How you prioritize your sales territory management activities depends upon whether you are managing a territory that has existing customers, or whether you are building your customer base from scratch.
If you manage a territory that has existing customers, your first priority should be to introduce yourself to every single one of your customers. This should be a pleasant, low-key introduction along the lines of, "I just wanted to introduce myself and see if there is anything I can do to help you." Then, as you are chatting with your customers, you can ask, "Would you mind sharing with me how you think my company's relationship with you has been going so far? What have we been doing well? Where could we improve?"
Collecting this kind of feedback is a great way to start relationships with customers. It also helps you draw any festering problems out into the open. If you can address the problems quickly, it can really jump-start your relationships with the affected customers.
This same approach can also be effective for customers that have been reducing their purchases from your company over time, or customers that have stopped ordering completely. It is never much fun to listen to people complain. But, if you can isolate and solve the problems that are causing the dissatisfaction, you can produce a rapid and substantial boost in sales.
If you find customers that are really happy with the service your company has provided, drill down (with more questions) to determine just what has made them so happy. Their answers will provide you with a template for successfully managing their (and other) accounts. Also, ask these happy customers for referrals regardless of whether you have contributed in any way to their happiness! Happy, satisfied customers are usually delighted to share their positive experience with others.
Once you have met all of your existing customers, the next step is to identify target prospects in your territory. Start by checking with your manager. If they have been managing your sales team for any period of time, they should be able to suggest some good target prospects.
Once you have compiled a list of target prospects, determine which ones you will pursue first. Which target prospects have the greatest potential to purchase the largest amounts of products and services? Which ones are likely to be "quick closes"? If you have both types of target prospects on your list, pursue several of each type at the same time. In the words of a well-respected executive that I used to work with, "Elephant hunting is great but those rabbits sure taste good in between the elephants!"
When you are ready to begin pursuing your target prospects, start by asking your existing customers whether they know anyone that works in the target organizations. If they do, ask for referrals. Once you have exhausted available referrals, proceed with the other activities in your prospecting plan - but tailor these activities to attract the attention of your target prospects.
Effective sales territory management begins with touching base with every single one of your existing customers. Ask questions to gauge their satisfaction with their relationship with your company. If they identify any problems, work aggressively to solve these problems as your first priority.
If a customer expresses happiness and satisfaction, ask questions to determine what your company has been doing right. Use this information to create a template for managing all of your accounts. Also be sure to ask for referrals, both in general and to specific target accounts. Exhaust these referrals before you begin the other (less productive) activities in your prospecting plan.
Prioritize your activities as described in this article, and you will maximize sales growth in your territory!
Copyright 2005 -- Alan Rigg
Sales performance expert Alan Rigg is the author of How to Beat the 80/20 Rule in Selling: Why Most Salespeople Don't Perform and What to Do About It. His company, 80/20 Sales Performance, helps business owners, executives, and managers DOUBLE sales by implementing The Right Formula for building top-performing sales teams. For more information and more FREE sales and sales management tips, visit http://www.8020salesperformance.com.