We all get territorial sometimes. It’s part of being human; when someone’s territorial boundaries are violated, it naturally sparks a defensive response. That may be unavoidable in life and in love – but when it comes to sales territories, conflict doesn’t need to be inevitable.

It’s a simple formula: sales reps will cry foul whenever they feel their sales territories are distributed unfairly, triggering infighting and chaos. Obviously, fruitful territories are a big deal, given that they translate into better quota attainment and higher compensation. So it’s only natural that when salespeople think their accounts are getting taken from them without good reason or that other reps are overstepping their designated territories, tensions flare up. Of course, if you’re a sales manager, preventing this scenario should be one of your top priorities.

Although some healthy competition is natural – even beneficial – fights over territories are bound to affect team cohesiveness and, ultimately, your bottom line. That’s why it’s vital to ensure that your sales territories create a collaborative environment that motivates your reps to work toward achieving your company’s goals.

Go beyond geographic territories

Approximately 20 percent of sales organizations still delineate their sales territories using only geographic dimensions. This is a useful strategy for preventing conflicts between salespeople, but it’s also a simplistic approach that can result in ambitious sales reps getting stuck with territories that aren’t particularly active – a situation that not only creates resentment but also prevents them from realizing their full sales potential. Fortunately, there are other territory management strategies that can prevent infighting more effectively while getting more productivity out of your reps.

Dividing sales territories optimally starts from the ground up. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution for sales force structuring; rather, there are numerous possibilities, each with pros and cons. A well-designed structure may incorporate elements from any or all of them, just as long as it outlines clear selling roles and responsibilities while leveraging your people’s skills and experience with specific industries, types of accounts, or products and services.

Remember: there’s no such thing as a perfect, immutable sales structure. As businesses expand, merge, go international, or add more segments, their sales structures need to be adjusted accordingly – and that isn’t always easy since such major changes often result in territory infighting. For instance, going through a merger without a sound process for realigning territories can result in some areas becoming flooded with your reps, who end up competing with one another for accounts. It won’t be long before those conflicts between your salespeople turn from isolated events into a nagging problem.

If revising your sales structure sounds like a daunting task, consider bringing in sales territory management experts who can help you eliminate territory infighting and create a more tailored sales structure, all while working toward longer-term goals such as expanding into other markets.

Approach territory planning as an ongoing process

Once you have a flexible, effective sales structure in place, the next step is implementing a territory management plan that will help you allocate resources fairly and efficiently, preventing imbalance and infighting.

No set of territories is a finished product; the need for changes, be they big or small, will inevitably present itself. It’s crucial to make rapid, data-driven decisions to account for factors such as new customers, changes in customer purchasing behaviors, and major turnover. Who should get the accounts that once belonged to the sales director who just left your company? What territory will you assign to new sales reps that will motivate them and put them in position to succeed?

The answers to such questions lie, just waiting to be uncovered, in your sales data. Which of your reps is great at chasing down new prospects and having initial conversations, and who’s best suited to demo your products and close the sale? Do some of your salespeople excel at handling large enterprises, while others have an innate capability for closing smaller deals? A strong, agile territory planning process needs this information to leverage your sales force’s skills in ways that maximize productivity, shorten sales cycles, and avert conflict.

Properly aligning or realigning sales territories also requires the ability to model various scenarios and evaluate the impact of changes before rolling them out – factoring in sales data such as workload, capacity, number of accounts, market trends, and revenue and account potential. This typically involves some collaboration, so it’s important to have a streamlined process in place that incorporates all the relevant stakeholders.

The bottom line

Territory infighting is a seemingly minor problem that can trigger enormous headaches down the road, so it’s best to have a system in place that reaches multiple levels of the organization. Start with a thoughtfully designed sales structure, and reinforce it with an agile, data-driven territory planning process that ensures optimal coverage. That way, your reps won’t ever need to argue about who’s getting the best accounts – and you’ll be able to tackle change head-on.