Moving From an Open Territory Model to an Assigned Territory Model

If you’ve ever altered Sales territories or had your own territory “cut up”, you know as well as I do that shuffling around the ownership of sales territories can present a major challenge. Changing territory models altogether? That’s on another level. I’ve been through this change twice and lived to tell the tale. I’ve also “inflicted” such a change on others.

For you sales leaders out there, here are my takeaways for a successful territory model change.

#1  Strategically, all sales leaders at all levels need to be on-board with the plan and the vision. The good ones who aren’t fans of the model will still carry the torch. The ones who can’t get over it and grow as the company grows are good candidates for connecting with a couple folks in your network and then gracefully, and respectfully, helping them move on to their next adventure.

#2  Communicate, communicate, communicate. Territory shakeups are one of the many things in business that I find most people treat far too confidentially, or just with “kid gloves”. Rip the band-aid off. It’s a business. You aren’t taking some kid’s toy away. Again, the good leaders and sellers will get it and just keep executing. Don’t wait on getting your sales leaders on-board to communicate to the rest of the business. I’m not saying bark out your final plans as orders. Very few people appreciate that kind of heavy-handedness. I’m saying communicate that change is coming, that territories are going to be shaken up, and that everyone will see new selling opportunities because of it. All of this is both true and positive.

#3  Tactically, this is best done as a “roll-forward” and not as a “flipping the switch”. That might translate to a high-level plan of:

Move all customer accounts to their new territory owners as of (current date), on (future date, say 2 weeks out), except for those with open opportunities in the pipeline due to close either this quarter or 1 quarter following.

As an example: “It’s October 24th. On November 9th, we’ll be moving all the accounts that had no open opportunities as of October 23rd. For every open Opp, you’ll get 2 quarters to close the deal and after that, we’ll roll it to the new owner.”

Then, for all the active/open deals, give your reps 2 quarters to close, including the current quarter if it’s the first month of the quarter. I’ve seen this done as 2x the average sales cycle instead, particularly for longer sales cycles but also as a buffer against whining over “how unfair this is”.

This tells your sellers they can’t go back in time to set up fake deals as a way to game the system. It also tells them their current deals have some protection but that protection can’t last forever.

Between the “life isn’t fair” conversation and the “it’s 2x the sales cycle” conversation, the good reps will get it. Equally important: don’t forget your Federal and/or “Major Accounts” rep(s). The sales cycles for them tend to be much different than for the rest of the pack. Whatever deals your reps don’t close in that time period, again – outside of Federal/Majors reps – probably weren’t real in the first place.

The positive way to spin this is that you’re identifying a specific, defined playground to operate in for some defined period of time. Often that playground is “the rep’s home turf” and the defined period of time is “1 full fiscal year”.

#4  A great time to do this is month 1 of fiscal Q4. Especially if your fiscal year follows the calendar year, as this lines you up for a perfect start as of Jan 1. Changing the playing field lights a fire under your closers and those reps who love competing for the top spot (which should be every rep!) It’s also the busiest time of the year for job hoppers, so it kicks any of your reps who were on the fence into high-gear with their exit, which puts you in a good position to hire back up to full strength by the start of the new year.

Account Management is Dead. Long Live Customer Success.

If you’re in Sales, Marketing, or Recruiting, it’s likely you’ve seen Customer Success Managers replacing the more traditional Account Manager role. When I say “Account Manager” I’m referring to the “farmers” in a Sales organization. Their job is to maintain customer relationships and up-sell. What this often boils down to is making sure renewals are processed and then pushing more products and services.

Unlike the more traditional Account Manager, Customer Success Managers get into the mind of the customer. They study the customer’s business and the challenges holding the customer back from professional and personal success.

Customer Success Managers care deeply about customer outcomes. They develop plans to get the customer over the first goal line, then they push the goalposts back and guide the customer to the next level of success.

Because they work to always act in the customer’s best interests, Customer Success Managers become the customer’s trusted advisor. When executing at their peak, Customer Success Managers drive near-100% customer retention. Customers love working with them and naturally buy more of your company’s products and services. Renewals just happen: in the customer’s mind, there’s no question about continuing the partnership.

Meanwhile, Account Managers are rarely thought of as anything more than order takers.

The good news for the Account Managers and Sales leaders out there who manage “farm teams” is that it’s not a big leap to go from “order taker” to “trusted advisor”. It all begins with laying a foundation:

Step 1: Make the success of your customer your top priority. Whether that success is professional or personal, it needs to be priority #1.

Step 2: Always be asking, “How does this help my customer be more successful?” If the answer is ever, “It doesn’t”, ask again. Ask until you’re blue in the face. Then take a breath and get back to questioning!

These are the first principles to get you started. Is there more to Customer Success? You bet. But it all flows from a deep desire to see the customer succeed. Do that and you’re on the right path. Both for the customer’s success and your own.


Inspired by the article, “Owning the Number“, written by Jay Nathan, Founder of Customer Imperative. Special thanks to Nick Mehta, CEO at Gainsight for sharing Jay’s article on LinkedIn.

Why Your Web Forms Aren’t Getting You Leads And What You Can Do About It

Updated September 20, 2018

After 20+ years of creating scores of them, hundreds of hours spent researching how to optimize them, and countless complaints from salespeople about them, I’ve come to a revelation about website forms:

They’re complete and utter garbage.

I’m a vendor and a buyer, so I get it. You want my information. Here’s the problem: I hate filling out form after form after form when all I want to do is read a case study or watch a video. Instead, I wind up on the receiving end of your mountain of email spam even though at least one of us knows the chances of me buying anything in response are about as close to zero as it gets.

Brief aside: for those unaware, said email spam is often referred to as “nurturing”. If you’re sitting there asking yourself how spamming tens-of-thousands of email Inboxes is the same as “caring for (your customer’s) growth and development”, you aren’t alone. If you were to look at conversion rates, in effect that’s when someone turns from a “window shopper” to a buyer, you’d see that this is the equivalent of playing darts. And everyone doing B2B Marketing knows it.

Anyway, back to conversion rates.

Does anyone else recall when “conversion” was defined as a customer purchasing something? The earliest article on conversion rates on the web goes back to a 1993, piece on AdWeek about infomercials and direct mail. The earliest at all appears to come from David Ogilvy in the 1950s. In both pieces, “conversion” meant someone buying something. That’s it. Everything else was an action, a response, a lead, but never a conversion. Today, it seems like there are dozens of other definitions of the term that folks keep tossing onto the field to either make themselves sound smarter or feel better.

Maybe they couldn’t accept their work wasn’t getting accolades or they were crushed to find out that leads aren’t all that important to the C-suite (generally speaking, only revenue growth matters). “But I’m bringing in business!” they cried. All they’d done was co-opt a well-known term and warp it for their own benefit. The definition of “conversion” started shifting from “customer who makes a purchase” to “anyone with a pulse” and, sure enough, one-by-one every action you can imagine a visitor taking became a conversion. As an example, have you looked at what passes for a conversion on a website today? A review of more than a dozen high-profile Marketing industry blogs reveals the following:

I Got 99 Conversions But An Actual, Paying Customer Ain’t One…

  • Adding something to the “shopping cart”
  • Requesting a quote
  • Signing up for a free account
  • Filling out a survey
  • Subscribing to a newsletter
  • Downloading something (anything)
  • Registering for an event
  • Sharing your blog post on a social media site
  • Filling out a contest entry
  • Providing general feedback
  • Watching a video
  • Clicking through to your page from a search engine
  • Staying on your page for longer than X seconds (…wow, really scraping the bottom of the barrel there, Guru #73551)

These were all found on pages published from mid-2017 to early-2018 and found in no more than 5 minutes of browsing. At the very least they could have said “lead conversion” instead of “conversion”! But hang on, let’s define lead and let’s go with Marketo’s definition as their marketshare denotes some level of agreement: a lead is a “qualified potential buyer who shows some level of interest in purchasing your product or solution.”

Go back to the shopping cart, the first bullet on the list. We’re talking about e-commerce, but let’s take this into the physical world for a moment.

You’re the General Manager of a supermarket. Does someone walking into the store indicate interest in purchasing any one, specific product? Does entering the cereal aisle make them a qualified buyer? Did mailing your weekly circular out to them and then see them showing up in the store mean anything at all? (Speaking of which, do those add up to a mountain of recycling or what?!)

These are all merely actions. You have no idea if the person is anything other than a visitor. You need attribution. To close that gap, you complicate things. To get into the cereal aisle, or maybe just to pick up any individual box of cereal, the visitor has to provide a dozen bits of information. Do they give you the information because they want the cereal, or did they just want to see the Nutritional Information? Maybe they just like the cartoon character on the box? Starting to see why this might not all work out the way you’d hoped?

If there are 17 vending machines side by side (read: you and your competitors all offering a white paper), I’m going to go with whatever’s easiest.

Let’s take a step back.

Do you know how low B2B conversion rates are? Really low. Abysmally low. So low that a lot of articles that declare they’ll be writing about actual conversions mysteriously only publish the “visitor filled out a form” or “visitor clicked a funny picture” data which, again, isn’t showing conversions. On a good day, those are steps in the customer journey. On a bad day, those are just actions by visitors.

That form-fill rate? The one getting you nothing? It’s somewhere between 2 and 3%.

If you read that 2-3% figure and thought it was bad then seeing the rate at which customers make purchases, otherwise known as actual conversion rates, down at an average of 0.6%, might send you off the cliff. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

This might give us some idea of why the meaning of “conversion” has expanded to cover everything under the sun. If you pull everything marketers and salespeople are doing that doesn’t fit the original definition of conversion into the umbrella, many of those marketers and salespeople will feel validated by your work. They may even buy your services. This is the same basic human psychology that fuels the self-help industry. Bob reads a few articles praising “lead conversion” as the new metric to live and die by, nearly all of them written by companies selling tools or training related to lead tracking or lead conversion, and – wouldn’t you know – soon he starts talking about how amazing it is that he “converted” 50,000 website visitors this year – into what, we still don’t know. But he sure did make them fill out a lot of useless forms that act as gates to anything worth a damn on our website. And, ever since his CEO bought into this “conversion” idea, Bob is now the divine Buddha riding a shimmering golden unicorn into Valhalla! Go, Bob!

I mixed up mythologies a bit. You get the idea.

The number one reason your forms don’t work is that they give you no idea about the visitor’s intent.

Not one of these claims is true:

  1. “Filling out the form means they want to buy!”
  2. “Filling out the form means they are able to buy!”
  3. “Filling out the form means they love our products!”
  4. “They filled out the form because they love filling out forms!”
  5. “They specifically chose ‘I want to buy in the next 3-6 months’ in the drop-down. They’re qualified! Woooo!”

Are they?

Have you defined qualified? Is that a cross-functional definition or siloed in Marketing?

Was their intent in filling in the form to provide you insight into their interest, or were they merely trying to get past your gate so they could access the content they were after?

If this is the hurdle they need to jump through to buy your product – or just to talk to you – you’re creating a bad first impression.

All your form is doing is acting as another barrier to engaging with the visitor and determining whether they are both qualified and interested. Meanwhile, your lead list is growing by the hundreds or thousands, threatening to suck countless hours, days, or weeks away from your company’s productivity.

What’s often behind all of this is a lack of insight and a huge stack of assumptions. One or more of your colleagues are making guesswork out of what should be an actual strategy with requirements, metrics, tactics to execute against, and so on.

When I learn of these stretches of the term “conversion”, it’s typically happening for one of two reasons:

  • No agreement across the business about what’s critical to growth, so something that isn’t “customers purchasing what you’re selling” overtakes that as priority #1. Terms are thrown around left and right in whatever context is being used by the speaker at the time. It’s common in this situation to discover that it’s not the employees but the executives who lack the will to tackle this problem, leaving their teams to go ’round and ’round in circles – people just do what they’re told or give the “we’ve always done it this way” line.
  • The head of Marketing convinced the CEO to agree with broad and largely meaningless definitions of “lead” and “conversion” in order to guarantee their job and their bonuses. Regrettably, I have heard of this happening more than zero times and I’ll be clear: this should be happening exactly zero times.

What you need to do is grow the business. Your business grows by customers buying what you have to sell. This means you need to rapidly identify qualified buyers and move them into, and ultimately out, of your selling process.

We can ask on our form why a person downloaded a whitepaper, we can define “qualified buyer” and ask questions to determine if they fit that qualification. We also need ways to identify interest (assuming we’ve finally defined “interest”!) Unless there are options for each qualifying factor, and you can attribute actions to interest/desire, all those form submissions may or may not actually add up to much of anything.

If you do enhance your forms, they’re still not guaranteed to get you any useful information by themselves. A lead is a “qualified potential buyer who shows some level of interest in purchasing your product or solution.” If all you get is a person’s contact information, you’ll need to cross-reference that against potentially several other factors to determine qualification and interest levels. I don’t mean identifying whether the same person also watched 3 videos and posted about your products on Twitter. Those are still merely actions. They show no buying interest. No intent.

You need to identify and understand, truly understand, what makes up interest in a purchase of your products and services. The only way to do that is by engaging with people, and forms aren’t tools for engagement, they’re tools for data collection.

Your forms do nothing more than put up yet another barrier between you and your customers.

“But you just said I need to ask them! How can I ask without a form?”

Go back to the beginning. Let’s identify some opportunities begging for solutions. I said I hate filling out form after form after form. I hate being put into “nurturing tracks” when I’m clearly not a lead. If modern Sales & Marketing are “all about the Buyer and their journey”, then using these tactics just shows you’re living in the past. The reality is that you hate having thousands of cold leads anyway. They’re just taking up space in your systems because you can’t simply and quickly identify the people who have a legitimate interest in purchasing your products & services.

Opportunity #1 – Forms. Fix Them Or Ditch Them.

You have two options here.

Option #1: Keep your forms but make them useful. It’s likely they have either far too few meaningful fields or way too many useless fields. In addition, filling the form out once doesn’t “stick” – in other words, the visitor will need to fill out another form for the next thing they’re interested in. One meaningful fix is to only ask for an email address. Then, use cookies, sessions, tracking, and other technology to get an understanding of what it is they’re looking for and what their interest level is. Take all the friction out. I give you an email once and I’m done. There are tools that can infer full name, company, title, even position on the org chart and a host of other data points from an email address. “But what about throwaway email accounts?” HEY SHERLOCK, that person isn’t a lead anyway, move on!

Option #2: Ditch your forms and switch to chat. Using a mix of chatbots and real people, ask questions to help guide the visitor to their most valuable outcome. Notice I said, “their” not “your”. The best outcome for them is not always the one that results in them buying what you’re selling. They are a guest. You have no clue why they are on your site, but you (or a bot) can ask questions in real-time to make this determination. The folks who want to consider your offerings, and especially those who want to buy, they’ll engage with the chat. The ones who don’t? Ask Sherlock up there.

Just give me the content already.  Don’t trick me into clicking your link and waste my time by trying to get me to fill out an overly complicated form that I know will result in more marketing coming my way.


Opportunity #2 – Stop With The Nurturing Already.

Stop. Just stop. “But I’m generating mindshare!” No, you aren’t, you’re generating ambivalence at best and negativity toward your brand at worst. Nobody likes spam. Even the people creating spam don’t like spam.

Instead, implement a connection personalization strategy. Make sure it gives immediate value to the customer. Avoid using only email. You need to build around phone, email, web ads, and chat as each makes up the technologically-enhanced world we live in. Again, think the value to the customer, not to you. Not, “Sean, thanks for blah blah blah I hope you liked it, by the way, there’s a webinar on topic-you-watched-a-video-on and please click here to register.” This is lipstick on a pig.

Your systems need to (1) derive facts about the person, their role, their business, and their challenges all from the wealth of data available online today and (2) provide that person with immediate value. Provide an opportunity to the customer to connect with a real person immediately. Identify the specific content they took action on. Call out a specific point from that content that supports a challenge you know they’re facing and how it is helping their competitor, one of their customers, or at least another like-business solve that challenge. Offer a brief conversation on their issue and give them your (i.e. the Sales Rep’s) direct phone number, link to chat, and a link to book a meeting right on the calendar.

If this is an automated system, and it should be, the system should be plugging all of that in as if it’s coming from the relevant Sales rep themselves.

Opportunity #3 – Identify and Understand Intent!

Stop believing everyone who takes an action on your website is a lead. They’re just visitors. Save your CRM tool from the data hygiene problems, save overpaying for your email automation solution and all your other “per lead” solutions, and say it with me, “they’re just a visitor”. Only leads are leads, everyone else is just a visitor.

Ask the visitor why they’re there. What are they looking for? How can you provide them with immediate value? The best time to ask is not “as soon as the page loads.” Nobody needs to see 20 things on the screen as soon as they browse to a new website. Give it time. It could be 10 or even 20 seconds. You may not even pop a chat box up until they’ve scrolled down once and then back up again. If they bounced, it wasn’t because they didn’t find what they were looking for, it’s because they were going to bounce anyway. Anyone with real interest and intent will spend more than a few seconds on your page. Introduce a small, out-of-the-way chat capability, preferably one that can make inferences about the visitor and offer immediate value. Something that says, “I’m here to help you find whatever it is you’re looking for, no catch, no BS.” This could be done with chatbots, people, or a mix of the two.

Lose the forms. Interact with your website visitors. Ditch the CRM overload and increase sales focus and execution by identifying real leads and driving successful selling through smarter and more personal engagement. You can do this. There is no better time to start than now.

As always – good luck!



Additional reading on why website forms are killing your sales pipeline: