One of the most successful and often-copied sales strategies is the protected geographic sales territory. This was an innovation of NCR Corporation early in the 20th century. It was taken to new levels by Thomas J. Watson, who took the concept with him from NCR to IBM. The impact of this concept is to increase the frequency and quality of a salesman’s contact with the customer. The result is an accumulation of knowledge about the customer’s needs, leading to loyalty that keeps the competitors at bay.

Today, with the increased cost of travel and reduced budgets, we are in danger of losing this contact. There is still no substitute for face-to-face contact with the customer. This must also include periodic visits to key customers from key members of the senior-management team. In the words of James Champy, managers need to “… get out where the real world of business lies – in the marketplace.”

The need for senior management to be out there with the key managers of your customers is true all over the world. If you have sales in other countries, key personnel must periodically visit with key customers there as well. Doing so will also give you the opportunity to evaluate the relationship between your direct sales person and the key customer personnel. These visits will help you better understand the culture in those countries, which may help you improve your products for that market. Also, remember it costs something like 10 times more to find a new customer than it costs to maintain an existing one.

While you are visiting with those accounts, look for ways your company can work with them on new ideas and products. Look for ways you can provide more education about the industry and your products.

Remember when visiting an account with your sales personnel that they are the key holder of the relationship. Do not insert yourself into that role as it will only subvert your salesman’s credibility. Mostly, be a listener. However, direct the conversation to uncover any problems in the relationship and ways you can impact the relationship from the home office.