I’m a bit of a World War 2 history buff, and found the psychology behind the war quite interesting. When Adolf Hitler started formulating his delusional strategies for conquering new territories some of his top ranking generals would weigh in and advise against them. Hitler then simply adopted his “anti-defeatist” rule: If anyone opposed his war strategies and 3rd Reich plans for domination he would demote or fire any of his officers who adopted a ‘defeatist attitude’ if they told him that his battle plans were flawed or were far too risky –such as the invasion of Russia.

Now because I like to compare corporate sales strategy to battle plans I’d like to tell you a little story about a sales executive I once worked with a few years back, let’s call him Steve. Steve was given a certain territory within a large city. The territory consisted of several zip codes and was close to the city’s central area, making it appear on paper as though it was a decent fruitful territory to sell into.

Just like an army is given instruction to invade a country, or a battalion is given instruction to conquer a city, or a soldier told to take a hill, this sales executive was told to sell in this ‘strategic’ territory.

By my description so far you can probably already tell what transpired within this territory J

My colleague did an analysis of his new territory and quickly came to the conclusion that it would never be fruitful to sell expensive complex high tech solutions into. He reported back to management that his territory contained zero businesses with a staff greater than 80 employees, and was mainly full of strip-mall type legal and real estate offices, 7-11 type corner stores and barber shops.

You see, this territory was in the city’s lower west end near the shore with no development in the last 30 years! There was no way my colleague could ever achieve his quota there. He promptly created a brief report for sales management that outlined the territory and summed up the average businesses revenues within it. He also suggested that management assign him another suburban territory that was abandoned by another sales executive who resigned the month before.

Sales management’s response was a swift ‘No’ to the additional territory assignment. They also viewed Steve’s attitude as ‘defeatist’ and disagreed with his blatant report on his territory that he would not achieve his sales quota. Steve was dismissed 2 months later for poor sales performance!

Now am I comparing some sales organizations to Hitler’s 3rd Reich? Well not exactly, but you can see the blatant lack of leadership and business 101 skills demonstrated here by sales management! And it happens all the time! So what can you do if you’re stuck in a territory that, for a lack of a better word…Sucks??

If you’re committed to the company because you feel they have competitive products/services to sell then there are a few things you can do.

  1. Determine whether your territory sucks for real. Are there any lower level services that you can sell within the territory to show some numbers? Are there services you can sell within this territory that management may not have thought of? Can you develop some sort of unique angle to position within the territory? While thinking outside of the box like this is not completely your job as a sales executive you may have to get the ball rolling in this direction.
  2. If your answer to #1 is a ‘No’ on all accounts then you must present a territory report like Steve created in the story above. Sales management needs to know their weakness in territory knowledge. Try to present it with some positives. Some examples of positives are things like ‘I see this territory growing within the next 36-48 months; there may be some long-term growth potential in this area but short term sales may be difficult; our new XYZ product slated for release next year might make a dent in this territory” etc. Not all companies will punish you for a perceived ‘defeatist attitude’ when you back up your story with facts sandwiched between positives.
  3. Get specific feedback from any prospects or better yet –existing accounts within the territory. Feedback from real business owners or top ranking executives stating that they have no need for your services. Better yet, if you can bring your sales management to these meetings to hear these statements the better.
  4. Do what Steve did and try to score territories and/or orphaned accounts from any sales executives who left the company. Even if you say you’re willing to ‘step in and help out while the company finds a replacement’ may score you points with sales management and allow you to inherit a new territory.

The trick here is to take some gentle proactive action. State your case in a positive manner that management will consider. Don’t just be a Debbie Downer and complain. Not all sales management is poor, but many of them lack a realistic view of what will work and they need help –whether they know it or not 🙂

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