Sales Management
    National Sales Penetration
    How to Catch Up
    Independent Rep
       Group Risks
    Sales Force Placement
    Sales Reporting
    Sales Pipeline
    Regional Sales
        Manager Responsibilities
    The Fastest Way to
        Impact Sales
    Interviewing Sales Reps
    Hiring Rep Groups
    Commissions on Fire
    Growing Key Accounts
    Target Accounts
    Regional Manager
    The 90-Day Plan
    The 30-Day Plan
    Regional Manager Contact
    Effective Co-Travel
    Mentoring Reps
    Down Market Plan
    Missing the Numbers
The role of the sales manager is complex.
It requires a broad range of necessary skills that are not often appreciated.  The sales manager is a:
  • Strategic planner
  • Recruiter
  • Mentor
  • Cold caller that can open doors
  • Closer
  • Relationship builder
  • Cheerleader
  • Disciplinarian
  • Confidant

They do all this while managing the numbers for each territory. An effective sales manager can keep the pulse on the territories, AND know where to generate last minute sales at month end.

To succeed, sales managers must be organized with a plan.  This section will suggest a planning hierarchy of            ‘The Right Things’.  It will provide the Sales Manager with a quick list of ideas to help them more effectively run and grow their regions.

These ideas have been developed over the years working as part of the team with a number of inspirational sales manager for a number of companies in a variety of industries. It was borne of the realization that Regional Managers must be consistent across the country, but that standards are seldom put in place to help them efficiently and effectively manage.  These are the standards.

The library also contains a number of Regional Manager Guides that address some of the most common areas where sales associates can use some help.  Download these for quick reference and as handouts.

The content is for sharing.  Bookmark the site, or send the link to others on your sales team.  Feel free to link to the site, using www.RyanHixenbaugh.com   Add to the content with feedback or debate it using the Facebook link to RyanHixenbaugh. 

If you like the thinking or want to improve your sales organization, contact Ryan with comments, questions or to add talent to your team. 

National Sales Manager
The National Sales Manager must simplify things for the Regional Sales Managers.  If not, multiple priorities will turn effective management into crisis management.

Work on the right things.

  • Quantify Expectations
  • Manage to those expectations
  • Keep a clear understanding of the ‘vital few’ that drive success
  • Provide National Consistency

Work on the right things, and measure them

Back to top

National Sales Penetration
This is the first step in your analysis.  You can’t win if you don’t have enough players on the board.
Many companies fall short here without ever realizing it.

How many people do you have in the field selling every day?
How many does the top competitor in your industry have?
How many do competitors your size have?

There are several sales organizations you can implement or even mix.

  • Direct sales people that work for the company.
    This is the strongest, but most expensive.
  • Independent Reps that work on commission.
    This is the most affordable and flexible.
  • Distributor sales organizations are teams that operate like reps.
  • Inside sales that work on the phones.

Back to top

How to Catch Up
So your sales force is too small. How do you catch up?
The fastest, least expensive way is to hire an independent sales force.  Independent rep group commissions are a variable expense. They don’t cost the company anything until they sell something.  So you can expand your sales penetration without a sales base.

Over time, as the territories mature, you may transition to direct sales people to:

  • Expand call patterns to include additional distribution
  • Reduce the cost of sales for a mature distribution channel
  • Increase sales through dedication to a single product line

Inside Sales may be added to speed commodity product sales penetration while reducing the cost of sales to hit sensitive price points.

Back to top

Independent Rep Group Risks

1) They carry other lines.
You’ll be dissatisfied with the focus you get.  One of the challenges with independents is earning their attention.  Obviously, they gravitate to where the sales are fastest and largest.  Be sure they understand how to make money with your line. Help them get there.

2) You’ll pay them a commission on all sales into the territory.
So they’ll make money from day one, whether they are effective or not.  Just because they are on commission, doesn’t mean they don’t cost.  They must still be managed.

3) Geographic location
Independent rep groups may or may not be positioned for your best market coverage. Hiring a rep that isn’t effectively located in the territory may be a mistake. Be sure you understand how they will cover population centers.

4) Do NOT Allow Sub Reps
Many independent groups hire sub reps to better cover the territory.
The rep with the line splits the commission with the sub rep in the geography. The compensation to the sub rep was just cut in half. Their incentive to sell was just drastically reduced. They may not even be able to profitably sell the line. We’ve seen sub reps hire sub reps reducing income to a level that no one can really afford to sell the line. The rep of record abdicates any responsibility to the area. No training. No mentoring. No relationships. They aren’t managing the sub rep. This system will not work. Do not allow sub reps. Forbid this arrangement in your contracts.

The independent rep group should have firm relationships with their sales force where they invest and mentor the success of the team.

5) The Territory Grab
Reps like geography. They get paid for anything sold into it (whether they sell or service it or not). Don’t assign territories too large for the group. The company benefits most from strong penetration in small areas.

In a small territory frequency of call, service, response and ultimately the relationship are better. The more the rep has to travel, the less meaningful the relationships will be. Not to mention that travel time is not selling time. Encourage the reps to work close to home. Reflect that in the territory assigned.

6) The Call Pattern
Independent reps succeed by building relationships within their call pattern.  They sell an array of products to companies where they already do business.  A new line gives them new products to sell to their existing customers.
Be sure to manage for new account growth. They can do it, but they’ve got to be pushed.

However, they will not go beyond their established call pattern. Their business model focuses on certain customers.  They are not going to spin their wheels chasing new distribution strategies you target, but their other lines don’t.

7) The Business Base
Reps have expenses. Does the territory have a base of business sufficient for the group to get started? A rep group will determine that prior to accepting the line. If there is no base of business, if the rep group is starting from scratch to build your brand, they may need a guarantee or a draw to cover expenses as they get started. Their other lines may offset the amount. But the more the other lines pay your development expenses, the more those other lines will conflict with your growth down the road.

Back to top

Sales Force Placement

More than half the U.S. population is centered in 40 cities.
Make sure you have those cities covered.
The areas are called Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSA) and include a city and its surrounding suburbs. The #40 MSA is Jacksonville, Florida. It is amazing how quickly the size of the top cities fall off. It is critical that you have the top 50 well covered if you want access to national sales dollars.

Too many companies lack reps living within the MSA.  Make sure these top markets all have reps living within their boundaries.  In fact, the largest cities certainly can compensate more than one sales person.

You can download a list ranking the top metropolitan statistical areas by clicking on our library.  You can also find the most recent list at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_United_States_cities_by_population

Build a checklist of these individual cities with the sales person responsible and their address within the market. If you find an area not covered – you’ve just identified a significant growth opportunity.

Back to top

Sales Reporting

You aren’t managing sales if you don’t have the right reporting.
Accurate information is the only way you can be comfortable, powerful and credible managing a sales force. Here are reports you should be receiving and reviewing regularly.

Daily Sales
Shows territory sales for the prior day.
Shows cumulative sales for the month.
Shows percent to plan.
Projects cumulative sales performance against month end goal based on a month to date sale average, factored against selling days in the month

These figures become more accurate later in the month. They are the first warning you receive if you are falling behind plan. Adjust your sales plan accordingly.

Monthly Sales 
Shows monthly sales and sales Year-to-Date
Shows comparable sales for last year and last YTD.
Shows monthly sales and YTD projected against the annual plan.

There are only 12 of these reports in a year. Many sales managers wait too long to read and react to the trends this report reveals. Two or three weak months can destroy the year. So when one of the monthly reports is down, re-act and correct it. (See Probation below)

Customer Ranking By Sales
This is a critical planning report for the sales territory. It ranks every customer in the territory by sales volume. It should also show YTD cumulative sales as well as last year comparable sales.

Use this report to identify the top performing accounts.
It also shows the second tier of growth accounts. You can see new but smaller, developing accounts. Look for accounts in decline.  And identify lost accounts – those that have stopped purchasing. This report will be the foundation of your sales plan.

Taking the Pulse with Sales Reports
Always know these figures
- Sales Year To Date
- Percent to Plan
- Dollar growth YTD
- % Growth YTD
Use these figures to build your sales plan

Key Accounts
This is the Pareto Principle, or the 80/20 Rule.  It says that 20% of your accounts will do 80% of your business.

Typically you’ll find 3 or 5 top performing accounts whose sales figures have a significant gap between the next dollar level. These accounts are the believers. They’ve bought you, the product and the company and they write with a big pen. They are difficult to replace. Take care of these accounts.

Developing Accounts
These are second tier accounts that appear to be growing into key accounts. Nurture them.

Declining Accounts
Accounts where you have obviously lost business. They are declining in a manner that isn’t adjusted by timing. This warrants looking into.

New Accounts
These accounts are just getting started. They’ve bet on you.
They will need your help to learn the product and grow. In-service them.

Lost Accounts
These are at the bottom of the list. Their numbers are way down, or zero.
Lost accounts are companies that bought the product, but something happened. Perhaps they were ignored. Perhaps another sales person was just at the right place at the right time. Just a visit can sometimes reverse these accounts and bring them back to the fold.

Other Yardsticks  

Number of Total Customers
How many customers are on your Ranking list?  Do you have more or fewer than last year?

Average Sale
Total Sales figure divided by the number of accounts.
This shows you the average size of customers in your territory.

Mean Sale
Divide the number of total customers in half. Look up that customer.
Their sales figure is your mean sale, meaning that an equal number of customers spent more and less than that number.

If your Average Sale is smaller than your Mean sale, it suggests that you may be underselling some of your customers. It also may mean that you are overly dependent on your largest accounts.

If the average is higher than the mean, it signifies that your sales volume is improving per customer. You are growing your customers along with your business, which is great.

Small accounts can grow into larger ones. But they can also be time wasters. If your mean sales figure is inordinately low, consider whether or not too many small accounts are distracting you from more profitable sales and service of your larger accounts. This is all part of maintaining a healthy sales territory.

Back to top

Sales Pipeline

The Sales Pipeline is your projection of sales that will close within the current month, or the next month. It is helpful to the manufacturer in managing inventory and production. It is also a good tool to manage your month.

Most companies have customers or channels with longer or shorter sales cycles.
Some customers may take an entire year in the selling cycle, but consume a huge and ongoing volume. Other customers close quickly, for smaller numbers.

In managing your territory, you’ll want to keep consistent pressure on the Longer Term/Higher Payback accounts. They are future growth and income. But they won’t make the month.

Those smaller accounts come in handy when you are just below plan for a month ending in a week. Keep your eye on the sales pipeline so you always know where to get a sale quickly when you need it.

Back to top

Regional Sales Manager Responsibilities

This is a helpful guide defining the job responsibilities of a Regional Manger.

Territory Analysis

  • Define each territory by zip codes that coincide with reporting.
  • Do not have territories that are not aligned with sales reports.
  • Know top Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs) by Territory
  • Know Rep dispersal.
  • Where do the sales reps live in relation to the population centers?
  • Identify gaps in service.
  • Know all Key Accounts (Pareto 80/20 Rule) by Territory
  • Dollar volume
  • Location
  • Contacts
  • Product Mix

From this assessment, the Sales Manager should be able to evaluate the sales people, organizations and performance across the region.

Evaluate Each Territory by Sales and Rep Performance

  • Rank the Region’s Territories by last full year sales volume.
  • Rank the Regional Territories by year-to-date percent of quota.
  • Rank the Regional Territories by percent growth.
  • Rank the Regional Territories by dollar sales growth.
  • Review each Territory for sales by product mix.

These reports will provide an overview of each territory and rep group.
It will identify large dollar volume (and correspondingly slow percentage growth) groups.
It will identify small or undeveloped territories with high percentage growth, but low dollar volumes.
It will show how effectively all reps are performing against plan. It is important that you understand how effectively the organization is forecasting sales.

This regional analysis will help you identify your strongest rep groups, groups that are effectively developing territories as well as groups that are missing plan.

Rank your sales team.
Who are the top performers?
Which groups are not effectively using the line?
Which groups are average performers?
Where can each group improve?

  • Key Accounts
  • New Accounts
  • Declining Accounts
  • Product Mix

Back to top

The Fastest Way to Impact Sales

Now you know the territory and rep performance. You job is to grow sales. Here are the fastest strategies:

#1 Fill open territories.
No rep means no sales development.
Get someone in there selling!  Do it quickly.

#2 Hire reps to fill open geography within territories
Did you find a territory that is under-represented?
Fill in the open geography and sales will jump.  Put a deadline on this for your rep group principal.

#3 Insure all MSAs are conveniently covered.
The Top 40 Metropolitan Statistical Areas have more than half the U.S. population.
If you don’t have reps in each of those cities, you are missing major sales volume.  Hire someone who lives in the MSA and both service and sales will improve.

#4 Hire competitor reps with established relationships & sale volumes
The first place to look for a replacement rep is with your largest competitors.  They are experienced. They have relationships. They have transferrable sales.  Perhaps they are upset of the last commission cut. Or territory reduction. Or management change.  Talk to them. What do they want? It may be worth it if they bring their sales with them.

Back to top

Interviewing Sales Reps

You are a sales person. So you suck at interviewing. Admit it. Now, let’s get past it.
There is a reason sales people make poor interviewers. We take leadership. We sell.
We’re sensitive to people and try to facilitate. We’re optimists. Here’s how all of that plays out.
See if this feels familiar in your experience.

1. We don’t interview for jobs. We try to sell the applicant into taking the job. So they sit back and listen to us talk about the excitement of what we do. After the interview, you don’t really have any impression.

2. We encourage the applicant that the job is easy and they can do it. Heck, anyone can. We don’t effectively evaluate their skills, because we underestimate our own.

How can we improve the interview? Consider the skills we admire most in sales people. Set up a circumstance to witness them.

  • We’re nervous in a new sales situation. How does the applicant handle nerves?
  • We need to control a selling conversion. Can the applicant control the discussion?
  • We need to guide a sales discussion towards a close. Does the applicant do that?
  • What are the buzz terms we consider critical to sales success? Are they mentioned?

Here is a scenario you can build from to help improve your interviewing.

A. Don’t talk. Don’t start the conversation. Do busy work or simply stay quiet.
This is a familiar selling circumstance for many of us. So how does the applicant react to it?
How do they use it? Let them initiate the discussion. How do they overcome their nerves?

B. Does the applicant probe with questions to learn about the job? Questions are a huge sales skill.
Do they effectively use them? Are the questions strong? Do the questions set you up for lengthy informative answers?  Do the questions provide answers the applicant can use to earn the job?

C. The applicant should continue to control the interview with questions and discussions. It should be warm and personable, but moving towards answers they can use to fulfill your need for a sales person.

D. Do they get as much information from you as possible before starting to share their skills and experience? Are they sure that what they are about to say fills needs you’ve expressed?  If they are selling without knowing what you are buying, they’re making a mistake.

E. What buzz words do you consider critical to sales success? Did they use those words?
I would expect to hear “listen” and “relationship” not only mentioned, but exhibited.
Are there other key concepts you’ll be looking for? Make sure you spend time identifying what they may be.

On your next interview, let them lead and guide the discussion. You’ll learn more about the applicants.

Back to top

Hiring Rep Groups

It is customary for a Distributor or Independent Rep Group to provide you with a business plan as to how they will handle the territory. What should you expect in that business plan to help you decide in favor of the group? Here are some considerations.

  • Define the Territory
    You are assigning them responsibility for certain geography. They should be able to define the value of the territory for you.
  • What call patterns (distribution) do they cover?
  • How many prospects are there in the territory for each call pattern?
  • Outline Territory Coverage
    What and where are the major population centers and MSAs?
  • How many reps are in the group, and where does each rep live?
    Check their proximity to the population centers.  This is best presented on a map. Sales software exists for such a presentation.
  • Where do they need additional representation?  When are they planning that expansion?
  • Who do they consider to be Key Accounts in the territory
    Where are they located?  What relationships do they have?
    What sales expectations will they forecast for these accounts?
  • What three or more accounts will they target in the first 90 days?
    What is their attack plan and forecast?
  • Competitive Analysis
    How would they evaluate the reps serving the main competition?

You’ll find a Rep Group Evaluation questionnaire here in the Library.

Back to top

Commissions on Fire

How to light the fuse for your sales force.

Reps are in a field where they have complete control of their income.
But they need to set goals for it….expectations for earnings from the company.
This exercise is one of the most important management approaches you can take to help your team to be self-motivated. Run this exercise and the sales force will drive themselves.

Download the Commissions Work Plan from our Library.

Back to top

Growing Key Accounts

There are three ways to grow territory sales. Just three.
Grow existing accounts.
Add new accounts.
Retrieve lost accounts.

Everything written about sales boils down to being more effective in these three areas.
Serving your Key Accounts is the first focus. These are the companies that believe in your organization. They trust you. They trust the company. They have a relationship.  They believe in the products. You have momentum. Your sales plan starts here.

Identifying Key Accounts
The Key Account is the manifestation of the Pareto Principal (the 80/20 Rule).  The rule is that 20% of your customers will generate 80% of your sales volume.  It is always true. So make sure you know who that 20% is.

Start with a Customer List ranked by Sales. Start at the top and look for a natural break in volume. Key accounts are typically clustered together with higher volumes.  Then suddenly there is a break in volume, a significant drop before the next level of customers. The break may be after 3 or 4 accounts or it may be after 10 or 12 accounts. Perhaps more depending on your industry, product pricing and buying cycle. In any case, it will be a very manageable number.

Break these customers out for special treatment. They are the foundation of your territory and a key element in your growth plan. Be sure they are well documented in your Customer Relations Management (CRM) database. You will always want a quick pulse on these customers.

Rules for Key Accounts

  • The sales associate should maintain an up-to-date CRM report on all key accounts.
  • The report should show the sales trends for all products in the key account.
    In addition, the rep should identify competitive product also in the account that can be targets for replacement.
  • The rep should have a leverage sales plan as to what they will introduce to the key account in the next 90 days.
  • The Regional Manager should know the decision makers at all key accounts in the Region.
  • The Regional Manager should know the 90-Day plan for key accounts.

Back to top

Target Account Plans

Most sales people have a list of prospects. Unfortunately it is usually a ‘wish list’ as opposed to a target list.

Today’s competition should not be under-estimated. The customer probably believes in their product. Their service is probably adequate. Just being a vendor they probably have some level of a relationship and momentum.

Target accounts take time and focus.
You don’t win them by just dropping by every month. Something has to change. To earn their business, sales associates need to declare their intent and form a plan with a timeline. It is amazing what a professional can accomplish when they are committed. The Regional Manager needs to know the intent and the plan. That alone will generate activity. We all perform better when we’re being measured.

As part of the 90-Day plan, sales associates should identify perhaps three specific accounts they are targeting. The actual number of course varies with the industry, selling cycle and pricing. But focusing on fewer rather than more gets results.

By knowing the key account leverage plan and the target account plan, the Regional Manager can provide a more accurate Pipeline Report.

Back to top


As a Territory Manager you will be responsible for the Sales Plan.
It use to be that the company would say “We’re going to grow sales 10%!”  Everyone’s sales quota was upped 10% and the Sales Plan was done.  No one asked where that 10% would come from.  No one knew. It was simply “sales’ responsibility.”

Those were the days when the market grew 10%. So sales were achieved and everyone felt successful. Today, markets don’t grow that fast or steadily. So forecasting has become more grass roots.

Forecasting isn’t fortune telling. It is a road map and a compass.

If you take the time to logically plan what you would like to achieve with your most important accounts, you’ll find you always know what you are trying to do. You may not always achieve your goal – but you’ll find you are always moving forward.

So a forecast is just taking the time to plan an account rationally.

Take a single prospect.  Who are they currently using? Do you know what volume?

Based on the account’s experience and with what you know about the competitors, with which product will you lead? How long will it take to capture their interest and earn trial? How will you follow that?

As you capture this information, you begin to develop a pattern for sales calls and product introductions. This plan will also help keep you on track, and prevent being lost in the day-to-day responsibilities of sales and servicing accounts.

There is a forecast worksheet in the Library for you to download and practice using.  Start by listing your key prospect accounts.

Identify the product on which you’ll focus.  Estimate the quantity that you know they currently use.
How do you know? Ask! They’ll tell you.

Finally, based on the number of calls you think it will take, and the frequency you plan to make those calls; when do you think you’ll be successful in converting that business?  60 days? 90 days? Six months? Put it down. You may not be accurate at first. But this is your personal tool. Use it to measure your own effectiveness. By measuring, you’ll get better at forecasting sales and managing your business.

What is your prospect using? Which product are you going to sell them? How many? When?
All the magic answers. You’ll be surprised how effective you’ll become answering them .

Back to top

Regional Manager Standards

Multiple territories.
Multiple rep groups.
Multiple sales associates.
Lots of products.
Lots of customers.
Lots of distractions.

There are a lot of moving parts.  The only way to stay on top of it is to have a Management Plan.
Consistently manage to the things that grow the business.  Teach the sales force to anticipate the same questions and have an appropriate answer.


Back to top

The 90-Day Plan

90 Days is the right length of time for sales success.
It provides sufficient time for sales to understand an objective, take it to the field and generate results.
Establish the expectation with your sales force that you will manage to key objectives through a 90-Day plan.             The Regional Manager sets the framework. The sales organization will produce the plan.
Each rep will present a 90 Day plan to their principal or supervisor each quarter.

The 90-Day Plan will include

  • The Sales Plan for each of their 3-5 Key Accounts
    Include a quick forecast proposal including products, volume and timing.
  • Three (or so) Target Accounts for the quarter on which they will focus
    Present the contact plan and objectives.  Include a quick forecast report
  • The proposal will acknowledge YTD status towards the Sales Objective.
    The plan will show where the growth is expected.
  • Planned Activities
    Conference Attendance & Sales Plans
    In-Service Plans
    Product Launches
    Vulnerable Competitor Intentions

Back to top

The 30-Day Plan

The 30-Day plan is an update of progress against the 90-Day Plan.
It encapsulates the 90-Day goals, and shows tactical plans to sell the target accounts.
The 30-Day plan will include lists of in-service training, lunches and other reasons to be in front of the customer.

In addition, the 30-Day Plan will include a rolling track Pipeline Report reflecting what products are expected to be sold in the next month and at what volumes. The Pipeline Report is simply a formal method for operations to anticipate sales results in the next 30 days.

The 30-Day plan shows which reps, are doing what, with which prospects. It is an excellent activity report. It will also help the sales associate to stay focused on commitments.

These two reports are easy to generate and enable Sales Management to get the pulse of any territory in the country at a level of detail that provides confidence.

Back to top

Regional Manager Contact Standards

Regional Managers require extensive flexibility. They have lots of geography and lots of people to manage. It requires significant travel. For the success of the Regional Manager and the company it is important that standards are established for consistent national performance.

I watched a Regional Manager join a company and work for more than a year, without ever visiting all the Principals of the sales organizations. The person looked busy. The person generated activity reports. But no standard had been set for local market visits. You can’t manage people you don’t know.

These standards will change with every company, depending on the market, number or sales organizations and reps, number of customers and size of orders. This guideline works well in demonstrating a standard.

Phone Contact Expectations:  Bi-Weekly with Every Principal
It is important that the Regional Manager talks to the Principals at least once every two week.

Lots of Regional Managers get busy and focused on problem markets or accounts.
They don’t make the phone calls because they don’t have anything to talk about.

Conversation Guide for Bi-weekly Phone Contact

Conversation Guide for Bi-Weekly Phone Contact

Start positive. Show you are watching their performance. Offer reflections on accomplishments such as:

Sales Results (YTD growth vs. plan)
% to Plan
Progress on the 90-Day Plan

  • Get a Key Account Update (refer to Key Account List or Customers Ranked by Sales)
  • Get a progress report on Target Accounts (refer to 90-Day Plan)
  • Ask about Vulnerable Competitors in the territory.
  • Investments in the Territory
    Rep Additions
    Conference Attendance
    Customer In-Service
    Entertainment – golf, dinners, etc
  • Update the 30-Day Plan
    Which Reps are doing what with whom?
    In-Service or special contact

Face-to-Face Meetings Expectations

  • The standard should be 4 Face to Face Meetings Per Year
    2 In-Territory
    Co-Travel & Planning
    Fall Session to cover forecasts
  • 2 at Conferences or Meetings
    Major Industry Conference
    Top Niche Segment Conference
    National Sales Meeting

Discussion Topics

  • 30 & 90 Day Plan Review (Key & Target Accounts)
  • Competitive Incursion Status
  • New Product Launches
  • Rep Support Plans
  • Rep Training & Mentoring
  • Principle Co-Travel plan
  • Key Product Plans
  • Discuss Mid-Tier Development
  • Discuss Lost Account Retrieval
  • Investing in the Territory
  • Conferences
    Which are your people attending?
    Discuss Meeting Objectives
  • New Reps Plans
  • Customer Relationships
  • Support Tools & Resources

Back to top

Effective Co-Travel

Most Sales Associates hate to co-travel with Management. They consider it a waste of time.
Typically they turn to accounts where they have the best relationships, explain that a manager is coming to town and co-conspire with them to stop by for a positive visit.  Co-Travel ends up wasting sales time and accomplishing little.

On the other hand, Regional Managers are often hesitant to provide any worthwhile feedback to their sales associates. Sometimes they are silent. Sometimes they are overly critical. Sometimes they are egomaniacs in front of the customer. And sometimes they wait in the car making phone calls and texting.

Co-Travel can be one of the most valuable sales support efforts if the standards are accordingly set.

Objectives of Co-Travel
The reason for Co-Travel is not to sell, but to train.

There are other good reasons:

  • To Mentor
  • To Open Doors
  • Build Corporate relationships with key accounts
  • Resolve problems with accounts

Select the Accounts to visit accordingly:

  • Key Account Visits (perhaps these should be evening dinners or lunches?)
  • Target Account contact from the 90-Day Plan
  • Problem Accounts to help resolve the issue
  • Opening doors to new accounts based on Regional Manager relationships or sales skills

Back to top

Mentoring Reps

While you are in the field co-traveling, be prepared to provide professional feedback to help the rep develop their skills. Let them sell, but observe what they’re doing that can be improved. Then gently share those ideas conversationally.

The Library has a series for Regional Manager Guides you can provide to your sales team during co-travel to help emphasize selling skills.

Pre-Call Discussions

‘Setting Priorities’

‘Performance Killers’

Organization Checklist

Call Planner

Before the Call

In Front of the Customer

Reducing Risk

After the Call Debrief

Distributor Evaluation Forms

How to Fire Procedures

Down Market Plan
From your territory analysis, you are going to discover some areas that are under performing.
You are also going to have reps that come to you with population centers that aren’t succeeding.

A good Sales Manager will have pre-planned tools they can implement to lift sales.
A Down Market plan consists of a series of idea to pump up sales in a geographic area that isn’t producing.

Back to top

The Down Market Plan

1. Identify what sales have been lost.

  • Has the territory lost accounts, which are accounts that were purchasing but are no longer.
  • Has the territory lost product sales. The accounts continue to purchase, but not a particular item.
  • The accounts are purchasing all items, but the quantity has reduced.

2. Analyze the loss to suggest a tactic

  • The accounts have wandered away due to poor service or inattention;
  • The accounts have dropped a product due to competitive features;
  • The accounts have been seduced by a competitor’s sales person.
    More often than not, accounts are lost due to poor or inattentive service than competitive incursions.

3. Build the Plan

  • Visit Lost Accounts with a Regional Manager to bring them back;
    Often some attention can encourage the account to return.
  • Visit Key Accounts with the Regional Manager to re-affirm the relationship;
  • Use a new product or promotional incentive to encourage new activity with stocking orders.

Back to top

Missing the Number

There are a number of reasons that sales organizations miss their number.  The professional sales manager understands how to assess the situation.  They all require corrective response. But the tactics applied will differ.

Reasons Sales Miss Numbers

External Factors
These are uncontrollable factors from outside such as:

  • Regulatory Changes
  • Travel Disruptions
  • Economic downturns

Internal Factors

  • Back orders
  • Quality problems
  • Delayed launches
  • Supplier or shipping (supply chain) complications

Acts of God

- Weather conditions
- Floods
- Hurricanes
- Fires

Some are valid, some are situational, but they must be overcome:

  • Canceled orders
  • Lost customers
  • Competitive success
  • Lost employees
  • Vacations
  • Lack of training
  • Late or missing samples
  • Health or Family issues

Poor Work Habits

  • Lack of service
  • Lack of calls
  • Lack of relationships
  • Poor sales techniques

Sales is responsible for correcting all shortfalls, whether justifiable or not.  The Sales Manager must determine if the solution requires:

  • Creativity and heroic efforts
  • Additional Training for a changing market
  • Patients and Rebuilding
  • Renewed efforts
  • Employee Turnover

Don’t change people for losing opportunities they couldn’t control.
Don’t accept excuses for poor work habits.
Always react quickly to declining sales situations.

Back to top


The biggest risk in sales performance is not skill based.  It isn’t product quality. It isn’t even the competition.
The most common reasons for not achieving sales goals is distractions and priorities.
Too many lines.
Too many products.
Too little discipline.
Perhaps it is too much money from indirect sales. Income from tracings or commissions on existing customers that order without any contact with the sales person.

If a sales person is missing their numbers due to training or external conditions or temporary situations, those are easily fixed. But inattention to the line will not change. If your line is a low priority to the group, face the facts and make a change.

Probation is the tool to emphasize that a correction is needed.  Probation opens up communication that something is wrong and must be addressed.  Probation is how Sales Management starts to get straight answers from the field on what is wrong.

As a Sales Manager, you have only 12 chances in a year to achieve your goal and earn your bonus.
Months are valuable. Set the standard that you expect each month to end on target. Two months of missed objectives is extremely difficult to overcome. Three months is 25% of your year. You cannot afford to take a wait-and-see attitude towards missed objectives in a territory.

Probation Plan
Of course these guidelines will change with various industries, but the concept for timing holds true.

#1. Current Month, third week
You are reviewing reports daily that show current sales for the month, projected forward to estimate the month end. Do not wait until you’ve missed the month to begin working on sales issues. After the second week of the month, these reports are beginning to accurately project the month. Make it a practice in the third week to contact the principal of rep firms that are not on track to make their month. Point out the gap, and ask what the plan is to make up the sales.
Ask for specific executions. Who is in the Pipeline? Where will the team go to get the additional sales.
This is when issues in the territory will be brought up. Most are excuses, but it is your opportunity to look for a real issue. If you find one, address it. If it is situational, put a plan in motion to save the month. More training? Co-travel? A territory incentive for customers? Additional terms for stocking orders by the end of the month? This is the time to address the sales shortfall.

If you aren’t given a specific problem and plan, there isn’t one. You need plans and commitments that you can track to get the territory back in line. The biggest concern you have is that the sales shortfall is because the line is not getting the attention it deserves. As soon as you suspect that is the case, deal with it.

Ask for ongoing reports as to what the sales team is accomplishing against the plan. Equally important, the entire sales force needs to understand that you take these reports seriously.

#2 Missed Month End: Probation Warning
By month end, you’ve already had several conversations with the principal and perhaps with individual sales associates that are lagging behind. The topic isn’t new. You notified them of the concern two weeks ago, and they didn’t focus their skills to turn it. A missed month is now your problem as well as theirs.

If the missed numbers are situational or external, you’ve already started correcting the problem.
If it is negligence of the line, it is time to be clear that it is unacceptable.
Warn the rep group that they need to be on track for this month’s sales in time for the third week review, or they will be put on probation. Be clear that it is also their responsibility to make up the sales short fall as soon as possible.

#3. Understanding Probation
It is important that you see probation as a management tool, not a commitment.
It is the best tool you have to demonstrate to sales associates that they are accountable for their numbers.

Probation should be defined in your contracts as the initial step towards performance based termination. Performance should always be grounds for termination in your agreements. By invoking probation, you are freeing yourself to make whatever adjustments you deem fit.  It becomes your choice to do something or nothing at all.

Other factors come into place when replacing sales people. You certainly don’t want the territory to be empty. You certainly need to find a better group to hire. There may be competitive issues. There may even be a sense that the sales goals were unreasonable. Probation does not mean that you will terminate them. It simply gives you the contractual right to.

It also provides clear communication of your performance expectations. By invoking the right to terminate the agreement, you’ve made the missed numbers a serious offense that must be addressed.  It is important that you make that statement sooner, rather than later. Too many sales managers allow poor performance to drag on, hoping it will change. Probation is your tool to bring it to a head, with the responsibility clearly placed on the rep. Probation does not put pressure on you to act. It puts pressure on the employee to perform.

If sales are not on track based on mid month projections, put the firm on probation.

Probation should contain a plan to turn the situation. The plan should define the sales achievement and a timeframe. Both the dollars and the timeframe should be presented by the sales group and accepted by you. This allows them to clearly consider what they can achieve. It allows you to decide if the dollars and time frame are suitable. The plan and timeframe approval is your chance to decide if you hope to maintain the relationship or end it.

If the sales goal is missed again in month two, it is probably time to seek a replacement.
You territory plan should already have a wish list of contenders you’ve collected over time.
You should always have a potential replacement in mind for every independent group in your region.

Back to top


This is never fun, but it is part of the job.
Learning how to do it effectively saves more hassles for you in the long run. There are techniques to make it go more smoothly.

#1) Understand the Right
Make sure you understand your rights to terminate. It should be clear in contractual agreements whether it is an employee or an independent rep or group. If you don’t understand the legalese in the contract, talk to Human Resources and have it explained. You need to understand this.

#2) Document Your Concerns
Have written documentation of the performance issues. This should not be difficult if your sales team all have monthly sales goals – which they should. Giving them sales goals means your reporting documents the shortfall.

#3) Communicate with Your Team
Let your supervisor and Human Resources know your intent. They may have policies and procedures that will help you. With terminations, you want to avoid surprises.

#5) Use Probation
Probation is an important termination tool. It starts the process. It warns the employee. It establishes corrective actions and measures. Don’t skip the probation step. It is legal protection for you and the company. If the corrective measures are not achieved, your path is wide open.

Probation does not mean you will terminate the employment. It simply means you documented the right to.

#6) Prepare
Do not expect an employee to be helpful after termination. Prior to the event make sure you have files backed up, status of the territory or accounts current, pipeline reports and any information that you may want. After the termination is too late. Discreetly get the information you may need beforehand.

#7) Property
Understand what property is where and what the company policies are regarding it. Understand what will become of computers, cell phones, keys, flash drives and any other physical material that is under the control of the employee.   The employee will want to know if any of these tools are available to them or must be returned to the company.        Don’t chase assets you don’t want. Nobody wants to use someone else’s cell phone.

#8) Financial
Be prepared with a check and a written document on any outstanding financial obligations.
If there is money owed the employee, have a check.  If it is outstanding commissions provide them with a written statement of how it will be paid and when. The employee will not remember the discussion. It is a kindness to provide it in writing.

#9) The Termination
Start with the words, “We’ve decided to terminate our arrangement. We can talk about all the reasons for it, but the decision has been made.”

Too often managers start by explaining the problem. The employee then begins to refute or attempt to resolve the issues and you end up in a discussion to save the job. Don’t lose control of the situation.  Start with the end. Terminate them in the first sentence.

Be calm, kind and professional. There is no room for anger. You don’t have to ‘prove’ it is the right decision. There is no need to be defensive.

Realize that this is a difficult situation for the employee and their family. They will be angry, scared, defensive and perhaps even vengeful. Don’t rise to that. Be empathetic to the problem you’ve just handed them.

Recognize that terminations are seldom a surprise to an employee. This is particularly true for one that has been put on probation. Though they may have expected it, they didn’t expect it today. Be sensitive to this.

Be prepared to discuss the reasons, but the employee probably won’t ask. They will just want to get out of that room.    In fact, they won’t remember much past your first sentence.

#10) The Location
Select a place that is private and away from other employees. The person may need some time and space to compose themselves after the meeting.

Whenever possible, do the termination face to face. An employee deserves that respect and support.
If face to face isn’t possible due to distance, use the phone or video conference. It is appropriate to terminate the relationship the same way it was managed.  If you managed by phone, you may terminate by phone.  But do not terminate with an impersonal email. Companies have done that and they are legendary for their insensitivity.                An employee deserves the respect to discuss the situation and ramifications.

#11) Timing
There are lots of ideas as to what day a person should be terminated.
Some say Friday so they have a weekend to get themselves together to face Monday.
Some say Monday so they have the whole week to get active.

In any case, mid-afternoon, about 2:00 or 3:00 is the time.
It is after lunch with enough time for the employee to clean out their desk and be gone before other employees are leaving. You want to discourage the morale drag of having the terminated employee leaving with others. It is also a courtesy to them to let them slip away quietly.

#12) Severance, but no notice
Yes, the employee deserves all the severance you can afford to help them navigate the time between jobs. But you do not want them working for ‘2 weeks’ after termination. No good will come of that.  They should be gone the day they are terminated.

#13) Afterwards
Terminations are not easy to do. Spend time with your own associates and support group after the termination. You’ve just shouldered a responsibility that no one wants, but everyone understands. Be easy on yourself and spend some time with folks that understand.

Back to top


© Ryan Hixenbaugh