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.