Territory management: Keep plans fresh, flexible

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

If you're a sales professional with strong territory management skills, you can save time and move on to the next article in this magazine. On the other hand, if territory management is a topic you wish you knew more about, read on. Territory management is the term used to describe how a sales professional manages his or her territory to achieve maximum results. It doesn't matter what size your territory is. Diligently working your territory will yield better results. Whether you are working for a manufacturer, a distributor or a homecare provider, territories should be considered in at least three ways:
How big is your territory? How long does it take to cover the entire territory, visiting all, or the vast majority, of your customers? What routes are the most economical in terms of travel costs and the ability to see and serve as many customers as possible? Every territory is different. Only after working it for a while do sales professionals get a clear understanding of what impact geography has on their routine. It's critical to continually assess your territory to make certain you get the most out of your day. Some people break up their territory in quadrants. Others use a system similar to a clock, working in a circle beginning in an area close to home and working clockwise to complete the circle. Others use a straight line running north to south. It depends on the territory.
For example, Alabama is a state that happens to have most of its bigger markets conveniently running along Interstate 65. Huntsville, Birmingham and Montgomery are all accessible via I-65. Go a little further south along I-65 and you run into Mobile. A north/south route makes sense in a territory like that. Of course nearly every territory has markets that require you to make trips that are not a natural fit for your route. Since you must serve those markets too, work extra hard to make necessary side trips worth the effort.
From time to time, circumstances will probably require you to change your regular schedule. An important customer needs to see you. An opportunity suddenly arises that must be addressed. These things don't happen every day and it's important to be flexible. Weather may also be a factor in managing your routine. If you live in an area where inclement weather is likely to affect your call patterns at certain times of the year, take that into account as you prioritize your time. Michigan's Upper Peninsula is a case in point. It's not easy to get there in the winter. Make sure you plan lots of phone contact and e-mails to keep those accounts warm while you wait for spring.
It's also important to step back, perhaps twice a year, and ask yourself whether your current travel routine is still serving your needs. Are you still hitting your goals? If not, start by looking at where you spend your time.
All customers are not created equal. Smart sales professionals effectively triage their accounts, using a simple, but usually effective, method: the A,B C accounts.
- A accounts: These are your best customers. They consistently buy from you. They are loyal and deserve priority attention. Visit them often and try to add value. Get to know as many people working in the account as you can. Your focus should be to grow and maintain the business.
Remember, it is easier to get an existing customer to buy more than to get a new customer to start buying.
- B accounts: These accounts buy from you occasionally. Your first priority with these accounts is to determine whether they could become A accounts. If they are large, thriving businesses, they should be targeted for more sales calls with the intention of garnering more business. Find out what their unmet needs are and try to satisfy them. Another B account is one that is small but growing. Treat them the same as the big B account that could be buying more from you now. At a minimum, keep track of their progress and take an interest in their success. Even if they aren't growing significantly they will probably remain loyal if you pay attention to them.
- C accounts: These accounts buy little or nothing from you. If they are large and you have established they do not like your company's products, work to change their thinking but use your own judgment. For example, if they are in the center of a market you spend a lot of time in, by all means drop in on them when you're in the area. If they're located in an out of the way area, one visit a year may be enough. If the account doesn't buy because it's small, or merely dabbles in your product line, it may not be worth spending a great deal of time on them, but keep in mind that people change jobs. It never hurts to get to know someone who might be working for a key prospect in the future.
Your territory is changing all the time. What are your competitors up to? Do you keep abreast of their strengths and weaknesses? If you work for a homecare provider, you're no doubt aware that managed care is well established today even in smaller markets. Have you met with the person responsible for provider contracting? Is it the same person you met last year? At a time when national homecare companies are acquiring independent dealers and providers, it pays to keep abreast of possible developments that could dramatically affect current relationships with key customers. Change usually means opportunity. Being vigilant about change is effective territory management.
Study your customer list organized by sales volume in the last six to 12 months. Your best customers should be at the top of your list. You can probably make a quick pass just by dividing the list into thirds based on sales. Then take a good look at each account and make some decisions about whether they are A, B or C accounts.
Once you have the list you can begin to develop an effective priority order based on how you ranked your customers. Just because you're in a particular market doesn't mean you always have time to see every single customer. With A, B, and C designations you can make intelligent choices about how you spend precious time. One final point: Don't be tempted to have your list bronzed. You should re-evaluate and update it regularly. Circumstances are always changing. Territory management plans are living documents. Keep them fresh and make more sales.


Len Serafino is vice president, eastern division of CHAD Therapeutics in Chatsworth, Calif.