How to Set Up Your Sales Territories to Strike Gold, as seen on SellingPower

April 30, 2020 Latane Conant

My son recently studied the California Gold Rush in school. Coincidentally our team is also close to that time of year when we plan sales territories and sales hiring at 6sense.

If you’ve ever been an individual contributor (I have), you know getting a new sales territory can sometimes feel like you’re risking it all; jumping into a covered wagon, traveling an extensive distance, and working yourself to the bone for the chance to – with some luck and timing – strike gold.

Of course, sales leaders, sales operations professionals and CMOs hope this won’t be the case. We want everyone on our team to have the same opportunity to strike it rich. Unfortunately, the reality is, just like the Gold Rush, we don’t always know the best place for our team to mine. Luckily, we do have a general sense of where veins in the mountain could be, or in which rivers we should spend our days panning.

Why Some Sales Territories Don’t Pan Out

Generally speaking most of us know how to build sales territories; industry, company size, or geography typically provides a concentration of opportunities that let us know it’s a good spot to start digging. In 1848 the Sacramento Valley sparked the Gold Rush. In a single year, the population of the San Francisco surrounding area grew from 1,000 to more than 1,000,000. With greater than $2 billion worth of value unearthed, it’s safe to say it was the place to find gold.

But what about the miners who showed up late? As people across the country rushed to find “gold in them thar hills,” the surface gold started to disappear. But people kept coming to search for their fortune.

Showing up late to the Gold Rush is a lot like getting an exhausted sales territory as a salesperson. The reps have to mine through a lot more sales leads to get one-tenth of what others are getting. So, naturally, not all territories “pan out.” Maybe this is the reason I moved to the marketing side of things – being a salesperson is hard!

How the Right Data and Insights Make a Rich Sales Territory

But this year, we made a very interesting discovery finding gold at 6sense. In a way, we hit paydirt using AI, big data, and predictive analytics.

Like most companies, 6sense had traditionally assigned territories to our reps on an annual basis by using a ton of data and insight to make our decision. But that strategy always resulted in a static list when our ideal customer profile is actually incredibly dynamic. Consider how often companies, buying behavior, and even markets change – they’re both constant and dynamic.

Not adopting a more dynamic territory model meant we were leaving 50 percent of our new opportunities on the floor, not actively working them – paydirt! Meanwhile, our salespeople were left chipping away at accounts that were already “panned out.”

Many revenue teams are overlooking the value of a dynamic ideal customer profile (ICP) because it requires AI and big data. But a robust AI-based platform can constantly evaluate what accounts are in (and what accounts should move out of) the ICP.

Additionally – and this is the real clincher – a platform with predictive analytics built-in can know exactly where every account is in the buying journey. Or, more specifically, when an account is likely to be “in market” for your solution and ready to engage.

The Power of Predictive Analytics for Sales

Predictive analytics tells us if an account is hiding under a rock and showing no signs of intent to buy, which keeps us from traveling across the country by covered wagon to tirelessly pick, shovel, and pan away – all for nothing. On the other side of the spectrum, knowing exactly where accounts are in the buying journey, and which understanding accounts are actually “in market,” is literally like rolling up to Sacramento in 1848 with a metal detector while everyone else is still using a shovel.

However, even once we realized the potential we had to only focus on the areas we knew we’d find gold, our team still had to test those assumptions. In all honesty, it seemed a bit too good to be true, so we decided to conduct a ton of backtesting by comparing our actual results to the AI predictions. This way, we could ensure our ICP was actually uncovering the best accounts and accurately predicting the accounts our team should spend the majority of our time and resources on.

But that’s not all. There is still something to be said for salespeople working a territory over time. It’s a classic B2B (especially enterprise) sales cycle that could take years to cultivate. We had to ask ourselves, were our salespeople at risk of missing a huge bonanza because we were frequently changing accounts and not really “working” the territory?

We needed to make sure we weren’t being too fickle. To ensure a third of a salesperson’s territory is assigned and getting consistently worked, we decided to tier accounts. But here’s what’s really cool: Two-thirds of the territory rotates in/out accounts opportunistically.

For us, that means marketing warms up accounts through display advertising and other digital campaigns based on our ICP and the buyers’ intent signals. When the accounts are sufficiently warmed up, which we decide based on real AI insights determining they are actually in market (not based on marketing deeming and/or MQL), our business development team then starts an outbound cadence and works the accounts until they qualify in, at which time we rotate them into the designated salesperson’s territory.

Business development reps never engage with cold accounts, and salespeople are consistently getting an influx of new accounts. Not only do we arm our strategy with big data and predictive intelligence, but we supercharged our engine with LeanData, allowing us to seamlessly match and route accounts in real-time. Everything is dynamic, everything is based on insights, and every one of our AEs has a rich territory to mine and new veins to constantly discover.

Being in sales is hard enough. We want to give every one of our salespeople the opportunity to strike gold.

Latane Conant is CMO of 6sense.

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