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Learning from Peers: Knowledge Transfer and Sales Force Productivity Growth

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  • Tat Y. Chan

    (Olin Business School, Washington University in St. Louis, St. Louis, Missouri 63130)

  • Jia Li

    (Krannert School of Management, Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana 47907)

  • Lamar Pierce

    (Olin Business School, Washington University in St. Louis, St. Louis, Missouri 63130)

Abstract

We study how peers impact worker productivity growth among salespeople in the cosmetics department of a department store. We first exploit a shift assignment policy that creates exogenous variation in salespersons' peers each week to identify and quantify sources of worker learning. We find that peer-based learning is more important than learning-by-doing for individuals, and there is no evidence of forgetting. Working with high-ability peers substantially increases the long-term productivity growth of new salespeople. We then examine possible mechanisms behind peer-based learning by exploiting the multiple colocated firms in our setting that sell products with different task difficulties and compensate their sales forces using either team-based or individual-based compensation systems. The variation in incentives to compete and cooperate within and across firm boundaries, combined with variation in sales difficulty for different product classes, allows us to suggest two mechanisms behind peer-based learning: observing successful sales techniques of peers and direct teaching. Our paper advocates the importance of learning from one another in the workplace and suggests that individual peer-based learning is a foundation of both organizational learning curves and knowledge spillovers across firms.

Suggested Citation

  • Tat Y. Chan & Jia Li & Lamar Pierce, 2014. "Learning from Peers: Knowledge Transfer and Sales Force Productivity Growth," Marketing Science, INFORMS, vol. 33(4), pages 463-484, July.
  • Handle: RePEc:inm:ormksc:v:33:y:2014:i:4:p:463-484
    DOI: 10.1287/mksc.2013.0831
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