Customers on Your Left Hand, Sales Target in Your Right

Ambidexterity is One of the Key Weapons of Exceptional Salespeople

As a customer assistant in a technology shop, you have a customer who has a laptop that crashes often, particularly when they are playing their favorite shooting videogame. You offer support to address the issue and then remember that a new joystick model has arrived in stores. Do you focus on customer assistance or attempt to cross-sell the joystick? 

This dilemma is typical of the sales world, especially when sales reps also offer continuous assistance and support to customers. What should a salesperson do in these situations – focusing on customer support or the sales opportunity? 

In organizational studies, there is a word that describes the ability to juggle between contradictory goals and requirements at once: ambidexterity (van der Borgh, 2017). In sales, the major two conflicts that require ambidexterity are between (Aman et al., 2022): 

  • Service Orientation vs Sales Orientation 
  • Hunting new customers vs Farming existing customers

Service vs Sales Orientation

In the modern sales environment, the distinction between providing service and selling is extremely blurred (Rapp et al., 2020). Indeed, frontline customer assistants are trained to cross-sell products, and salespeople in service-oriented companies are often expected to provide excellent customer service. This means that salespeople need to strike a balance between focusing on meeting the needs of the customer and achieving sales targets. 

A service-oriented salesperson will focus on understanding the customer’s needs and recommending products or solutions that best meet those needs. On the other hand, a sales-oriented salesperson will prioritize actively seeking opportunities to upsell or cross-sell products, even if it means pushing beyond the customer’s immediate needs.  

Balancing these conflicting goals requires ambidexterity. The literature about sales/service ambidexterity is mostly at the organizational level and reflects on the practices, training, and organizational culture that promote efficient ambidexterity among sales reps. Ambidexterity can lead to increased sales revenue and customer satisfaction (Aman et al., 2022).  

However, research also warns against three risks: 

  • Role ambiguity: Salespeople may face role ambiguity when it comes to their responsibilities. It can be unclear whether they should prioritize customer support or sales opportunities. This lack of clarity can lead to confusion and inefficiency in their actions (Agnihotri et al. 2017). 
  • Employee burnout: When salespeople are receiving service and orientation demands, they may experience increased levels of job requirements, fatigue, and stress, potentially leading to burnout and a decrease in performance. Demands of ambidextrous roles and the resources available to the employees should match (Gabler et al. 2017) 
  • Customer churns: When service people focus too much on cross selling this can lead to customer dissatisfaction and churn, as well as customers feeling their privacy to be invaded (Becker et al. 2020). 

Hunting vs Farming Orientation 

A very different stream of research explored the conflict that sales reps need to balance between two different stages of their conversion cycle: hunting (finding new customers) and farming (keeping existing accounts). The propensity of salespeople to hunt or farm is due to individual differences in both the sales reps’ characteristics and the company policies (as you can read in our previous sales blog).

However, researchers agree that the rainmakers amongst sales reps are more likely to excel at both farming and hunting activities (Vieira et al. 2020, 2019). As ambidextrous employees can generate more sales, more studies have been dedicated to identifying them. They are characterized by: 

  • Having a high Promotion Focus (the will to spend resources in striving for uncertain rewards) AND a high Prevention Focus (the will to spend resources to avoid losing what is already owned). 
  • Having high judgment abilities, reflecting on how to do the right thing given the circumstances.  


In conclusion, ambidexterity is a key skill for exceptional salespeople who must balance between service orientation and sales orientation, as well as hunting new customers and farming existing customers. When hiring a new sales rep, rather than just wondering if they are farmers or hunters, next time, you might ask yourself instead if they have the potential to learn how to be both! 


Agnihotri, R., Gabler, C. B., Itani, O. S., Jaramillo, F., & Krush, M. T. (2017). Salesperson ambidexterity and customer satisfaction: examining the role of customer demandingness, adaptive selling, and role conflict. Journal of Personal Selling & Sales Management, 37(1), 27-41. 

Aman, M. A., Azam, M. K., & Akhtar, A. (2022). Ambidextrous selling: A systematic review and synthesis of theories, themes, and methodologies. Journal of Personal Selling & Sales Management, 42(1), 46–67. 

Gabler, C. B., Ogilvie, J. L., Rapp, A., & Bachrach, D. G. (2017). Is there a dark side of ambidexterity? Implications of dueling sales and service orientations. Journal of Service Research, 20(4), 379-392. 

Rapp, A., Baker, T., Hartmann, N.N., and Ahearne, M. (2020). The Intersection of Service and Sales: The Increased Importance of Ambidexterity. Journal of Service Research 23 (1),812. 

van der Borgh, M., de Jong, A., and Nijssen, E.J. (2017). Alternative Mechanisms Guiding Salespersons’ Ambidextrous Product Selling. British Journal of Management 28 (2), 331–53. 

Vieira, V.A., da Silva Faia, V., Gabler, C.B., and Nunes Cardoso, R. (2020). The Impact of Intuition and Deliberation on Acquisition-Retention Ambidexterity and Sales Performance: Comparing the Dual-Process and Uni-Process Models. Journal of Personal Selling and Sales Management 1–14. 

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