Can selling change the salesperson? Evidence from a field experiment in India

Wheeler Institute for Business and Development PhD Award 2020

The Wheeler Institute recognises Iris Steenkamp’s research.

How sales activities can aid community development 

Research in marketing has traditionally focused on business-related outcomes; what is good for the company. However, there is a growing consensus that achieving economic benefits by firms should go hand-in-hand with achieving social outcomes. This research looks at what (sales) employment can do for the employees and their communities, beyond monetary benefits. In particular, what is the impact of engaging in sales activities on women’s empowerment in terms of leadership roles within the household and leadership roles in the community and on the community members’ perceptions of women?  

Through a randomised controlled trial with women in three rural districts in Uttar Pradesh, India, the authors show that engaging in sales activities can lead not only to psychological change in terms of IQ and personality, but also to gender empowerment in terms of female leadership within the family and the community. In doing so, they seek to shift the focus from the impact of (selling) employment on company outcomes to the impact on social development outcomes, such as gender empowerment, for the sales person and her community.  

Iris Steenkamp
PhD student, Marketing, graduating class 2021 at London Business School 

The potential impact  

The research aims to derive a deeper understanding of how sales activities can contribute to social development by empowering women and reducing gender biases in their communities. Many multinationals are eager to access the large, relatively untapped 3.4 billion customer base in rural parts of emerging countries (Mahajan 2016). This research suggests that businesses can do so while contributing to social development in some of the most underprivileged areas in the world. 

“Marketing has the power to improve lives, sustain livelihoods, and benefit society; yet this impact has rarely been examined rigorously.” 

Iris Steenkamp, PhD student, Marketing, graduating class 2021 at London Business School 


  • Rajesh Chandy, Professor of Marketing, London Business School 
  • Om Narasimhan, Professor of Marketing, London School of Economics and Political Science  
  • Heather B Kappes, Assistant Professor of Marketing, London School of Economics and Political Science  

About Iris Steenkamp
PhD student, Marketing
Supervisor: Rajesh Chandy, Professor of Marketing  
Academic focus: Iris’s research explores the impact of marketing (as an intervention or a mechanism) on business, consumption, and social outcomes, such as gender empowerment, in emerging markets. Her current projects include field experiments and intervention studies in India and South Africa. 

About the Wheeler Institute for Business and Development PhD Award 

The Wheeler Institute is committed to supporting the development of early career researchers.  The Wheeler Institute PhD Award is a prestigious recognition of cutting-edge research that highlights the merit of the individual PhD student’s academic focus. The award is open to all current PhD students at London Business School whose research is aligned to the Institute’s objectives. Find out more

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