From the December 2001 issue of Entrepreneur

There's nothing like a first meeting with a customer to get your nerves rattled. Here are four steps you can take so when that first meeting rolls around, you'll be the best salesperson you can be:

1. Do your research. Look up the company on the Internet. Search for articles about the company in newspapers and magazines. Talk to people in the same industry. To develop your contacts, start collecting business cards from everyone you meet. I have hundreds of cards from people I've met over the years; I keep them catalogued by industry. Then, if I need information on a particular industry, I have 15 or 20 people I can call on for advice and insight.

2. Outline your agenda. Put together an outline of what you intend to cover during the meeting, and send it to the client to give him or her an idea of what you're going to discuss. It's not unusual to hear a prospective client say "I wish I'd known about this so I could have had more information for the meeting." If clients have your agenda in advance, they'll have time to prepare questions for you. An agenda makes it easier for the customer to understand your objective, and it sends a strong message that you're organized and well-prepared.

3. Don't put all your eggs in the "big meeting" basket. It's great to get excited about that first meeting--especially when you know it might lead to a big sale. But if you've put all your effort and energy into that one call--and then don't get the sale--the rest of your day is ruined. You need to be sure you have other meetings to look forward to, other activities to keep you going. Don't let the hype of your "one big meeting" spoil your enthusiasm for your other customers.


Put together an outline of what you intend to cover during the meeting, and send it to the client to give him or her an idea of what you're going to discuss.

4. Visualize the meeting from beginning to end. Go through your agenda step-by-step. Go over the questions you want to ask and the important points you intend to make. Seeing a successful outcome in your mind's eye makes it easy for your body to follow.

Your goal at the first sales meeting is to establish a relationship. You do that by creating value and by concentrating on what you can add to a situation, as opposed to what you can get from it. That's when you'll find that people are more receptive to you; they want to listen to you, be with you and work with you because of the value you're adding. And that's the most important step you can take toward making any sale.