et al. (1992) found that trust was stronger between organizations than the individuals in the organization. And, in their meta-analysis, Swan et al., (1999) found that salespeople had smaller effects on trust compared with overall firms. While empirical results have been conflicting, we turn to Swan et al's. (1999) meta analysis and argue that the mediation effects of salesperson trust on the relationship between the customization of products and future intentions, and the number of suppliers used and future intentions, should be less robust compared with the same mediating effects of organizational trust. We hypothesize that:

H5: The mediation effects (on the relationship between customization and future intentions, and the number of suppliers and future intentions) of salesperson trust, compared with those of organizational trust, Will be weaker.


Research Setting and Data Collection

Questionnaires were mailed to 1,011 members of the National Association of Purchasing Management (NAPM), representing the Southeast and West Coast regions of the United States. We selected the NAPM because members represent a variety of industries and through their purchasing responsibilities are involved with building and maintaining business relationships with salespeople (cf., Doney and Cannon, 1997). Their primary functions included efficiently obtaining and evaluating the performance of critical resources used in their company's operations. Products ranged from frequently purchased industrial raw materials essential for manufacturing other products to more durable goods utilized to support operations.

Of the 1,011 questionnaires that were mailed, 146 were returned of which 138 were usable. This represents an approximate 14 percent response rate. To protect the privacy of the NAPM members, local NAPM affiliates prevented follow-up contact, thus limiting our ability to encourage participation and increase the response rate. Previous studies addressing sensitive, buyer-seller relational issues have experienced similar rates of response (cf., John, 1984; Morgan and Hunt, 1994). Since we were interested in only testing our theory and not generalizing an existing model to new populations, non-response bias is not an issue (cf., Morgan and Hunt, 1994).

We did, however, attempt to validate the representativeness of our sample by using the last-wave method to assess non-response bias (Armstrong and Overton, 1977). The first 75 percent of respondents returning completed questionnaires represented "early respondents," and the remaining 25 percent represented "late respondents." A series of F-tests revealed that early and late respondents do not differ significantly on major demographic characteristics. We also found non-significant results when comparing early and late respondents on measures of dependence and trust.

A second series of F-tests were conducted using the same eight variables. This time region of the country was utilized. Results indicated that the two regions do not differ significantly on major demographic characteristics or the trust measures. Although the two regions differed on the number of suppliers used (p<.05), there was no difference on the type of product (custom or standard). We concluded that the data could be combined to form one sample in subsequent analyses. On average, respondents indicated that their firm had been in business 55.8 years, with annual gross sales of approximately $76.58 million and an average yearly growth rate of 5.2 percent. Ninety-nine percent of the respondents held some type of management position.

Research Instrument

The questionnaire included measures adapted from previous interorganizational research. Pretest discussions with NAPM members helped to refine the survey items to assure relevance and clarity. Table 1 contains the scale format and items. To assure that respondents were knowledgeable about the issues, we asked respondents to indicate the most important product (in terms of volume purchased) needed repetitively in the production or maintenance of the operations for which they held the responsibility of purchasing. In addition, respondents were asked to indicate and refer to the primary supplier from whom they purchase this product. The directions were to encourage respondents to choose a product and supplier with whom they were familiar, as well as a product critical to their company's operations.

Dependent Variable

Doney and Cannon (1997) and Reingen et al. (1980) have identified "anticipation for future interactions" with one's exchange partner as a viable outcome measure in marketing research. Accordingly, we use future purchase intentions as our outcome measure to reflect the effects that product customization, number of suppliers used, and trust have on future plans to continue the relationship. To measure future intentions in a concrete and objective manner, we asked respondents to indicate the percentage of annual purchases (in dollar value for the most important product) that they intended to allocate to the primary supplier in the future. The mean and median responses were both 60, the mode was 50 and the standard deviation was 26.6 percent. Although we did not measure change in this variable, the current format allows us to estimate whether or not the variables in our model affect future intentions in an absolute sense.

Independent Variables

Customized Products. Following the work of Heide and John (1990) and Stump (1995), we use product customization as an indicator of dependence vulnerability. Similar to Stump (1995), we operationalize product customization via a single-item measure asking respondents whether or not the most important product they purchase is standardized or customized for their specific needs. This dichotomous variable indicates whether or not buyers could readily obtain identical products elsewhere, and was coded 0 (standardized) or 1 (customized). Fifty-four percent of respondents referred to their focal product as standardized, and 46 percent indicated customized products.

Alternative Suppliers. Although using multiple suppliers decreases dependence on the part of buyers (Andaleep, 1996), using only a few suppliers communicates commitment to a relationship and the future (Heide and John, 1990). We asked respondents, "How many different suppliers for this specific product have you used during the past three years?" Due to the diversity of industries and products represented in our sample, we used a three-year measure in order to provide a realistic and accurate timeframe for assessing the number of suppliers used. For instance, some products are purchased infrequently while others are purchased on a daily or weekly basis. A shorter assessment period would exclude some suppliers from switching because of relatively long purchase cycles associated with durable goods.

Mediator Variables

Trust. Trust was measured on two levels in order to distinguish between organizational and salesperson trust. Buyer's trust in an organization was, operationalized via a three-item scale proposed initially by Moorman et al. (1992) (see Table 1). Ganesan's (1994) seven-item "vendor creditability" scale was used to operationalize buyers' trust in the salesperson.

Assessing Trust Scales. Through a series of analyses, we assessed the psychometric properties of the scales measuring the two levels of trust. First, a confirmatory factor analysis was estimated that included both trust factors, salesperson and organizational. The overall fit of the model was evaluated primarily on the [chi square] and CFI and IFI fit indices. The resulting fit indices were [chi square] (34) = 66.113, p < .001; CFI = .94; IFI = .94; [M.sub.r] = .045. The relatively low [M.sub.r] suggests that the model accurately accounts for observed variances and covariances. Parameter estimates had significant (p's < .001) loadings and were larger than their standard errors (Ford et al, 1986). We also estimated Cronbach's coefficient alpha for each scale, as well as the covariation between the two trust factors. The alphas for the salesperson and organizational trust scales were .84 and .64. respectively. Consistent with predictions, findings reveal that each factor is statistically unique in that the correl ation plus twice their standard errors sum to less than 1.00 (Bagozzi, 1991). Together, these results suggest satisfactory degrees of both reliability and validity on the part of the two trust measures.


Based on a review of the literature and our research objectives, we tested two mediation models. First we tested the direct effects of buyer product customization and the number of suppliers used on intentions to conduct business with a specific supplier in the future (Hi and H2). The direct effect analyses serve as prerequisites for establishing effects of mediation.

Direct Effects Model

Interorganizational research suggests that organizations reduce their dependence, vulnerability and supplier power, and avoid unnecessary governance costs, by seeking alternative solutions to customized products in order to reduce supplier power (H1). Dependency theory suggests that buyers purchasing from a relatively few suppliers will concentrate their purchases with these suppliers in the future (H2). To test these hypotheses, a "direct effects" path model was estimated (see Figure II).

As predicted, results indicate that buyer dependence affects significantly the likelihood of future purchases with particular suppliers. First, the fit statistics suggest a good fit between the model and the data, [chi square](1) =0.497, p=.481; CFI=1.0; IFI=1.0; [M.sub.r]=.016. Further, because the high proportion of measurable paths estimated in the model could have inflated the fit statistics, the resulting path coefficients provide additional support for our predictions. In support of H1, results indicate that when purchasing customized products, buyers intended to purchase less from suppliers in the future (path coefficient = -.27, p <.001). Having limited the number of suppliers to a chosen few, on the other hand, buyers intended to continue purchasing from particular suppliers in the future (path coefficient = -.24, p < .002). This finding supports H2. Although not estimated in the model, the correlation between the two independent measures of dependence was tested separately. An estimate of the bi-serial correlation between the two variables was found to be nonsignificant (r = .07), and suggests that, as predicted, the dependence measures are independent of one another.

Mediation Models

To test the remaining hypotheses (H3 through H5), we estimated two mediation models (see Figure III). Based on theoretical and empirical support, including the results of H1 and H2, the models posit that customization and the number of suppliers used affect future intentions by way of trust. That is, both dimensions of buyer trust (salesperson and organizational) are posited as mediators of the effects of buyer dependence on future intentions.

Mediating Model One: Salesperson Trust. A model incorporating salesperson trust fits the data, [chi square](1) = 0.497, p = .481; CFI = 1.0; IFI = 1.0; [M.sub.r] = .013, and 18 percent of the variance in the future intention variable is explained in the model. The high proportion of measurable path estimated, however, may have inflated the fit statistics. The significance of the path coefficients represents an alternative means for evaluating the mediating hypotheses.

As evidenced by the path coefficients depicted in the upper portion of Figure III, the proposed mediating sequences were partially supported. Hypothesis H3a predicts that salesperson trust mediates the effect of customized products on future intentions. Because the direct effect between standardized or customized products and future intentions remained significant in the model, results indicate a partial mediating effect. Specifically, the purchase of customized products reduces buyer trust in the salesperson (path coefficient = -.254, p<.002), and this lower level of trust in turn leads to a significant reduction in future intentions (path coefficient = .291, p<.001). Consistent with earlier findings, the direct effect of customized product on future intentions is significant (path coefficient = -.193, p<.01).

Results also show that salesperson trust partially mediates the effect of number of suppliers on future intentions (H4a). As buyers purchase from fewer suppliers, they tend to trust individual salespeople more (path coefficient = -.157, p<.05). This higher level of trust leads to a greater likelihood of future purchases (path coefficient = .291, p<.O01). Results reveal that the direct effect of number of suppliers on future intentions is significant (path coefficient = -.194, p<.01).

Mediating Model Two: Organizational Trust. Initially, the organizational trust model, as seen in the lower portion of Figure III, appears to fit the data fairly well, [chi square](1) 0.497, p = .481; CFI = 1.00; IFI = 1.00; [M.sub.r] = .010, and 17 percent of the variance in the future intention variable is explained in this model. Since the high proportion of measurable paths estimated may have inflated the fit statistic, we used the significance of the path coefficients to evaluate this second mediating model.

The path coefficients failed to support the mediating hypotheses (H3b or H4b) when trust referred to the organization versus the salesperson. That is, the effects of customized products and number of suppliers used on future intentions were not mediated by buyer trust in the organization. Specifically, the paths from the buyer dependence variables to organizational trust were not significant (p's<.38). Hypothesis five (H5) is also unsupported as salesperson trust demonstrated mediation effects and organizational trust did not. Organizational trust did, however, have a significant, positive effect on future intentions (path coefficient = .233, p<.003), and the direct effects of both measures of buyer dependence on future intentions were significant (p's<.002).

Generalized Least Squared Estimates

Generalized least squared (GLS) estimates of the fit of the models to the data were also assessed to further validate the findings. By comparing GLS parameter estimates and fit tests with the same estimates and tests using the initial and more common ML procedure, we determined that the sets of parameter estimates and fit tests were highly consistent with one another. The GLS analyses suggest that the current findings are robust with regard to common disturbances.

Discussion and Conclusions

The results of the present study allow us to make several causal inferences concerning the consequences of certain types of resource dependence among buyers and sellers. By assessing simultaneously the relationships among customized products, number of suppliers used, trust and future intentions, our analyses reveal that trust in a salesperson mediates the effects of resource dependence on future intentions. Trust in an organization, however, does not mediate such effects.

As predicted, perceived vulnerability resulting from dependence affects buyer-seller relationships. Customization creates vulnerability and dependence by constraining immediate options and affects negatively the anticipated future supply relationship. In contrast, allowing alternatives but limiting the number to a select few reduces vulnerability. Using fewer suppliers, therefore, affects positively the duration of buyer-seller relations.

By mediating these effects, trust in a salesperson helps to explain the degree to which dependence has a positive or negative effect on the future. Organizational trust, in contrast, has no such mediating influence. Although both types of trust affect directly anticipated future purchases, organizational trust does not appear related to issues of dependence.

Theoretically, our study takes a resource dependence perspective of buyer-seller relationships in an effort to better understand and anticipate future purchase decisions. The dependence literature suggests that selecting specific vendors to supply customized resources increases dependence by reducing the flexibility of obtaining resources elsewhere. We found that buyers purchasing customized products from specific suppliers were indeed skeptical of these exchange relationships and reduced their trust in the respective salespeople. These buyers abated intentions to maintain future relationships with the organizations that commissioned these salespeople. These findings support Williamson's (1993) assertion that parties calculate risks before establishing efficient levels of trust and proceed with caution.

When buyers were dependent on sellers as a result of selecting only a few suppliers, their trust in the respective salespeople increased and they remained content to purchase from these suppliers in the future. This suggests that the particular dimension of resource dependency (customization, the number of suppliers, etc.) is important in determining the extent to which buyers trust their suppliers. The ability to select a limited number of suppliers affords a buyer the opportunity to communicate a desire to establish a trusting relationship that extends into the future.

The findings also advance our understanding of trust between buyers and sellers and the relationship between trust and dependence. Although much extant literature in this area discusses trust in either general terms or focuses specifically on salesperson trust, our results support a small body of pioneering work showing that the antecedents and effects of buyer trust can vary with the type of trust identified. Our findings indicate that dependent buyers hold the individual salesperson responsible for their vulnerable positions and that buyer trust provides the opportunity for the salesperson to extend the exchange relationship into the future. Buyer trust in organizations appears to gain momentum from aspects other than resource dependence.

Our results also offer managers insights into how relationships with organizations and salespeople are perceived by the buying firm. First, trust is not protected by formal structures (such as long-term contracts, vertically integrated structures, etc.). We might assume that dependence signals the need for trust, but not that dependence creates trust. Managers should be aware of this, and that buyers who bond to relationships via customized products may not trust their suppliers and may intend to pursue other alternatives in the future. A false sense of security could result in the downfall of even the most powerful suppliers. The decline of IBM from a dominant giant to a struggling giant in the 1980s reinforces the potential vulnerability of all organizations, despite their present power positions. Buyers using few suppliers, on the other hand, signal a greater bond to and trust in their suppliers.

Given the importance of salesperson trust in mediating the future of relationships, sales managers need to place greater emphasis on training their salespeople to assess buyer perceptions of dependence, and communicate reasons to trust. Beginning with the initial training, the sales manager should convey the value of trust toward increasing future purchases and the importance of reducing perceptions of vulnerability to solidify the relationship and the future. Once salespeople understand the value of acquiring trust, the focus could shift toward how to develop trust. This involves being dependable and capable and showing concern for the customer. By listening to the customer and asking relevant questions, the seller can gain a better understanding of the customer and cultivate a positive interpersonal relationship that reduces perceptions of vulnerability. For example, role-playing exercises could be used to show how suspicion of a buyer toward the seller destroys the buyer's confidence and creates tension in the relationship. This exercise could be followed by role playing a relationship based on trust and compromise. Not only is the relationship valued, but the salesperson quickly understands the value of honesty and commitment to a common cause.

Future Research

Our analysis is limited in several respects. First, we indicated the presence of resource dependence using two single-item measures (customized products and number of suppliers used). Dependence in general and resource dependence in particular can be conceptualized and operationalized in numerous ways. Accordingly, future buyer-seller research should address the impact of different measures of resource dependence, as well as varying forms of dependency, on trust, and include seller as well as buyer perspectives. To facilitate reciprocal dependencies, for example, suppliers producing customized products for specific buyers may be required to invest in assets specific to the transaction (Heide and John, 1988; Williamson, 1985). Another limitation is the outcome variable, future intentions. Asking respondents to report change in purchase intentions, rather than simply future intentions, might provide additional insight regarding the relationship.

Future research is also needed to identify different constructs that, along with trust, mediate and/or moderate the relationship between dependence and future intentions. Although salesperson trust appears to partially mediate this relationship, other variables may also play a significant role in determining when and under what circumstances dependence affects the future of relationships.

Our analysis involves only salesperson and organizational trust. As relationships evolve into partnering, and functional areas cross paths, team selling will likely play an increasingly greater role in the success of buyer-seller relationships. Future research, therefore, needs to investigate factors that present new challenges for managers attempting to build team trust. For example, team selling often involves increased levels of conflict between not only organizations, but also team members from different functional areas. The mindsets and goals of individuals representing different functional areas and organizations will likely differ. Furthermore, as the potential for opportunism on behalf of team members increases, so will the cost of coordinating team activities and the interdependencies across sales tasks (see Weitz and Bradford, 1999). As a result, developing trust throughout the team will present new and interesting challenges that may significantly impact issues of dependence, trust and the future.

(*.) The authors thank Alan J. Dubinsky and Steven J. Skinner for their comments on an earlier draft of the paper.


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Table 1


Future Intentions

The percent of annual purchases for all products you intend to allocate to your major supplier in the future.

Customized Products

Indicate whether the product you have made reference to throughout the survey is standardized or customized for your specific needs.

Available Alternatives

How many different suppliers for this specified product have you used during the past three years?

Salesperson Trust (a)

----- I generally trust this supplier's sales representative.

----- This supplier's sales representative has been frank in dealing with us.

----- Promises made by this supplier's sales representative are reliable.

----- This supplier's sales representative is knowledgeable regarding his/her product(s).

----- This suppliers sales representative is not open in dealing with us.

----- If problems arise (e.g., shipment delays) the supplier's sales representative is honest about the problem.

----- This supplier's sales representative has problems answering our questions.

Organizational Trust (a)

----- If I or someone else from my firm could not be reached by this supplier, I would be willing to let this supplier make important supply decisions without my involvement.

----- If I or someone else from my firm was unable to monitor this supplier's activities, I would be willing to trust this supplier to get the job done right.

----- I trust this supplier to do things my firm is not equipped to do.

----- I generally do not trust this supplier.

(a.) These questions followed a seven-point Likert-type format with anchors of Completely Inaccurate (1) and Completely Accurate (7). Appropriate items were reverse scored.
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Author:Gassenheimer, Jule B.; Manolis, Chris
Publication:Journal of Managerial Issues
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Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 22, 2001
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