Rearchitecting Sales Territories and Assignments In a Digital, Data-Driven and Distributed Selling Model

In Arthur Miller’s play, Death of a Salesman, Willy Loman struggles with his inability to accept and adapt to change.   For those in sales today the mass adoption of work from home, at home, and hybrid work in the wake of the pandemic has forced the writing of a raw, real-life drama that showcases the thousands of people across the world who travel by plane, car, and metro to see potential clients every day.   These people have carried bags with samples and brochures and iPads with vivid presentations to wow clients and influence a purchase. With in-person access either denied or not desired by customers, thousands of sales reps the world over are trying to adapt to a new online playing field.  So, too, are the companies for which they work.  

Despite all the headaches created by the global pandemic, the virus induced lockdown has revealed more than a few surprises and some unexpected opportunities.  For example, pre-COVID, travel cost for many companies was one of their single biggest expense items after sales force salaries and cost of goods.  As well, the world was becoming more and more aware of the carbon footprint that sales excursions deposit on our fragile planet. Looking back now, we can see a clear path to the death of the sales territory as we once knew it.  The distances once covered in commercial travel era will be replaced by a new way of conducting business and the sales function will be redefined in the latest evolution of the online e-world. 

About a century ago we saw a similar seismic shift take place, not on the Broadway stage but rather on the big screen.   In the late 1920’s, silent movies of the Charlie Chaplin era transitioned to talkies, presenting actors and film makers with all sorts of new challenges and new opportunities.  The introduction of voice created a paradigm shift in the world of film that catapulted the entertainment industry into a new era.  A century later and the roaring 2020’s new online world is presenting similar but different challenges to sales organizations with an equally disrupting paradigm shift. 

Until now the sales model for most companies has been to divide the world into bite size, geographical chunks where assigned sales teams would scour their territories, relentlessly hunting for customers to purchase their products or services.  Sales reps would be dispatched, re-locating somewhere central to their customer base from where they would spend endless hours in cars, trains or airplanes meeting up with clients.  For many firms the greatest expense against their bottom line hasn’t been the cost of goods sold but, rather, their cost of sales force.  Considering all the costs of travel (tickets, rentals, accommodations, gas, and food to name but a few) not to mention all the associated headaches, most CEOs would agree there must be a better way.  COVID 19 just may have provided the impetus to push us into a new sales paradigm.

The exclusion of physical interaction for throngs of people trained up in the art of personal persuasion has left most sales departments impotent as they clumsily struggle to connect on Zoom or other similar online platforms and many of you reading this may be thinking online communications will never replace good old face-to-face meetings.  But progressive companies are accepting the challenge of the new norm and are moving to embrace and enhance online encounters using sales tools that almost mimic a “Minority Report” like experience.  E-Products like and others can place digital content on an interactive glass display that sales reps can use to display, demonstrate, and illuminate products and services for their clients– live on camera – while easily conversing in real time.   This brand of technology is galvanizing online content and creating personal e-connections even though the sales rep and client are thousands of miles apart. 

Growth leaders are building networks of virtual selling studio that allow them to quickly and affordably evolve their digital selling approach to keep up with the rapidly changing expectations of their buyers.  On a practical level they provide a scalable platform for experimenting with different configurations of technologies, interdisciplinary teams, and engagement models to define buying experiences that meet the needs of remote buyers and differentiate your selling approach from the competition in digital channels. From a strategic perspective, virtual selling studios are going to critical platforms for enabling virtual team selling in a 21st Century Commercial Model. Financially, they provide a test environment to redefine and prove the capital investment and operating model of selling in the new market reality.

Viega, a German based pipe fittings company is a case in point.  Normally they would fly hundreds of clients each year into their sales / training centres in Denver and Boston footing the airline tickets, hotels, meals etc.  This, of course, came to an abrupt halt last year.  “We just shut down, paralysed by Covid” said lead sales / educator, Bo DeAnglo.  “Today I’m doing live presentations to tool manufacturers whom we’re partnering with from Behind the Glass.  I just recently did a presentation for the Colorado School of Mines for their Solar Decathlon project.  All the concepts were illustrated on the glass and in live online demos projected in the glass allowing me to interact with the images.  I can tell you this technology definitely drives engagement.” 


Increased online engagement may not be only benefit of taking your sales presentations to the “e” level.  The cost savings in travel alone is staggering but so is the scheduling of coordinating high level sales presentations.  In the past, the marketing manager, the sales manager, the technical expert, and the sales rep might all converge on a client.  All four company representatives had to fly into city X, camp out over night in luxury hotel Y, and eat dinner together at expensive restaurant Z.   Add in a few rental cars and the expense to hold a two-hour sales presentation is staggering.   With today’s online tech each specialist can enter into the sales meeting from their home office expending the same two hours on the meeting but saving two days of flights / hotels / meals and car rentals. 

Consider this. Now the high-powered sales team can do one meeting in the morning in Dallas and another later that day in Seattle and the idea that one sales rep will cover a limited geographical territory becomes redundant.   If strong personal connections can be developed online, sales reps no longer need to be shackled to a pre-defined slice of geography.   Using an effective online platform, clearly and easily illustrating concepts and plans through a window for example, an e-sales rep can be standing in Coeur de lane, Idaho presenting to a client in New York.   In this new e-world, the future sales territory might potentially be better determined by time zone rather than physical geography.  

This leads us to another advantage to online tech de-coupling reps from finite sales zones in that the top sales reps can be assigned to the high-flying clients regardless of where the customer is physically located.  New ways of assigning sales personnel might match sales reps to potential clients the way a dating site might match potential partners, based on common interests and hobbies rather than on who is nearest in proximity.   During a recent e-presentation of a Conjoint study by this author, it was clearly established that within each selected business territory there were three distinct customer segments.  Each defined customer segment had several high potential clients that could clearly benefit from the product but each for very different reasons.   As the discussion turned to how to approach each client it became apparent that each regional rep was a perfect match for some clients but not for others.  Because all their sales presentations were now  e-presentations, the sales manager quickly saw the potential of matching sales reps to clients based on specific customer needs rather than trying to find the elusive ‘all purpose’ rep who could serve all client types in a given territory. 

By employing emerging online technology relationships will be forged and people will bond even though they may never physically meet and distances travelled will be an equally distant thought.  One has to wonder if Willy Loman, who was already struggling to adapt to a rapidly changing world, could have ever foreseen such a dramatic death of the sales territory. 

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