Good news for you business owners who refuse to hang up your sales hats: you've been vindicated. A national study of state-of-the-art sales practices has found that customers increasingly value direct contact with executives and owners. Of 1,063 decision makers surveyed, 22% said executives or owners play an important role in the purchasing process. That's up from 8% who said so four years earlier, reports the H.R. Chally Group, the Dayton business-to-business market-research organization that released the study. But the salesperson remains the most important player in sales transactions, with 83% of decision makers rating salespeople as critical or important.