A long time ago in a land far away, I was suckered into being the Little League Coach for my son’s team. Although I was new to coaching and was an awful baseball player myself, I did one thing right – I assigned our best players to the best positions.
- Zack could throw really fast but was a bit wild. He became our pitcher. Good opposing batters struck out a lot because his fastball down the middle was nearly unhittable (the rest were terrified of getting beaned by a wild pitch).
- Cory had spiderman-like reflexes and speed. He became our shortstop.
- Eli could catch anything and hit like Babe Ruth, But he ran in slow motion. He played first base and catcher and batted cleanup.
I assigned the remaining positions following similar logic all the way down to our weakest player who got stuck in left field (the same position I played as a kid).
By putting our best players in the best positions, we won most of our games and became the City’s 1992 Little League Champions*.
Always Put Your Best Rep In Your Best Territory
There are a few common approaches used to assign territories:
Random or first come, first served is how most companies start out. Without knowing much about your team or business, territory assignment initially is haphazard.
The second approach is to assign your best rep to a weaker territory where you are struggling. This way, you have a proven producer working to turn-around a weaker patch and you’ve got a weaker reps working a good territory where (in theory) he will be successful.
The third approach is to assign your best rep to your best territory to ensure you generate the most sales from this patch.
A fourth approach is to assign territories based on tenure. The rep who’s been here the longest gets his pick of territories.
Although each of these approaches has merit, in my experience assigning the best rep to the best territory brought the best results.
I’ve tried them all and learned this lesson through painful experience.
Never Move Your Best Rep from a Strong Territory to Ramp Up a New Territory (or Turn-around a Weaker Territory)
Let’s review the downsides:
#1 You’ve just reduced your potential for maximizing sales revenue. A Sales Managers, our job is to maximize sales revenues. More revenue helps solve every problem – we can hire more people, we can fix buggy software, we can absorb the ramp up period when building a new team, we can obtain funding, etc.
#2 You’ve put your #1 revenue generating rep in a position to sell less. In the best case scenario, it will take at least a few months for him to build back up to the level he was at before. In the worst case, he’ll never get back there.
#3 Your Top Rep will quit. When you ask your Top Rep to help with a new or struggling territory, he may be flattered. He might tell you he relishes the challenge and the recognition. But within a very short period of time, he’ll be frustrated because he’s working harder and selling less than the reps in better territories.
Here’s one of my failures.
My Top Inside Sales Rep had led our team in sales for 7 quarters in a row while covering NYC. I could always count on him to overachieve and make up any shortfall the team had in hitting its overall number.
We were opening up a new territory in Chicago. Since my Top ISR had expressed interest in eventually moving to the Chicago in field sales, I reassigned him to Chicago.
I then moved a less experienced ISR to NYC, assuming he’d do well because the territory was so good.
That quarter, NYC came in at 50% of quota and Chicago at 10%. The team missed its number.
The next quarter, NYC came in at 75% and Chicago at 25%. Once again, the team missed its number.
The following quarter, my Top ISR quit.
I took more than a year for us to build NYC back up to where it was originally and two years to transform Chicago into a decent territory.
Here’s one of my successes.
Instead of territories, at our SAAS company we assigned reps to verticals. My top performing Closers were all assigned to our top vertical – Accounting.
Over the next 18 months, we launched 8 new verticals successfully but never reassigned any of our Top Closers away from Accounting.
Instead, we targeted new Closers who had expressed interest in launching new verticals. To be eligible, the new Closers had to have been successful in at least 2 different verticals.
Since all new reps started in Accounting, a rep who wanted to launch a new vertical had to walk away from our “best vertical” and prove himself in a 2nd vertical just to be considered. Then he had to be willing to start from zero, with no BDR help. Only after he had proven he could book and close business in the new vertical on his own, would we assign him a BDR and eventually a team.
By expanding this way, we were able to grown the business from under $10M to over $25M in 2 years. We also hit monthly quota for 24 months in a row, often with Accounting covering any shortfall we had from our new verticals.
Who Should You Assign to a New Territory?
People who are a likely match would rather build a risky new venture that has tremendous upside than in an established structure which provides greater security (and more guaranteed commissions). You’ll often find them at early stage startups or in emerging product groups at larger companies.
What If You Don’t Have Any Trailblazers?
Most of the time, new reps get assigned to the worst territories, unless there is a specific reason for assigning them to a better territory (eg. geographic location, previous experience in the territory, etc).
This gives you the ability to “carry” the new rep while he ramps up by overachieving in your best territory.
If your new rep proves himself, you can move him to a better territory down the road.
It’s Not Always Fair
Some reps just get lucky. Maybe they were hired at the right time when a good territory was open. Maybe they are selling the hot product in a hot market. Maybe they inherited a strong pipeline of deals. (Maybe they were hired right into Accounting or assigned to NYC).
Others are not so lucky. They might get a crappy territory, a bad product line or a difficult vertical.
That’s just how it goes sometimes.
When you are assigning or reassigning territories, I recommend that you assign reps to maximize sales in each region. Don’t try to make things fair or equal.
It never works out perfectly.
But if you do it my way, you’ll have some territories that crush it which will help carry the weaker territories and will generate the revenues you need to create better opportunities in the future for reps are currently stuck in a bad patch.
If you want my help building your sales team or improving sales, contact me here. I’d love to hear from you.
*If you want my help Coaching Little League you’re out of luck. I already put my time in.
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