Launching a sales territory plan can resemble a wartime campaign – complete with tin soldiers and colored drawing pins. You have a map of the area that needs to be conquered or reclaimed, you know where the “enemy” is and you have a plan of attack to make that land your own while winning over the locals, hopefully without any blood being spilled. That may read like a slightly heavy-handed metaphor to introduce a blog about winning sales territory planning; it’s also rather old-school (for this article, we’re thinking low-tech, so a massive, paper map spread across a desk while you move the figures around by hand).
Even if you haven’t quite stepped up to using an integrated software platform to revolutionize how you plan and manage your sales territory, we’d guess you’re using some form of mapping technology to back up your strategy. The purpose of this blog is to go beyond explaining what sales territory planning is and why it matters; it’s to back that up with some value-rich insight into how to make those plans both profitable and workable. Spoiler alert – by the time you’ve read this, you’ll never trust a paper map again.
What is a Sales Territory Plan?
Okay award-winning sales manager, we can hear you tutting at the back of the class muttering that you “know exactly what a sales territory plan is”. Nothing wrong with a short reminder to set the scene. By definition, a sales territory is a geographic area or account, that’s given to an individual or team to fulfill their sales quota. Depending on whether it’s a hundred prospects in a small town or one major client in a single state, this then sets the territorial boundaries. And as such, the number of sales executives who will work within it.
What’s missing from the above definition is the critical word, “plan”. Without planning and research, your sales territory could begin and end just about anywhere. There would be no consideration of past sales activity, competitor presence, or the customer demographics of the area. Equally as important, without a plan, there would be no inward review of whether this territorial setting bore any relation to business objectives, budget, or resourcing.
To sum up sales territory planning in just a few words, it’s ensuring your sales team/s is targeting the right customers in the right places at the right time. Right?
So, by adding that third word, and before we break down the checklist for success, let’s sum up what a thoughtfully conceived sales territory plan help you do?
- Enable your salespeople to focus on the who, what, when, where, and why that offer the strongest return on investment.
- Assign those guys to the regions, segments, and accounts that match their background and expertise.
- Ensure all decisions align with and drive corporate objectives
- Enhance customer experience by aligning accounts with the sales teams that really “get” their unique challenges and opportunities
- Create territories that build long-term customer and market relationships.
Steps to a Winning Sales Territory Plan
When it comes down to designing a winning formula for sales territory planning, there are of course many “how-to guides” out there. At Varicent, we’ve tapped into some of the best sales and strategy minds on our payroll to bring this wisdom down to a few, vital pointers:
1. Know your Customers/Clients/Market
Here’s the scenario. Your latest product is educational software platform for early years learning. Your research should inform you of how many children and families there are in each area, whether this is a unique offering or if there is competitor activity, and how much interest and budget there is from schools, parents, and supplier stores in that region. The findings of this qualitative and quantitative research will shape how you proceed when setting a sales territory, and how prospects are subsequently assigned to the sales team. There’s also the “softer” side to this initial stage, and that’s relationship-building with potential customers. Rather than just interviewing and surveying them as guinea pigs, get to know these prospects as human beings and understand their business and needs. And here’s another piece of wisdom we’ve learned on the job. The earlier you begin your research stage and the more in-depth you dig, the smoother and quicker the subsequent stages go.
2. Undertake a SWOT Analysis
This adds meat to the bones of step 1. By identifying and assessing the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats to your proposed sales territory plans and product launch, you eliminate risk and have a much stronger chance of targeting the right places with the ideal amount of product and resources. There are many ways to approach this stage. One is to conduct more in-depth research and surveying of potential customers. Another is to use a combination of smart territory planning software and data analysis software such as Symon.AI, both by Varicent, to run “what if” scenarios. This mitigates any possible foolhardiness that can occur when planning is overlooked.
3. Build Your Strategy
There can be no business without a strategy, and sales territories need a strategy to justify their existence, that much we know. But that strategy needs to be supported by solid, shared objectives and KPIs. It’s almost as if to roll out sales territories that are bound for success, we need to work backward and clear the weeds. For example, your business is plant-based meat alternatives. The objective is to increase presence in the states and territories best known for rearing cattle and enjoying a meaty barbecue. You have a strategy to convince die-hard carnivores about the taste, health benefits, and price point of plant-based products. The sales territory planning element is founded on this. You want to place your most persuasive, creative, and experienced sales team in this hard-to-win-over territory, and maybe just go after one major grocery store or account. Our advice would be to always keep it simple, reasonable, and actionable. After all, quotas will be set around the territorial decisions, and these need to be achievable as well.
4. It’s All in the Sales Territory Action Plan
Once you’ve started cementing your sales territories, it’s time to create that sales territory action plan. This, as if it needed further explanation, is the tasks and jobs that need to be undertaken within the sales territory. This is likely to include how and when prospects are approached, who those prospects are, and what is the proposed timeline for working through the sales cycle. Our advice would be to make this a flexible action plan and not set in stone. If 2020 taught us anything at all, it’s to be flexible and expect the unexpected. Maybe in the past, your sales team would be expected to spend a certain amount of time physically in their sales territory. Your plan should therefore be adaptable so they can work remotely and build value-rich customer relationships via ways other than face-to-face. With the “deal done” handshake consigned to history, there needs to be many layers and alternatives built into your contingency solution. This is also a good juncture for the use of territory planning software, which can further help you with resourcing and redeployment decisions.
5. Review and Assess Your Plan (Often)
A sales territory plan is just a plan (or set of ideas), unless and until you use the data and reporting tools to see how sales and revenue are going. You’ve set your territories and assigned the sales executives through intelligent use of research and software, which is all good. But if you then leave your team out there unsupported, we’re back to that battle analogy in the introduction. This is where your reporting software really earns its stripes (yes, the war metaphors keep on coming). By pulling out figures and analysis over a week, month, quarter, or year, you can monitor the performance of products, individuals, and teams. This information allows you to detect and act on an issue at the earliest stage. Maybe that is to send in more people, or possibly to pull some out. In an age where we’re all accountable to someone, your sales territory plan reviews are also hard evidence to directors and stakeholders of whether a territory, product, or sales tactic is still tenable.
6. Single Source of Truth
While your sales territory plan should be flexible and able to adapt to change, it does need to be a single source of truth. What we mean by that is no multiple versions of what your plan looks like across different sales divisions and only the one accepted software platform and suite of templates. One of the common issues with sales territory strategies that fail is that every manager and team are working from their own ideas and tactics. Back to the war just one more time. The most complicated and important battles are those where commanders and generals remember they’re on the same side and working from one campaign brief. And to achieve that single source of truth, you will need to throw your weight behind a robust, customizable, and wholly accessible software platform. To summarize, that means stepping away from the spreadsheets and putting your paper maps to one side.
We’ll come back to what that should be. First, a recap on what your sales territory plan should do, and the checks needed once you’re up and running.
- Back up your wider business objectives and goals
- Help you research customer demographics, market, and need
- Provide the rationale and metrics for setting territory boundaries
- Inform you of how to resource and when to pull out
- Manage the most complex of territorial situations and hierarchies
- Analyze local competition
- Track the performance of your sales executives and products
- Integrate with quota management software and other sales performance management software (SPM) tools.
The Last Word
Now you know how to set and maintain sales territories, it’s time to put the plan into action with sales territory software. Above all else, this platform should earn its keep, helping you to make the decisions around who goes where, and what level of resourcing a client requires.