How to Prepare for Sales Territory Mapping

With the advent of cloud-based online mapping software, businesses of all sizes have affordable access to sales territory mapping. There are six or seven product options listed online for cloud-based business mapping software. Desktop options tend to be GIS and legacy tools. Cloud services offer faster processes and up-to-date data layers.

Below are major benefits that sales territory maps bring to all sales organizations:

  • A shared platform for presenting clear sales goals and objectives
  • Customer map visualizations the encourage balanced workloads and opportunity planning
  • Accountability for sales reps through results tracking and map sharing
  • A platform for shared sales experiences and in-house training
  • Tools for defining new addressable markets

Such benefits are of serious interest to any wide-awake sales manager. The implementation of sales territory mapping is the opportunity to transform a spreadsheet-driven organization into a forward-thinking collaborative and location aware sales team. But how does one prepare to implement a new sales territory project?

Learn More About Sales Territory Mapping

Fortunately, for most businesses, the critical elements are already in place. All companies have customer lists, established account responsibilities, and a general idea of where their territories are located. What’s needed is some light data preparation and some business map work to create shared sales visualizations that inform the entire sales organization.

Choose Your Territory’s Base Geography

Standard business mapping tools that offer territory map solutions include a variety of map layers that will include your territory’s optimum base geography units. Will it be ZIP code, county, state, 3-digit ZIPs, or some other administrative district?  Your base geography should reflect your customer density.

Are your customers located nationwide with very few customers located in dense clusters?  Then your territories should probably be based on states.  Using counties or ZIP codes for a relatively sparse customer density is overkill. A national conglomerate with large manufacturing customers will probably base their territory scheme on states.

Is your customer base wide and deep, with many clusters of customer locations in densely populated metropolitan areas? You may have many salespeople crisscrossing counties multiple times a week to call on accounts. Chances are that ZIP codes are the best geography base for your territories. ZIP codes also happen to be the most popular base geography for sales territory alignment.

Perhaps your business caters to government offices around the nation? In this case counties or even city geographies may be the best geographic units to support your sales territories.

Franchise businesses tend to choose ZIP codes for their territory base geography.  Service or retail-oriented, franchise businesses prefer neat, well-defined areas to sell and manage. ZIP codes offer manageable population segments to work with. ZIPs often contain clearly defined demographic characteristics that support sales projections or market analysis.

Gather the Location Data

Every company has addressed-based data useful for the development of sales territories. See your CRM administrator or perhaps your data department.  Every company I’ve worked manages customer data in different areas. Ask the person who generally manages email campaigns how to get a hold of customer data. Make sure you have permission.

You’ll want to get the most up-to-date dataset of customer locations by address, city, state, and ZIP. Add to that any lists of customer prospects your company may be using.

Gather a home location dataset for all sales representatives. You’ll want their home location to be the realistic location where they begin their day or week. This data becomes critical for sales planning, mileage tracking, and reasonable account assignments. In Colorado, asking a sales rep who starts his day in Denver to call on accounts in Grand Junction presents work load balance challenges.

Import these three business address datasets into a business mapping application.  Note customer densities. If you notice clusters of customers across the nation, you’re probably seeing the basic outline of your territory map. Color-code and symbolize your various data layers for easy identification on a shared map view.  Customer datasets should be primary, by which I mean make those colors and symbols more prominent on your map.  Sales potential or product interest are excellent factors for color shading and symbolization.

Competitor data is also nice to display on a territory map.  Competitor data may not be an updated dataset housed in your business. Ask someone who works for you, or take the time yourself, to jot down the names of major competitors with addresses. If your business is nationwide, all competitors may be a considerable list. Or it could be just a few major distributors. If you’ve been selling for more than a few weeks, you’ll know.

A territory map using 3-digit ZIP codes in MapBusinessOnline

Take a Step Back and View the Map

The visualization of existing customers, a sense of where your sales reps start their day, and a clear understanding of your geographic territory unit (ZIP codes or counties) will lead to your initial assignment of territory geographies. These first pass territories do not have to be etched in stone. Once your first pass is completed, meet with constituents and discuss workloads, compensation, and critical customer requirements.

All your doing is looking at a map. You are visualizing your business against an accurate map of the world. Pretty simple, right?  Sure, and critical as can be. Visualization of your critical map views is the core application of any business map. Take your time viewing the map. Share your map views with key constituents.  You’re looking for:

  • Trends and anomalies – Clusters of customers by type or geography
  • New market opportunities – Are there new business types popping up across the country you hadn’t noticed before?
  • Overlap – Are your sales reps overlapping too much in certain areas? Be aware of legacy accounts – they suck up sales time and commissions
  • Patterns – Always look for patterns

Territory Mapping Tools

Territory set-up can be accomplished by importing a list of ZIP codes with assigned territory names, or territories can be created using a polygon tool that collects small and large groups of ZIP codes and saves those records as a territory name. Either approach is editable simply by clicking ZIP codes or counties and adding or removing these from territory boundaries. It’s easy and it’s fun.

Typically, business mapping tools included a visual map view of your territory extent in addition to a tabular data sheet view of territory makeup by ZIP code. That tabular view will enable data layering so that territories can be associated with sales dollars, demographic categories, or other metrics relevant to your business. Read more on territory creation here.

Balance the Sales Load

Sales territories provide clear goals and defined areas of accountability for sales representatives. Healthy sales organizations strive to balance the sales workload for a variety of reasons:

  • A balanced workload motivates the entire sales team rather than burdening or rewarding just a few people in particular
  • A balanced workload incentivizes new salespeople to come up to speed quickly and join in the fun
  • A balanced workload helps distribute rewards and sales experience results fairly, leading to enhanced customer service and a stable workforce
  • A balanced workload helps the sales organization measure results and appropriately adjust to accommodate sales cycle requirements

Take some time to consider your current workload. Meet individually with your sales representatives.  There are probably a few tough questions to be asked. Use these meetings to identify the current workload balance and imbalance. Questions to consider:

  • Are the miles driven by each sales rep in a week or a month, roughly equal? Or are there some reps with extraordinary driving times that may need adjustment?
  • Are rep compensation packages fairly distributed based on seniority? Or are there legacy accounts clustered between one or two highly compensated sales reps, while the rest share the crumbs?
  • Are there overlapping sales driving areas such that multiple reps are crisscrossing the same ZIP codes regularly? Seek to minimize redundant driving
  • Are new markets being exposed across all territories, including senior rep accounts?
  • Do new members of the sales team understand the sales process, product features, and administrative requirements adequately?

Sales territory management can provide the structure required to address some of these critical selling issues. Fairness, efficiency, and non-overlapping driving times are achieved by establishing sensible areas of accountability with minimal legacy account assignments. Focus first on balanced workloads and then on customer requirements, last on legacy assignments.

Once established, sales territory maps become the centerpiece of the regular sales meeting. Sales meetings are used as platforms to share goals and objectives, publish results, and share strategies and tactics for achieving goals.

Territory Map Visualization

The visualization of sales territories levels the playing field for the entire sales team. It clearly depicts rep accountability by area, while serving as a platform for posted sales results.  The shared results encourage group discussion on how trouble spots can be improved. Sales stories should be encouraged. Shared tales of sales success and failure are the golden nuggets of sales territory meetings.

While reviewing sales results, stories are shared. Senior sales people have a wealth of sales knowledge to impart, while the young upstarts have an eye for new markets across the business’s coverage area. In this way, your sales team becomes more focused, more aware of legitimate opportunities. Encourage sales communication between your reps. That’s where the gold is buried.

Enhanced sales team communication through maps is especially critical as a way to expose new market opportunities. Legacy account impact, once critical to achieving company goals, often fade slowly over time.  Combining sales reports from the field with industry location data overlaid against territory maps will expose new market opportunities. Your key to a growth-oriented future.

Sales territory mapping defines current goals and lays out the rules for sales processes and sales accountability. Maps define expectations. Sales territories also act as a platform for sales success sharing and the identification and development of new markets. Territory maps help define company direction.

For these reasons, a little sale territory map preparation is time well spent.


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