Hope Is Not a Strategy: 5 Tips for Effective Territory Planning and Territory Coaching


In countless training sessions, we hear salespeople say things like, "I'm hoping to have a good year" or "I'm hoping to make my numbers." Far less often, we meet salespeople who know they are going to meet or exceed their numbers, who know they are going to make President's Club. The difference is those who are certain have a plan. In our experience, the number one most overlooked discipline in selling is Territory Management. Salespeople are notorious for avoiding paperwork. I know, I am one and have worked with literally thousands of salespeople across multiple industries around the world who for the most part, do their best to avoid planning. We hear salespeople say that they would rather be out in the field than back in the office “pushing paper around.” We agree. You have to get out in the field in order to succeed, but to get out in the field without a clear plan is a bigger waste of time than the time it would take to build your plan. Without that plan, you can only hope to win. You can't be certain you will win. Most salespeople don’t invest time in creating a true Territory Plan and most managers don’t require them to do so (more often than not because they used to be top performing salespeople and they got by without one). If training on Territory Management is offered, it often isn’t sustained because sales managers don’t fully understand it.

To be clear -- Territory Management is different than Pipeline Management. Plenty of salespeople and sales managers are focused on the pipeline -- the numbers – the dashboard – so much so, that they forget about the behaviors that drive those numbers. The dashboard is just one small part of what needs to be assessed – and too often the dashboard only looks backward – not forward. We understand…leadership is focused on results, which means managers are focused on results and because what gets measured, gets done, salespeople are focused on results. And yet, you need to coach to behaviors…that is what will drive better results, better numbers. If you just focus on the numbers, you are missing 75% of the equation – the human behaviors that will enable you to achieve those numbers – and deliver the results senior leadership expects. When it comes to sales, those behaviors start with a strong territory plan.

In our work, we know that the top performing salespeople are the ones who have -- and actively use -- a territory plan.

5 Key Tips for Creating a Territory Plan:

  1. Shift your mindset. Think of it as a “Business Plan” for your portfolio of business – the aggregate of all your accounts. Every sound business has a Business Plan.

  2. Take control of your own destiny. Personally decide how much income you want for the year and even the next two years. Then, take a look at what has to happen to achieve that (i.e. net new business vs. renewals, expected attrition, average account size, close ratio, health of the pipeline, etc.).

  3. Learn from the past. Look backward in order to accurately predict the future.

  4. Remember the 80/20 Rule. Identify the top accounts that will yield 80% of results for your Territory Plan.

  5. Be flexible. Territory Management is a dynamic process. Accounts change, stakeholders change – that means the plan must be constantly reviewed and updated to respond to challenges and opportunities that arise in your industry and book of business.

Front line managers responsible for coaching the sales team often don’t know what to ask about beyond the pipeline because their managers are also only focused on numbers vs. behaviors.

5 Key Tips for Coaching the Territory Plan

  1. Make it a requirement. The first step is sending a clear message that you expect each of your salespeople to create a Territory Plan. No opting out for top performers. Provide them with a template and access to the data they need to develop a solid, realistic Territory Plan.

  2. Learn the whole story. In addition to reviewing the pipeline, review the Territory Plan and ask questions to determine the thinking that went into the plan. Much like Behavioral Interviewing questions, these questions are predictors of success. Questions that focus on percentage of net new business vs. recurring business, average account size, closing ratio, what steps they need to take in order to execute the plan on a quarterly basis, how realistic each of those behaviors is, etc. You need to get the specifics in order to identify strengths and areas for improvement. Then, on an individual basis, determine what the obstacles are to more effectively completing/executing against those Territory Plans. Is it “skill or will?” If it is skill, what specifically do they need to learn and can they learn it? If it is will, what is getting in the way (have they not "bought in" to the value, are they lazy, are they delaying the inevitable, etc.?

  3. Provide necessary training. If you identify team-wide areas for improvement, schedule specific training sessions to address those “Skill Gaps.”

  4. Reinforce positive behaviors. When progress in made, provide specific and meaningful positive feedback in order to encourage team members and reinforce desired behaviors. Identify internal champions who can mentor their peers.

  5. Create a Territory Plan cadence. Develop your own skill set in running internal Quarterly Business Reviews (QBR’s) (a.k.a. Territory Management Review sessions) – run effectively, they will provide you with more accurate forecasting data and will ensure that the Territory Plans are updated on an ongoing basis.

To take your strategy a step further, go beyond the Territory Plan by engaging in Next Level Planning. Territory Planning is the highest level in the planning hierarchy. To support that, where warranted, develop an Account Plan for each of your key accounts (those that will yield 80% of your results). Then,as you identify key opportunities, for those or any other accounts, develop an Opportunity Plan to identify strengths and vulnerabilities and keep those opportunities moving through the pipeline. Finally, complete Sales Call Plans for each key client interaction that supports advancing the opportunity. Those successive levels of planning are all part of creating a robust sales strategy discipline.

As we say to our clients, “Hope is not a strategy” and “the best sales skills in the world won’t make up for a weak strategy.” When approached effectively, in the words of one of our clients, Territory Management can be "life changing." To set yourself up for success, start by developing an annual Territory Plan, work to that plan and update it quarterly. The time you invest in building the plan will save you time in the long run and will ensure your success.

For more information on effective Territory Management for salespeople and sales managers, contact Sphere International.

Sphere is a performance improvement firm that has been improving leadership, sales and communications performance for more than 20 years. We work with Fortune 500 and FTSE 1000 organizations globally across multiple industries helping tens of thousands of professionals at every level in those organizations enhance their performance.

We do that by helping you determine what is working well with your organization, your teams and your people right now, while at the same time, with laser focus, helping you identify key areas for improvement. We then work with your leadership team and individual contributors and/or teams to help them leverage their strengths and refine their areas for improvement through incremental change. It is at once an individual and a holistic approach to defining and inspiring you to achieve your next level of excellence. You can reach us at www.sphereintl.com.

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