Territory planning: it’s a crucial part of successful delivery and sales operations for many businesses (especially wholesalers and distributors), but the phrase probably sounds like nails on a chalkboard to many planners who have been tasked with it. Why? Because planning efficient sales territories by hand is a slow, Sisyphean task—for complex operations it can involve months of manual calculations, by which time your plans are already going out of date.
Even with many legacy technology solutions, it can be extremely challenging to divide up your distribution network into balanced, efficient, and workable sales territories in a timely manner. This can have real impacts on the efficiency of your operations. When updating your plans takes months to do, it’s impossible to respond quickly to changing market conditions—meaning you might be running territories that aren’t balanced in terms of revenue, or that could be made more cost efficient with a few simple changes, and you’re just stuck waiting until the end of the next planning cycle. And, of course, by the time that cycle is complete, things will have changed even more.
The obvious solution here is to find a way to speed up your sales and delivery territory planning enough that you can respond much more proactively to a changing market. But how do you actually make that happen?
Why Speed Matters
Before we get into the ways that the right territory planning technology can take the territory planning process from months down to a few minutes, let’s dig a little bit deeper into how speed actually translates into positive outcomes.
At a high level, there are a few important benefits to think about that come from being able to rapidly optimize territory plans and leverage what-if scenarios as needed:
- Time savings: Simply put, the more quickly you can perform these processes, the more time your planners can recoup to work on other tasks. This saves your organization money right off the bat.
- Shorter planning lead times: Conditions change quickly enough in wholesale distribution that the time it takes to spot a potential area for improvement and actually implement a new plan can make a huge difference. To effectively serve your customers while maintaining delivery efficiency, you need the ability to tailor your plans to your customer mix, your distribution network, and things like labor and fuel prices—all of which are constantly changing. The quicker your planning turnarounds, the more effectively you can do this.
- Easier planning adjustments: Sometimes your plans only need a small adjustment to re-achieve balance, but even small adjustments to plans can be incredibly time-consuming without the right tools. If your planning workflows are faster, you can more easily update plans on an ongoing basis, making your entire business more dynamic.
- Smarter what-if scenarios: When you can generate plans more quickly, you most likely also have the capacity to run what-if scenarios fairly rapidly. This can empower you to test out new options for your territory plans even when your existing plans don’t require immediate updates. This might include crafting plans in advance for capacity crunches during peak seasons, etc. All of which puts you in a position to be better-prepared and better-protected against disruptions.
- More balanced sales revenue: By leveraging all of the benefits above to create more responsive and flexible territory plans, you can more easily keep the potential revenue in each of your sales territories balanced. Rather than risking a scenario where one seller doesn’t have enough revenue potential within their territory to be worth their while, or making hasty adjustments that results in drivers criss-crossing one another out in the field, you can regularly adjust territories to ensure continued balance. The result is both better service for your customers and better driver/salesperson retention.
The upshot to all of these benefits is this: Your business moves quickly, and you need to be able to plan quickly enough to keep up. When your territory planning workflows are fast and user-friendly, there’s an operational domino effect that makes life easier at every stage of the distribution process.
How The Right Technology Can Speed Up Territory Planning
Faster sales/delivery territory planning might sound appealing in theory—but how do you make it a reality in practice? The answer lies in finding the right technology.
It can be hard to tell from the outside whether a particular territory planning solution is going to offer you the kind of processing power and planning intelligence you need in order to speed up these processes (though it’s usually pretty easy to tell during a live demo). But there are a few things that generally need to be in place to get the kind of results we’re talking about:
- Cloud architecture: Again, these processes take a ton of processing power—which is exactly why they’ve been so slow historically. To calculate distances and travel times while accounting for potentially complex delivery requirements from customers (particularly delivery days, etc.), the solution needs to be able to draw on a reserve of processing power at a moment's notice. Only SaaS-native platforms can do this effectively.
- AI: Especially when it comes to what-if scenarios, much of the power of a good plan is predictive. You need predictions as to how long drivers/sellers will spend driving and on-site in order to determine what their actual capacity is—and you need to be able to predict future ordering from customers to at least some extent. Doing this by hand is a non-starter. Luckily, AI is designed for exactly this kind of prediction based on historical data.
- Ease-of-use: If your logistics software system is fast and powerful—but also incredibly arcane and difficult to work with—you’ll be stuck with long planning lead times anyway. Why? Because you may have to bring in specialists from outside your organization to run optimizations for you. Even if it doesn’t come to that, your personnel might need a lot of specialized training, meaning that domain knowledge around territory planning would continue to reside only among a few people at best. When your software is easy to use, this problem vanishes.
- Routing integration: The other reason that territory planning processes sometimes slow to a halt is that they’re not actually producing territory plans that work when the rubber meets the road. Once your software has proven that it can run processes quickly and efficiently, and that it can actually be utilized without specialized training, the last box that’s important to check is this: it should integrate easily with route planning to ensure that when territories are being generated, routes for the different stops on different days of the week within each service area are actually being calculated at the same time. This, of course, will also require serious speed and processing power.
Not every software solution on the market will be able to provide these capabilities—some might tick a few of the boxes but not. There’s still value to be gained in any improvements on the old-school version of the territory planning process. But if you’re really looking to transform your territory planning and service your clients more efficiently from a sales and delivery perspective, a complete overhaul that enables true speed and ease of use is crucial.