If It Is Your Sales Territory, Make it Your Territory

There is a certain variety of territory dispute that is troubling for a whole host of reasons.

The trouble starts when a salesperson obtains an appointment or something that advances an opportunity with a dream client that isn’t in their territory. The salesperson that is responsible for the territory immediately takes notice and cries foul. They insist that the territory—and every dream client in it—belongs to them, and the dream client is theirs by right.

Let’s Go To the Tape

The sales manager who is called to arbitrate this dispute wants to make the easy decision: the dream client is across the imaginary line that divides the territory, so it belongs to the person responsible for the territory.

But something prevents them from making this decision quickly. Something gnaws at their conscious. They want to look into the matter and they base their decision on the facts, so they turn to the sales force automation, looking for the most recent activity. Almost always, it turns out that there is no record of the complaining salesperson ever calling on the dream client that sits right in the middle of their territory.

The sales manager, unable to resist pointing out the glaring absence of activity on the account, calls to speak with the salesperson, but almost always relents and gives the dream client to the sales rep whose territory it belongs, even though they have done nothing to deserve the opportunity. In some cases they make the salespeople split the deal, even though only one has done anything to deserve the deal.

I have often disagreed with this decision, particularly as it punishes the salesperson that took action while rewarding the salesperson that was not taking action. If the dream client was an important opportunity in their territory, they should have been pursuing it and there should be a long history of communications and attempts.

There will be plenty of sales managers who will disagree with me here, but there will be very few that don’t struggle handing the opportunity to the salesperson that took no action.

If It Is Your Sales Territory

If you want your sales manager and your company to protect your territory and the opportunities within it, then it your responsible for generating the activity that proves you value the territory and you value the opportunities in it.

The arrangement here is reciprocal: You work the territory, and we make it yours exclusively. There is no reason to expect that your company and your sales manager should honor this arrangement after you have breached your part of the bargain.

It is your job to work your territory, not to wait for deals to walk themselves in—especially opportunities that present themselves when another salesperson takes the action you should have long been taking.

If it’s your territory, work it like it is your territory. That means being organized enough to constantly and consistently pursue your dream clients. It means nurturing the relationships over time, all of the time, so that your territory is really your territory. All your dream clients are taken; you need call them anyway.

When one of your peers calls your dream client, even when they are cold, the first thing they should ask is what happened to you and why you aren’t calling them yourself. If your dream client doesn’t know your name, they aren’t yours.

If You Are the Sales Manager, You May Not Be Blameless

The sales manager is not blameless here, either. If you as a sales manager want you’re salespeople winning the dream client targets in their territory, you are responsible for ensuring that those dream clients are being aggressively pursued. You are responsible for inspecting your salespeople generate activity on your biggest, best, opportunities, ensuring that they call on what are your coldest non-opportunities.

You are also responsible for helping to design and execute a value-generating nurture toolkit that provides your salespeople with plenty of opportunities to communicate with your identified dream clients.

You shouldn’t find out that no activity has been taken on the dream clients that mean the most to your future when another one of your salespeople generates an opportunity that isn’t in your territory.

Inspect what you expect . . . and make your expectations clear and well known.


What proves that your territory is really yours?

If there wasn’t an artificial and arbitrary lines drawn on a map, would other salespeople have some other way of recognizing that the territory is yours?

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  • http://Www.people-craft.com Jim Rakowitz

    Lots of great points here and I agree with most everything since the total goal from management chair is to bring in the sale and that has to be done with the person who owns the relationship, not just the one who owns the geography.

    What I look for though is more of a moving target. No salesperson, even the greatest among us, hasa lock on everything in our territory. Businesses move and personnel changes which makes geographically based sales tough. My standard though is that whoever owns the relationship owns the account but if a salesperson is doing all the other things right and just has missed this particular opportunity then splitting it may be the right thing to do.

    Tough calls are what managers get paid to do.

    • http://www.santhonyiannarino.com S. Anthony Iannarino

      Thanks for adding your thoughts, Jim. It’s true that it is difficult to have a lock on everything in your territory, and I agree that if the salesperson is doing everything else right, you may give them the benefit of the doubt. In my experience, the greater the salesperson protests, the less likely I am to find that they are doing everything right.


  • http://lookingtobusiness.com Daniel M. Wood

    Hey Anthony,

    I for one agree.
    What we do in our company is that we assign every salesman a territory, leads and opportunity. If the salesman does not perform some of the territory is given to others who have performed well.

    If a salesman hasn’t called a prospect and another salesman chooses to first they both get a reprimand (as we don’t want cross over) but the salesman who took action does get to keep and sell to the customer.


  • http://www.Fearless-Selling.ca Kelley Robertson


    Unfortunately, this happens far to often and not just in sales. One of the problems is that many managers make the fatal mistake of providing a negative consequence for positive performance and positive consequence for negative performance.

    In some cases, the sales manager does not want to deal with the conflict so they take the easy way out but in the long run, this behaviour causes people on their team to lose respect for that manager and this ultimately affects their ability to generate results.


    • http://www.santhonyiannarino.com S. Anthony Iannarino

      Thanks for sharing your thought, Kelley. No one said it was easy managing the salesforce, did they? But you are spot on that it is always problematic rewarding bad behavior and punishing good behavior. This is a tough issue that more can be done to prevent . . . like treating your territory like it is yours in the first place.


  • John Kosar

    I am a territory manager in the North East. My company recently acquired a national account. The account is a master distributor of our products. They have a large distribution center right outside my territory. Of course I want to help my company align our selves with this new account but they now sell into my territoy and I don’t get any credit or revenue from their sales because their warehouse is not in my territory. Summing it up I have done much of the work creating the demand in my territory and now my co-worker is benefiting because he gets credit for this new location that is in his territory. How do I make this right?

  • fluidpockets

    “If you want your sales manager and your company to protect your
    territory and the opportunities within it, then it your responsible for
    generating the activity that proves you value the territory and you
    value the opportunities in it.” That goes *especially* for the person who is cherry picking deals from the other reps territories. I think your example only works if the person cherry picking deals from another reps territory isn’t pulling in huge deals in their own territory. Instead they are causing problems for the whole sales team. If the Sales manager agrees to allow this type of behaviour to continue then you will have reps working other sales people’s territories instead of their own. If you have contacts in another reps territory and you want to help the team, you’re supposed to make introductions and pass it to the appropriate rep after that. That way you don’t waste your time and never get to the point where you have put considerable effort on a deal you won’t even be compensated for.