Adjust Your Sales Coverage Model for Sales Success

By Craig Riley, Chief of Research, Gartner for Sales Practice
A computer screen shows red dots of coverage of the entire world with numbers in the thousands in the upper right corner.

When sales leaders incorporate greater flexibility into their strategic planning activities and outputs, they build in an automatic response to high inflation and recessionary risks. The sales organizations that routinely reassess their ability to respond to economic disruptions come out stronger no matter what the economic forces are outside their control. Sales coverage models are no exception. This should be one of the main priorities for sales leaders.

In 2022, according to Gartner research, 94% of heads of sales reported making at least slight changes to their sales coverage model in preparation for a potential recession. Although some level of coverage model change was nearly universal, those that made more significant changes saw the real benefits:

  • They were twice as likely to have best-in-class commercial performance.
  • They were 33% more likely to exceed targets in new customer acquisition, cross-sell/upsell, or customer retention than those making more minor adjustments.

Outperforming competitors also requires making the right changes at the right time. To identify the proper strategy and scope of changes, heads of sales and sales operations should do the following.

1. Understand Uncertainty’s Impact on Buyers

Macroeconomic uncertainty is causing buying teams to re-evaluate, scrutinize, and adjust their purchase decisions. When economic changes alter buying dynamics, then old segmentation strategies, account tiering, and coverage models no longer align sales resources to the best growth opportunities.

When examining the sales coverage model, knowing when to make changes is as important as knowing what changes to make. Watch for four changes in buying behavior that signal it might be time to update coverage models:

  • Reduction in lead volume. This is one of the earliest indicators to adjust your coverage model. A drastic change in lead volume can signify that buyers’ needs have changed and that existing messaging no longer resonates or builds urgency to buy.
  • Changes in cycle length. Longer sales cycles can indicate that buyers’ priorities have shifted and that sellers are struggling to build consensus and show how product/solutions align to updated buyer priorities. Shorter sales cycles can be a sign that changing needs are coming into better alignment with your value proposition.
  • New signoff requirements. New executive signoff requirements often accompany changes in the buying organization’s personnel, strategic direction, or financial situation.
  • Shifts in win-loss data. Consolidated win-loss data from sales, marketing, product, and success provides the clearest sign of how buying dynamics are shifting and how it is impacting deal success.

Creating an adaptive sales organization requires sales leaders to get off their back foot and be proactive rather than reactive in understanding how uncertainty is changing customer needs. This means leveraging a technology-augmented approach to deliver valuable customer engagements in variable environments and create a more buyer-centric operating model.

2. Identify the Right Adjustments

It’s easy to fall into “analysis paralysis” and procrastinate necessary coverage model changes. This often leads to underperformance. When the market changes, timely changes are more beneficial than waiting too long to make the perfect adjustments.

Provide clear guardrails and direct the sales strategy leader to work with analytics teams to provide data and modeling in three areas: revenue growth potential, buyer engagement channels, and coverage expenses.

One of the first and most important things to do is have sales analytics (re)estimate the market opportunity using the recent quarter data and forecasts by product offerings, customer segment, sales channel, and geographic region. Adjust for traditionally high-value accounts hit hardest by economic disruptions. Assumptions made for customer segments and individual accounts should be layered into territory design decisions when assessing revenue potential.

Next, sales analytics should report on shifts in buyers’ interaction channels. This goes beyond simply looking at lead volume indicators to fundamentally understanding how buyers are choosing to engage with sellers. Recent Gartner research shows that 75% of B2B buyers prefer a rep-free experience, and 68% made a recent significant purchase without traditional rep assistance. As buyers opt for digital interactions, this directly impacts territory design and sales force sizing.

Last, use forecasts about revenue growth potential and buyer engagement channels to help your analytics teams evaluate how potential coverage changes would impact coverage costs, seller attrition, and ultimately commercial performance.

3. Establish Key Performance Indicators

It’s critical to create a system to monitor and respond to any new developments that impact your coverage model while eliminating unnecessary time on re-evaluating the entire market. This system should focus on near-term scenario planning and does not need to be complicated to be effective.

Create a basic feedback system that does the following three things:

  • Identify triggers. Create a list of internal changes (e.g., changes in lead volume) and external triggers (e.g., interest rates) that could invalidate the sales coverage changes.
  • Monitor business performance. Regularly update performance reporting to include forecast accuracy as well as dedicated monitoring to spot trigger events.
  • Preset alternatives. Have plans in place for when a trigger occurs, such as automatic changes to coverage ratios and account tiering when triggers to revenue growth potential and buyer engagement occur.

Achieving growth targets depends on having a coverage model that aligns with expected enterprise results. This requires alignment across sales strategy, customer segmentation and tiering, organization and role design, deployment, and territory management. Continuous monitoring ensures the model is optimized and meets customer needs.

Craig Riley is the chief of research for the Gartner for Sales Practice.