Any traveling sales rep would agree: multi-stop route planning is one of the most tedious and stressful parts of their job.
It’s not just about plopping addresses into Google. From fuel costs to unexpected client emergencies to keeping track of crucial data, there are so many variables to sales route mapping and so much to risk if it’s not done efficiently.
Although it’s usually a good rule to not mix business with pleasure, sometimes there are helpful tips and tricks that one can learn from the other. Thankfully for traveling salespeople everywhere, this is one of those times.
Consider The Ultimate Multi-Stop Route Planning Example: A Road Trip.
Recently, a story about route planning went viral when one guy figured out an algorithm that produced the “optimal” car road trip plan to visit every state in the Lower 48.
What did he do to achieve it? He defined some parameters that might sound familiar:
• Location: He set the boundaries of his hypothetical trip to every state in the contiguous United States.
• Priority: He wanted to prioritize entertaining destinations and made each either a national landmark, park, or monument.
• Efficiency: The route ultimately had to minimize driving time and maximize entertainment time.
Source: Randal Olson
It produced a really neat map and sparked a lot of debate — especially over how it wasn’t the quickest route. Compared to the 124-hour route concocted by another data analyst, the algorithm’s 224-driving-hour plan sounds down-right leisurely.
But in that difference is the key take away: this was the most efficient that factored in things like reasonable travel time, traveler enjoyment, and the proximity of desired destinations. It’s about quality, not quantity.
Why don’t we treat business travel more like a road trip?
You’re probably already seeing some strong parallels your experiences in multi-stop route planning.
Even though the goal of sales travel isn’t to make sure both Elvis Presley’s Graceland and The Alamo are on our traveling itinerary, we can apply a lot of these best practices into our multi-stop route planning.
The key here is to drive smart, not hard — focusing on the quality of the journey rather than the quantity of the destination can really produce some huge benefits.
Let’s consider some examples.
Note: While considering the following examples, visualize how you would keep these metrics updated and centralized — whether its in a spreadsheet or in a database, choosing a platform that is easy for you to operate is key while implementing these ideas.
Tip #1: Decrease “windshield time” by clustering your routes.
Instead of asking yourself “are we there yet?” over and over again, use clustering to decrease your “windshield time".
Just as you wouldn’t go from the Grand Canyon to the Statue of Liberty to Mount Rushmore, you should make sure you’re clustering your sales routes into reasonable zones on a map. Define each by roughly a day’s worth of work, give or take, and then you have an easy way to divide and conquer your territory.
If you assign your reps batches of closely clustered locations, you will see immediate improvements in the amount of time that your reps spend with customers (facetime) versus how much time they spend staring at the asphalt as they drive (windshield time).
“Every minute you spend thinking about your route or driving it is a minute you’re not engaged in an income-generating activity.”
-Daria Kelly Uhlig, Chron.com
More time spent with customers means less time on the road, which is a win for everybody.
How do you go about clustering your addresses? One option is using Google Maps by adding addresses by hand, and then manually tagging them to reflect their relative distance from one another. This solution is free but it is time consuming (and time is money!).
An easier way would be to invest in more advanced sales route planning software. Our own product Map My Customers is one example, which can help segment locations more easily and help you find optimized routes while still using your favorite navigation software, such as Waze, to direct your representatives across town.
Either way, the results should be similar: less driving, more gas, more facetime with customers, and happier sales reps.
Tip #2: Prioritize your stops
Just like starring items in a travel guidebook, considering priority destinations is key. Having a list of zones is one thing — but what if you have customers that need urgent attention? Or a list of leads that just can’t wait?
We’ve found it useful to flag certain jobs that just can’t wait. If you place these jobs at the top of the priority list and use them as the point of origin for your sales reps, you can quickly optimize your routes to both save on gas and deal with emergencies.
Whichever way you do it, make sure that you have some kind of method in place for assigning specific jobs to specific representatives, irrespective of the “zone” that they’re currently selling within.
Urgent and high-priority jobs sometimes need a specialist, and for that reason, these sales targets need to be blocked off and given to a specific representative. This way, you’re managing your sales consciously and not letting important jobs get lost in the shuffle.
“Start with your major accounts. Identify which other accounts are in close proximity to your major accounts.”
-Toni Hoy, Bizfluent.com
In practice, this means being able to somehow mark down, either in your spreadsheet or database, the locations that need to be attended to quickly.
Properly managing priorities is the cornerstone of any efficient multi-stop route planning guide. If you know the targets that you need to acquire first, you’ll be in a better place when you will inevitably be running out of time.
Tip #3: Take Detailed Notes about each stop
Treat the data of each visit like keepsake mementos. Except for the most competitive among us, we usually go on trips for the experience, personal growth, or quality time rather than for the sport of it. So, too, should we treat every stop as an opportunity to learn something more — and take detailed notes along the way.
Doing this is pretty simple: every time a sale goes through, make sure to save that address in a spreadsheet. After you have all of your addresses for a set time period — let’s say a week, or a month, then map those successes or failures on the map.
You will quickly see which zones are performing well and which ones are not. After that, you can make inferences about why your plan is or is not working. Is it better to sell in a particular zone during a particular time of day? Or a particular day of the week?
“Get closer than ever to your customers. So close that you tell them what they need well before they realize it themselves.”
– Steve Jobs
Being able to answer all of these questions means finding your niche customers and then figuring out ways to engage them directly.
If you end up finding a neighborhood or zone where your product is a hit, it might help you indirectly engage one of the best marketing avenues available: word of mouth. Once an area becomes aware of your products, you’ll be able to sell more easily and send your sales reps out for more sales leads in the area.
Tracking your successes and failures is therefore an essential element of any proper content plan. Keeping track of slowdowns and difficulties will help you optimize your routes and boost facetime with customers that are ready to buy your product. Keeping track of these successes will let you know where your product works best.
Efficient multi-stop route planning might not turn sales travel into the adventure of a lifetime, but it might change the lifecycle of your clients.
There’s some obvious benefits that happen quickly. Clients get quality time with the right specialists that meet their needs. By selecting the best routes between customers, you will effectively boost customer facetime and increase the amount of visits that each rep can make in a day.
But the real magic happens when you incorporate the data from your travels into CRMs, like Salesforce, ZOHO, and Microsoft Dynamics. If you combine customer lifecycle data with your route plan, you will be able to improve your relationship with your customers and thereby improve your customer retention.
Over time, your route plans will get more efficient as you track and identify which customers are most likely to buy your product with the benefits of digital analysis.
Sadly, there’s really no easy way to do this by hand. Going into multiple dashboards is always a hassle: sorting, filtering, and then cross-referencing all of your CRM data with your route plans can get confusing. Add in the need for charts, reports, and effective data visualization, and it almost seems like it might not be worth doing.
Thankfully, just like the road trip algorithm, there are digital solutions to keep track of all these aspects of multi-stop route planning.
There are plenty of digital software options that can help you manage your customer locations and figure out efficient travel, but there are few that can combine that information with your CRM data.
Solutions like Map My Customers provide easy ways to get your travel data into CRMs like Salesforce, Dynamics, and ZOHO.
Map My Customers automatically syncs custom fields, provides robust route reports, and filters all of your data effectively. It also offers some unique team management functionalities, which allows your route planner to see activity from each representative currently in the field.
With a great data visualization and charting system, tracking your successes and failures and making sure you’re hitting the right customers is now simple and intuitive.
Plus, we’ve seen businesses save around 30 percent in gas every week. It really pays (literally!) to drive smart, not hard.
So next time you’re planning your sales visits, just think like a road tripper.
From increased fuel efficiency and optimze your routes to proper customer targeting, the advantages of an efficient route planning guide can help your business thrive in competitive sales environments.
Although we can’t speak to the best snacks or tunes while you’re on the road, we hope these best practices can help you optimize your multi-stop route planning for efficiency and customer satisfaction.
Let us know in the comments if you’ve come across any other essential steps that can help others optimize their own door-to-door sales.
Choosing to revamp your route plans with Map My Customers is a great way to get all of these benefits without the additional tasks of creating spreadsheets or doing data entry. We also offer a 14-day free trial so you can try it out with your unique destinations and client needs.
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