Does It Pay to Beat Around the Bush? The Case of the Obfuscating Salesperson

42 Pages Posted: 7 Feb 2015

See all articles by Barbara A. Bickart

Barbara A. Bickart

Boston University, Questrom School of Business

Maureen Morrin

Temple University - Fox School of Business and Management; Temple University - Department of Marketing and Supply Chain Management

S. Ratneshwar

University of Missouri at Columbia - Robert J. Trulaske, Sr. College of Business

Date Written: January 27, 2015

Abstract

How often do salespeople obfuscate in response to a customer's question? And when and why does obfuscating help or hurt the prospects of a sale? We investigate these questions in three studies, developing and testing a framework based on theory from persuasion, social cognition, and communication theory. The results show that most consumers report having experienced obfuscation in the marketplace and believe it is more prevalent in professions where people have strong monetary motives to obfuscate. Further, we find that when consumers' prior expectations of a dishonest response to a question are heightened, either because the construct of honesty is chronically salient to the individual or because of the presence of a monetary motive for the salesperson, obfuscation undermines purchase intentions relative to a straightforward "don't know" response. In contrast, when expectations of a dishonest response are low, an obfuscatory response is as persuasive as an admission of lack of knowledge. These effects are mediated by perceived trust in the salesperson. Implications are discussed for persuasion theory, salesperson influence tactics, and consumer welfare.

Keywords: attitudes, personal selling, persuasion, communication

JEL Classification: M31

Suggested Citation

Bickart, Barbara A. and Morrin, Maureen and Ratneshwar, S., Does It Pay to Beat Around the Bush? The Case of the Obfuscating Salesperson (January 27, 2015). Journal of Consumer Psychology, Forthcoming, Boston University Questrom School of Business Research Paper No. 2559935, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2559935

Barbara A. Bickart (Contact Author)

Boston University, Questrom School of Business ( email )

United States
617-353-3458 (Phone)

HOME PAGE: http://smgnet.bu.edu/mgmt_new/profiles/BickartBarbara.html

Maureen Morrin

Temple University - Fox School of Business and Management ( email )

Philadelphia, PA 19122
United States

Temple University - Department of Marketing and Supply Chain Management ( email )

Philadelphia, PA 19122
United States

S. Ratneshwar

University of Missouri at Columbia - Robert J. Trulaske, Sr. College of Business ( email )

331 Cornell Hall
Columbia, MO 65211
United States

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