The Common Sense Guide to Sales Route Planning

Among sales reps, the topic of sales route planning is a little like the perfect golf swing: everyone thinks they have the answers. Seasoned reps think they’ve cracked the code of the drop-in with a mix of charm, coffee, and dogged persistence. Meanwhile, tech companies hawk sales route planning software that claims to “optimize” route planning with the power of big data. But neither old-school sales techniques nor cutting-edge algorithms can change the fact that in-person prospecting is inherently inefficient. (Yep, we said it.)

In-person prospecting is particularly challenging for commercial services contractors for a couple of reasons:

  • Without a property-based prospecting tool (ahem), it’s hard to guess whether a particular building meets your standards for square footage, ownership, etc., so you can waste a lot of time just driving around.
  • Your odds of connecting with a building owner or other decision maker with purchasing power for the property are very small, and you’ll likely end up talking to the receptionist. This problem is much worse than in other types of sales since if you’re selling printers, you can case every suite in an office park, but if you’re selling elevators, there’s only one decision maker per building.
  • Even if your company is a great fit for a prospect, there’s a high probability that they’re already locked into a contract, so the best you can do is follow up at a later date. That’s information you could have gotten on a phone call and saved yourself a trip.

By and large, the most efficient sales route for early-stage prospecting is the one where reps let their fingers do the walking; you can knock out more prospects in an hourlong cold-call blitz than in a day of driving around, dropping off business cards. But that doesn’t mean there’s never a good reason to go door-to-door; it just means you need to be thoughtful and strategic about how you plan a sales route, so you’re not wasting time, patience, and gas.

When Do You Need a Sales Route?

There are two basic situations in which door-to-door sales prospecting is a good use of a rep’s time because the odds of success are actually higher than they would be with a simple cold call.

1. Build on existing business

It’s always a good idea to build a sales route around a visit to an existing customer.

Customer referrals are the bread-and-butter of most commercial services sales teams. When a prospect got your number from a friend, they walk into the sales discussion knowing that you’re trustworthy. And the next best thing to an outright referral is to prospect in the same neighborhood as an existing customer because it reassures prospects that you’re a stable business, and they can check your references with their neighbor.

Dropping the name of a prospect’s neighbor can also greatly increase the odds of a successful drop-in. The problem with both drop-ins and cold calls is that the moment most people realize you’re a sales rep, they launch into their automatic “thanks, but we’re not interested” script. As we’ve written about before, a rep’s best weapon to get around this automatic dismissal is the disruptor. And there’s no more effective disruptor than bringing up someone your prospect knows.

It’s a huge advantage to open a conversation by saying, “I was talking with Eddie from the hardware store down the street, and he mentioned you might be looking to change security companies.” From the outset, you’ve established a personal connection and your credibility.

2. Hunt a whale

The other situation that merits an in-person visit is a prospect you know you’re perfect for but can’t reach on the phone. Maybe your contact information for the property is out of date, maybe the owner is always mysteriously “in a meeting,” or maybe you just want to show how much you want their business by showing up in person.

Regardless of the situation, if you’re going after a specific prospect, you need to come prepared with a lot more research than you would for your regular cold outreach. Know that you have an undeniable competitive advantage (maybe you’re the only company within 50 miles who knows how to repair their ancient boiler) or that their contract with a competitor is about to expire. (And even then, sadly, prepare yourself to hear a “no.”)

How to Design a Smart, Simple Sales Route

Some software companies believe that to design an efficient sales route, you need an algorithm that accounts for the price of gas, time of day, the individual rep’s mood, and the weather. But we happen to believe that you can get the job done with less math and more common sense.

The two-block method

When it comes to building off your existing customer base, our customers typically use a simple tactic of mapping their existing customers and then searching for prospects within two blocks that meet their standards. This strategy builds on itself the more customers you have in close proximity because the denser the route, the more likely your prospects will have heard of you or at least seen your service truck.

The campaign method

You can pull off the sales route planning strategy above regardless of what software you have. But if you want to take a more data-driven approach, Atlas lets you map sales routes that are based on strategy, not just geography. With Atlas, you can make a special column on your prospecting board for properties you’ve flagged for a drop by.

Easily organize prospecting targets you’ve identified for a drop by

From there, go to the map screen and pull up all the “drop by” cards to see how you can design a route around prospects that you already know meet your sales criteria.

Filter based on drop by status to create a visual of target properties

Once you’ve put these prospects into a drop-by campaign, you can access it in the field with your mobile device. So whether you want to spend a whole day on the road or you just find yourself in the field with some time to kill, the data you need is in your back pocket.

Good Sales Routes Mean More Planning, Less Driving

You don’t need us to tell you that a good sales route lets you hit the maximum number of prospects while burning the least amount of fuel or that even the best-planned route needs to flexible to account for both successes and slammed doors. Our advice is just to be confident about your prospects before you get in the car, so you can make every visit count.

Originally published on September 20, 2021 Updated on January 6, 2022

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