The Sales Milk Run and Other Behaviors Killing the Results of Territory Managers

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This past year I’ve consulted and coached more companies with territory manager sales forces than is typical. While personally I gravitate more toward hunting and new business development, I still love working with territory sales teams and salespeople who manage existing relationships. But recently, I am seeing several disturbing trends among many who manage territories.

Territory Managers describe their job as if they are there to manage the territory as opposed to being charged with growing the business.

Too many field salespeople have disconnected their own attitude and behavior from the sales performance of their territory. They talk about the business and sales results as if they are not responsible for the outcome, but rather, just innocent bystanders or victims of what’s taking place around them.

Territory managers behave as if their primary responsibility is customer service, not driving top-line revenue increases. I have a sales guru friend who refers to this as the “CSR with a Car” mentality. That’s a perfect verbal depiction of what I am observing. Perfect and painful.

Salespeople are spending an inordinate amount of time attempting to either “help” their operations people or responding to any and every customer’s immediate desire. These territory salespeople have lost perspective on how to be productively selfish with their selling time and it’s killing their results.

As destructive are the attitudes and behaviors I’ve outlined above, there is another issue even more prevalent and more damaging to the sales performance of territory managers: Too many salespeople who manage territories of existing accounts operate everyday as if they were simply doing a Milk Run.

They’ve turned off their brains. They are no longer strategic about where or how they invest their time. They’ve fallen into a routine. They run their routes; they over-serve their favorite pet accounts. Once upon a time these territory managers may have segmented their customer lists and put some thought into who deserved more of their energy, or where they should intentionally invest to grow the business. But that was a long time ago and likely long forgotten.

I’ll offer two suggestions to help counteract these dangerous attitudes and the Milk-Run mentality I’ve described.

1) Stop the Milk Run and Re-Segment Your Accounts. Take a good, hard look at your territory and account list. Divide your current customers into four categories: Largest, Most-Growable, At-Risk, and Other. Some of your accounts will fall into two, or even three of the categories. Often we’ll have a big customer that still presents significant opportunities for cross-selling new offerings or deeper penetration. And at the same time, those large customers can usually be considered “At-Risk” too, because either a competitor is on our heels or there are changes afoot within the account. The point of this little exercise is simple and obvious. Over-invest in customers that fall into those first three categories. Spend time where you can move the revenue needle. If an accounts is neither big, growable nor at-risk, then why spend your time there? We’re paid to increase revenue, not to run routes out of habit.

2) Change Your Perspective. Unless you are really a milkman, or possibly the Frito-Lay guy working to load as many bags of chips into displays along your route to keep shelf space, then you need to stop the milk run mentality and get strategic about viewing your territory. I’ve been using this little formula to drive home the point with sales managers and people in the field and it seems to be helping:

Your Account List + Your Map + Your Calendar = Your Sales Goals

I know. So simple. So low-tech. So old fashioned :-) That’s why I love it. Hear me on this territory manager: your job is to make those first three variables work together to achieve the right outcome – which is exceeding your sales goal. Take a fresh look at which accounts you need to focus on, the reality of the geography you need to cover, and how you can make that work in your calendar. Said another way, your mission to exceed your sales goal and it’s your job to juggle your accounts, geography and calendar to make that happen.

Last week I implored sales hunters to turn off the CRM autopilot and turn on their brains. I hope this post challenges territory managers to take a hard look and determine if these defeatist attitudes or a milk run mentality are hurting their sales results.

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© 2023 Mike Weinberg

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