If you’re interested in closing more deals, in-person meetings are your best friend. Even in the age of constant text and social media, there’s no substitute for getting to know your client in real-time. In-person meetings lay the foundation for a relationship that can last decades and often lead to repeat business.

Knowing this, you’ve set up an initial meeting with a potential client and plan to knock it out of the park.

Read on for some helpful insights from seasoned sales leaders on how to prepare, listen, and follow up to ensure that first meeting is the start of something wonderful.

Do your research

Long before it’s time to meet a potential client, you should gather a little information about this prospect. It’ll be much easier to build a relationship, for example, if you have the same alma mater or volunteer for similar organizations.

“I look at their LinkedIn profile to see what we have in common,” said John Paul Engel, president of Knowledge Capital Consulting and Lecturer of Entrepreneurship at The University of Iowa. “If we have connections in common I try to get a little insight, especially if that connection is a close one.”

Engel also recommends doing a Google search and setting up alerts a few days ahead of a first meeting so you know the latest news about your prospect’s company and industry.

Based on your research, over-prepare for your first meeting with a quick, one-page proposal.

“One of my first managers told me that you always need to take a customized, written proposal to a first meeting, and many years later, I still always do that,” said Bob Bentz, president of ATS Mobile and author of Relevance Raises Response: How to Engage and Acquire with Mobile Marketing. “While the initial proposal may not be on target for a first meeting, it shows you’ve done your homework and learned about your prospect.”

By doing a little digging and preparation ahead of time, you’ll be able to spend more of your first meeting dealing with business matters and less time on basic fact-finding.

Set expectations and a clear agenda

It is a good policy to set expectations and address any concerns ahead of the actual meeting. Give your prospect a clear idea of what to expect.

“The first meeting is the most important,” said Gina Lynn Estrada, a New York-based insurance agent who offers securities through AXA Advisors, LLC. “It sets the stage for the entire sales process. When scheduling the first appointment, I ask if there is anything that would prevent the meeting from happening. I also reiterate the key point of why we will be meeting and approximately how long it will take.”

Estrada said this step not only saves time and helps reduce cancellations, it sets the tone for how the future meetings will be handled. She prepares an agenda, reviews it with the prospect, and asks if there is anything else he would like to cover. This ensures the meeting stays focused on the client’s real needs and interests.

Analyze need and build a relationship

Your first meeting with a potential client is not about you, and it’s not about your product or service.

“Build a relationship with the client,” said Jessica Magoch, CEO of JPM Sales Partners and The Virtual Sales Academy in Philadelphia. “Nothing you do moving forward has any credibility unless you have a solid relationship.”

The focus must stay on the prospect. What needs or problems are they experiencing? You are on a mission to learn and to connect. Do not launch into your standard demo like some sort of sales robot.

It’s tempting to get right to your presentation because it’s probably where you feel most comfortable. But it won’t lead to a deal.

“Too many new salespeople want to immediately begin a long-winded explanation on how their product or service is the greatest thing ever,” said Mike Smith, founder of SalesCoaching1. “This is a total turnoff to the potential customer. First, spend time analyzing the needs and wants of the customer and see if you can even provide a solution to the issues at hand. Spend time asking not telling.”

Allan Givens manages sales and marketing for Fit Small Business in New York City. He also believes in the power of questions at the first meeting.

“The most important thing you can do is listen to your prospective client,” he said. “Sometimes their vision may not line up with what will realistically benefit their business, but it’s important that they feel heard from the very beginning.”

Determine the issues that need to be resolved and the process to make a decision. According to Smith, your job is to learn three critical items:

  • Are you talking with the person that has the authority to give the go ahead for the solution you provide?
  • Do they have the financial resources to cover the investment?
  • Do they have a real need for the provided solution?

If the answer to all of the above is yes, this prospect can move along your sales pipeline. Before you wrap up the meeting, chart a clear path to the next step.

“Every meeting must take you one step closer to closing the business,” said Bentz. “Summarize the content of the meeting at the end and make sure both sides are aware of their ‘To-Do’s’ prior to the next meeting. Set a firm date for the next meeting.”

If the time and energy you’ve spent remained focused on the client’s real needs and interests, setting a date for the next meeting should be easy.

Follow up with the help of your CRM

Directly after your meeting, follow up with a thank you email or even a handwritten note. From there, use your CRM to customize your next follow-up according to the prospect’s request.

“When a client asks you to get back to them in four months, a CRM is the only way you will truly remember,” said Bentz. “And, when you follow up on the exact day that they request, it really shows you are on your game.”

Customize your CRM to get the most out of future contact.

“I prefer to set up my CRM so it has a slot for each of my qualifying questions – with drop downs where applicable – so pipeline reports can be run later,” said Magoch. “I never close out a client record without adding next steps and creating a calendar event or task with a due date. My CRM allows for saved task lists so every new prospect gets my ‘new client task list’ that needs to be completed with links to templates for things like emails, letters, presentations, etc.”

By optimizing your CRM to ensure your prospect moves along your pipeline, you’ll ensure the first meeting doesn’t go to waste.

Find genuine ways to help

Prospects will be eager to meet with you again and again, and do deals, if you find new and innovative ways to help them accomplish their goals and build their own businesses.

Engel suggests recording key points from the initial meeting in your mobile CRM right after it wraps up. “For example,” he said, “today I met the CEO of a $340 million company. He needs a trainer because his just left town. I’ll try to find him a few to select from as a service. Always look for ways to help.”

Your CRM helps you keep your knowledge of the contact up-to-date and personal. You should know exactly when the last time was that you spoke, and you should use your system to schedule follow-up contact.

According to the ‘Rule of Seven,’ created by marketing expert Dr. Jeffrey Lant, it will likely take at least seven interactions before you close a deal. Focus on the relationships you’re building with your prospects – starting with your first meeting – and your pipeline will stay healthy for years to come.