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WHU Doctoral Student Wins Science Award for Dissertation

The German Direct Selling Association (BDD) honors Dr. Marcel Hering’s outstanding achievement

The German Direct Selling Association (Bundesverband Direktvertrieb Deutschland or BDD) distributed its BDD Science Awards as part of the most recent Direct Selling Congress. Dr. Marcel Hering, a former doctoral student at WHU – Otto Beisheim School of Management, was honored for his thesis, walking away with a 1,500€ cash prize. Dr. Hering successfully graduated under the guidance of Professor Ove Jensen from the Chair of Sales Management and Business-to-Business Marketing in 2021 with his work “Wie können Verkäufer mit ihrem schlechten Image leben?” [How Can Salespeople Live with Their Negative Image?]. “What is so special about this award, in my eyes, is that it’s coming from both professionals of the BDD and their council of scientists. It’s exciting to know that they consider my work relevant,” said Dr. Hering.

The BDD, alongside its panel of experts (comprising professors who specialize in this field), hands out its Science Awards annually to researchers who have produced an excellent thesis focused on matters relevant to direct or social selling. In doing so, the organization seeks to prompt German universities to conduct further research in this area.

In his dissertation, Dr. Hering examines whether salespeople are able to maintain a positive self-image despite an external negative perception. The work assumes the position that society looks down upon people who work in direct sales, e.g., the classic vacuum cleaner salesman or insurance broker. For his research, Dr. Hering conducted 50 ethnographic interviews, which are typically understood to be open, casual conversations that take place within the context of the interviewee’s everyday work.

In the end, Dr. Hering reveals that his interviewees have a surprisingly positive sense of self, the result of two factors at work: self-differentiation mechanisms, which allow salespeople to attribute the “black sheep” stigma to their industry itself; and self-affirmation mechanisms, which help a salesperson’s personality to flourish, thereby giving that person an advantage over their competition. Both types of mechanisms notably make use of that previously mentioned stigma. In other words, according to Dr. Hering’s work, salespeople paradoxically have a positive self-image because of—and not despite—their profession’s negative public perception.

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